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GP Week : Issue 111
F1 AUSTRALIA >> F1 MALAYSIA >> four times, although he would lose track position to Jenson after a slow pit stop three. (Bear in mind that there were 63 pit stops in this year’s Malaysian GP, and that a team like McLaren is called to do seven of them, all under four seconds, and it’s no surprise that the errors creep in). Jenson, who had started with a four- lap tyre advantage over Lewis, finished a valiant, three-stop second. The minor placings also brought out some majorly good drives. Nick Heidfeld’s speed and consistency resulted in third place for Lotus Renault – a result that must again remind us of poor Robert Kubica, trapped back in Europe as he is, knowing how good his season would now have been. Renault had a tough start to the weekend, with the front uprights on both cars failing on Friday (due to a specific batch of duff material) but recovered beautifully – just as they always used to in the old days of Pat Symonds, Bob Bell and Flavio. The new regime, under Eric Boullier, Alan Permane, James Allison and Steve Nielsen, are no less efficient. Webber fought hard to finish fourth (there was little talk in Malaysia of any ‘mechanical’ issues that might have hurt his performance in Australia) and the Ferraris finished fifth and sixth, ahead of Lewis Hamilton – before, and after, time penalties. After a gritty drive through the first two phases of the race, Fernando, whose adjustable rear wing was not working, could have been fourth for Ferrari in Malaysia, maybe third. With 10 laps to run, however, he classically misjudged a pass on Hamilton as they accelerated out of the T3 kink, when Lewis’s tyres were shot (again). Fernando ran much too closely to Lewis’s right rear, caught some understeer, and plucked away the Ferrari’s left-front wing. It could have been a huge accident; it was an error that a driver of Alonso’s quality should not have made. The FIA Stewards oddly decided to penalize both drivers after the race but to my mind this error was all Fernando’s. The Stewards have subsequently pointed out that the penalty for Lewis was for some steering wheel movement he gave the car the lap before he was hit from behind. If so, it’s strange that Fernando admitted afterwards that the two of them had to “race hard” and that Lewis “defended very well” – and that if anyone was going to be critical of some movement not shown on the general TV feed then it is Fernando. Would the Stewards have penalised Lewis if Fernando had not hit him? Personally I think not. In any event, penalising Lewis after an incident like this can only send out the wrong messages to everyone, young drivers and current ones, particularly if it clouds the real mistake at hand – Fernando Alonso’s mis-judgement. No-one begrudged Kamui Kobayashi and the Sauber team a seventh place (nee eighth place) in the points (ahead of Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes and the equally-impressive Paul di Resta, who again beat his Force India team-mate, Adrian Sutil). Of course Sauber’s ‘illegal’ rear wing in Australia gave no material advantage – and here was the proof. Kamui worked hard to cure a wayward rear end in practice (well, reasonably hard: Kamui isn’t averse to bouts of high-speed oversteer, particularly under braking. These are the moments he kind of lives for!) and he was a model of controlled, aggressive consistency throughout the race, using (as is Sauber ’s wont) a lean, two-stop strategy to race closely on occasions with the likes of Mark and Michael. Sixty-three pit stops – but, in reality, it wasn’t these that defined the race: it was qualifying. Tyre usage in qualifying. Getting the best from the tyres and the car with the minimum of laps. Squeezing more from less. Timing it perfectly. As exemplified by a 23-year-old German named Sebastian Vettel, who, on this hot and humid Malaysian day, justifiably scored career win number 12 and reminded us not a little of some other great drivers – of when they were dominating, too. 25