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GP Week : Issue 146
the inside at Turn 1, Lap 1, at Sepang as there is of Lewis Hamilton flying economy class to LAX. And there, on the outside, by the white line, Fernando found grip. Plenty of it. He harried the Red Bulls. He tucked back into file. He avoided the Grosjean-Schumacher tangle. And then he did Nico Rosberg on the outside of Turn 5. He was up to fifth by the time they had settled – fifth, behind the two McLarens of Lewis and Jenson Button and the two Red Bulls of Vettel and Webber. Very quickly, his race became one of keeping the car on the island. The aquaplaning was bad; the exit kerbs were treacherous; and the spray sat in the air like a winter’s fog. Sergio Perez switched to wets on that opening lap. Ferrari brought Felipe Massa in for wets on lap three; nicely warmed-up, the Ferrari mechanics swapped Fernando’s inters for wets on lap 4. In the cycle, Vettel dropped back to seventh – but Perez, driving beautifully, found himself in third place. Fernando therefore remained fifth. Then the Safety Car was deployed, followed by a red flag. Lap 7. The organizers thoughtfully provided mini-marqees to shelter the cars on the grid. Fernando, Puma suit unpeeled, stood by the car. Sebastian Vettel walked up for a quick chat. Fernando did his usual thing. “Yes, for sure. The conditions are really bad.” No reason tell Seb what he really thought... The re-start was Safety Car controlled, which was probably a good thing, particularly if you were Ferrari and Fernando, balancing on a knife-edge with a difficult car in appalling conditions. The less the risk of being t-boned by a Kamui the better the chances of finishing. And so, again, Fernando settled in for the afternoon. This time they were all on wets. There was no gamble to be made. It was just a question of racing, of driving and of trying to make the tyres last. They trailed around behind the Merc. Fernando flicked the Ferrari left-right, left- right, warming the fronts and spinning the rears with short, sharp thottle burts. The Brembos felt good, front and rear. Ahead of him, the vista was full of flashing red lights. And then came the radio: “Safety Car in this lap” . It was the start of lap 14. Plenty of drivers – Jenson Button amongst them – headed straight into the pit lane to switch to inters. At the front, though, Lewis beautifully managed the start. Perez held second place, Webber was third as they crossed the line; but, again, Fernando aimed for the outside of Turn 1. Again he did it. He found the grip, lived patiently with the radius and then placed the Ferrari exactly where Webber wanted to be for Turn 2. Fernando was up to third. Next question: when to stop? It had to be on the next lap. The track was drying. The wets would disintegrate. Lewis Hamilton, Fernando could see, decided likewise. Sergio Perez stayed out to break the timing beam as the first Mexican to lead a World Championship Grand Prix since Pedro Rodriguez’s epic, race-long fight with Ferrari’s Jacky Ickx in the (wet) 1971 Dutch GP. (Ironic, that: Pedro was beaten by the Ferrari then, too.) In the pit lane it was clearly Ferrari vs McLaren. Ferrari’s pit work was again superb; McLaren’s was a tad slower. As Lewis engaged first, though, Ferrari’s Felipe Massa peeled in to the Ferrari pit for his switch to inters. Lewis had to sit and wait a further 3.5sec whilst 23 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: F1 >>> MALAYSIA