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GP Week : Issue 109
24 of reliability in this crucial, opening race. It’s difficult for committee-run teams to think this way; it’s logical, though, for racers. The trick is to have the racer run your committee – as Adrian does at Red Bull. We shouldn’t under-estimate the psychological effect, too : Lewis Hamilton’s jaw dropped after qualifying when he heard that Seb had not been running KERS – and the news, when they heard it, made Ferrari’s bad Saturday even worse, if that was possible. What RBR’s opposition would do right now to be able to drop the complication of KERS and to focus merely on generating more downforce! And yet none of them will dare to do so: if the RBR is this far ahead in Race One, where would it be in Race Two if the other guys throw away their KERS? For all that, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes did a great job in Melbourne – and in the lead-up to Melbourne. Looking back now at their winter, I’d say that it went something like this: they opted for what appeared to be a nice aero improvement around the single-diffuser but then ran into both overheating and lap-time (make that ‘grip’) problems in the opening tests. They accumulated lots of ‘data’; they possibly took longer than they should have done to make a decision around that data; and they only really completed their ‘major update’ after the last test in Barcelona and just in time for Melbourne. That’s nervous territory for a team as robust as VMM, but in the end it all worked out: the latest McLaren appears to have a very neat side exhaust layout and in Melbourne was rock-solid reliable. Lewis was as good in the McLaren as was Vettel in the Red Bull and gave lie to the pre-season cliché that Jenson would be ‘easier’ on his Pirellis because he is ‘smoother’. No-one is more in harmony with the surface of the road than Lewis Carl Hamilton – and harmony, of course, is what the ‘correct’ use of tyres is all about. Jenson may well be ‘smoother’ than Lewis (in the sense that he is more ‘on rails’ when he drives) but Lewis is slightly quicker, energises the car more and spends more time on the outer edge of the Friction Circle. Jenson didn’t make a great start; he was held up by an intransigent Felipe Massa in the early stages; and was given a drive- through penalty for some antics at Turn 11. It was when Jenson was within the crucial second of Felipe’s tricolore rear wing early in the race that they went into the ‘activation’ zone for the famous DRS – the drag reduction system (or adjustable rear wing to you and me) that has been the talk of these past winter months. The suspense was intense ... but the event was underwhelming. You could barely see the movement on the McLaren rear wing (not that this really matters) – but then there was no movement from the McLaren car, either. Jenson just tucked up behind the Ferrari, zapped a little, and then ducked back in line – just as we all knew they would when they reduced the activation zone to the pit straight only. DRS or not, Melbourne’s pit straight is nothing like long enough for serious passing – and it has always been very difficult anyway in the last two corners to run close behind another car. Verdict: after one race, you’d have to say that the DRS hasn’t yet justified either the hoopla or the time/money they’ve been throwing at it – particularly as the on-TV screen graphics are only clear if the world feed is opting to show the cars in question. The zone is rumoured to be on the finishing straight in Sepang – a much longer piece of road, and therefore a much more reasonable test. Ferrari? They built a conventional car and they ran a conventional race, beaten not only by Red Bull and McLaren-Mercedes but also by the least conventional car on the grid – the Lotus Renault. Fernando Alonso had a good weekend under the circumstances, minimising the chances of not making Q2 by running two sets of options (and thus leaving himself only one set for Q3) and qualifying fifth. He parlayed that into a P4 finish after losing time at the first corner but would have been inventing new words in Spanglish when he again found Vitaly Petrov’s immovable Renault in the closing laps. Fernando will no doubt file this race away as ‘valuable points in a long season’ but you can be sure that the fur will be flying back at Maranello, particularly as the jokes start about Ferrari ‘”knowing what they were doing” when they named their new car after the Ford F150 pick-up truck. TheLotusRenaultstory,bycontrast,was a big one for the mass media: Robert Kubica might have beaten Lewis but nothing should detract from the work of Vitaly Petrov, who not only kept it on Albert Park’s ribbon of road but was also consistently fast in both qualifying and the race (see opening comments). His result will have everyone scurrying for ‘new exhaust solutions’ but of course for the oppo it won’t be easy. Apart from architecture, there are also huge heat issues with which to deal when contemplating the Renault layout. All the more credit to Renault, then, for getting it right. Nick Heidfeld, by contrast, was almost a forgotten man. Had Vitaly not produced, they’d all be snickering now, basing their evaluation on Heidfeld’s surprisingly lame performance. It was a bad weekend, too, for Williams (problems with their new, low-line transmission units) and for Mercedes, who ironically provided a flip-side to their counterparts at McLaren: after promising tests, they inexplicably lacked grip in Melbourne. Theirirritatingpost-racedramasaside (now awaiting appeal) the Saubers were impressive in the mid-field (in terms of lap time and top speed) and both Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez made good use of that pace: this team looked great from every angle and in many ways is a pleasure to watch. Kamui drove well – but then so did Sergio on debut, running a one-strop strategy to finish seventh. Interestingly, Kimi Raikkonen also started 13th on debut for Sauber – and finished sixth in his first race. Perez’s one-stop strategy stood in stark contrast to the pit stop mania of the rest of the field and shows what can be done if you apply some brainpower. For the record, the first three finishers ran option-option-prime. Both Ferraris and Webber stopped three times, however, but with different strategies: Webber went to prime for his second stint, Massa used the hard tyre only for his third stint and Alonso finished his race on his primes, having driven the previous three stints on soft. Want an explanation for that? I have none, other than to put it all up against the one- stop race of Sergio Perez. I will say, though, that I didn’t think the Pirelli colour-coding worked very well. The only criteria for this, to my mind, is how well the colours show up on TV. F1 is a TV sport; the at-track personnel and spectators are but the stars and the ‘studio audience’; the people who really matter are the millions who watch F1 on TV. And, on TV – whether on the on-board shots or on-track – the colours were nothing like as obvious as they were in the Bridgestone days. It’s early weeks, though, in the lives of the DRS and the multi-coloured P-Zero. It’s early times, too, for the F1 season, although some of the engineers out there, looking again at the brilliance of the Red Bull RBR7, must already be thinking that this year is going to be both very long and very hard.