Malaysian Grand Prix more than Exceeds Expectations

Today, an up-and-coming young driver challenged a two-time world champion for victory… and almost made it. It was wet to start, and most were on inters, but Sergio Perez pitted on the first lap for wets. Others soon followed. After a soggy first few laps at Malaysia, the race was red-flagged until the rain grew lighter. At this point, Perez was sitting in third behind Hamilton and Button. But the race began again, and soon it became dry enough for intermediates. Perez was one of the last to pit, while Ferrari got Alonso out ahead of the McLarens. When Perez emerged, he was also ahead.
At first, Perez slowly fell away from the Ferrari – though he had a fantastic gap to Hamilton in third. Button had disappeared, having hit Narain Karthikeyan while racing for position (the HRTs had got ahead by starting on wets instead of inters). The time came to change for fresh intermediates, but as usual the Sauber was treating the Pirellis better. The Mexican led for a few laps before also changing tyres. Then the charge began.
Closer and closer, by over a second a lap at some points on the drying track. But it was getting so dry that slicks were the way to go. Ricciardo pitted first, and soon the others did too. Ferrari brought in Alonso, but Sauber kept Perez out an extra lap. This left the Mexican in second after his stop, and may have costed him the win. Still, Perez was faster. The Sauber once again closed by over a second per lap, until it got within DRS range. The first try didn’t work. The second… never got an opportunity to happen as Perez went wide, losing four seconds.
There were only a few laps to go, and Perez’s pace wasn’t as good as it had been. Still, he finished 2s behind Alonso in a fantastic drive that will go down in history. If he is not driving for Ferrari in 2013, I shall be very surprised.

Sergio Perez gained 14 places in his first race (starting from 22nd) and 7 places today, making a total of 21 places over 2 races – more than any other driver. He is the first Mexican on the podium in over 40 years, since Pedro Rodriguez.
By contrast, Romain Grosjean has had an appalling first two races. Qualifying well, he has lost 36 places over 2 races, and only completed just over 3% of the possible laps.
Sebastian Vettel has sunk to 6th in the championship, his lowest position since Australia 2010. The last time Vettel scored 0 points but finished a race was at the 2010 Belgian GP. Vettel also had an avoidable collision with Karthikeyan towards the end of the race, which shred his tyre and lost him position. Surprisingly, Karthikeyan was penalised with a drive-through, while Button had accepted the blame for his incident earlier in the race.
The leader of the WDC, contrary to all expectations, is Fernando Alonso. Hamilton is second, Button third and Webber fourth. McLaren still lead the WCC, with Red Bull second, Ferrari third and Sauber 4th.

What will happen in the rest of the season? If the first two races are anything to go by… I haven’t got a clue!

There’s a short break for Easter, and then the Chinese GP will be on April 15th.

Button beats Bulls brilliantly

Formula One
The biggest event of the weekend was of course F1. McLaren shone, taking a 1-2 on the front row and the first British 1-2 since Adelaide 1995. Romain Grosjean was brilliant and started third, while Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher was fourth. Webber and Vettel were only able to manage fifth and sixth.
The race began, and immediately Hamilton lost out to Button. From there, Button streaked away in a Vettel-esque fashion, with Hamilton close behind. Schumi remained third, while Grosjean lost out to Vettel. Webber dropped to 9th, tapping Hulkenberg by accident and making the German drop out. Grosjean dropped to sixth. Pastor Maldonado was behind the French driver, while Alonso was up to 8th from 12th.
Soon, however, Grosjean was out. The French driver was passed by Maldonado, but failed to drop back when he was in the Venezuelan’s blind spot. A while later, Schumacher had a gearbox failure.
Massa and Rosberg both had tyre troubles, while McLaren were apparently in major fuel saving mode due to a miscalculation – yet they still stayed ahead. The race passed without major incident until the second round of pit stops. The gap between the McLarens allowed them to pit both drivers on the same lap, and the team made a very slick job of it. Ferrari, however, did the five fastest stops of the race. As Button and Hamilton were on their out lap, Vitaly Petrov had a steering failure in his Caterham and pulled up on the pit straight. The safety car came out. Vettel pitted, and emerged between the McLarens.
The field bunched up, and unlapping took place except for Heikki Kovalainen, who was also having car trouble and pitted. He was too fast going onto the pit entry and overtook Vettel and Hamilton, so the Finn has a 5-place grid penalty in Malaysia.
There were more retirements after the safety car, with Senna and Massa having a clash. Massa was out, while Senna retired after a few laps. The other Williams of Maldonado was in sixth behind Alonso, while Perez, Rosberg, Kobayashi and Raikkonen were in another battle with Ricciardo, Di Resta and Vergne behind.
On the final lap, Maldonado crashed as Rosberg’s fuel tank came close to empty. The German fell back to 12th, and there was a big mix-up between the remaining drivers. Kobayashi took sixth, with Raikkonen seventh just ahead of Perez, Ricciardo, Di Resta and Vergne. Those four crossed the line right on top of each other.

McLaren now lead the constructors’ championship with Red Bull second and Sauber third. Jenson Button leads the drivers’ championship. Webber made his best ever finish in his home GP. Perez improved from 22nd to 8th, while Raikkonen went from 17th to 7th.

Formula Renault UK
Young British drivers have been really struggling to find funding for the 2012 season, and with only six entries by today, the organisers have been forced to cancel the series. This is a real disappointment for a series that has seen drivers like Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton and even Pedro de la Rosa. There were 30 drivers in the winter series, but many of them are in the NEC and Eurocup. Many drivers were hoping to take part, but now they will have to look elsewhere to start their racing careers – if they can still find a space.

F2
German driver Markus Pommer was today announced in the 2012 season, He finished well in the German F3 championship and was good in winter testing. However, he does have some dodgy sponsors.

GP2
Rapax have signed French driver Tom Dillmann and Angolan Ricardo Teixeira for 2012. Dillmann shone in GP3, driving the first weekend for Carlin where he got a podium. Despite this, Carlin dropped Dillmann and he missed the second weekend before returning with Addax. In the GP2 final he drove for iSport, qualifying 9th (best of the GP3 drivers) and finishing 6th in the feature race. In the sprint he finished second to James Calado.
By contrast, Teixeira has not had a good racing career. He drove in GP2 2009 for Trident, not qualifying for several races and scoring no points. In 2010 he drove in F2, taking fifth place at Marraketch but struggling otherwise. Last year he test drove for Team Lotus (now Caterham).

Venezuela GP Lazarus are yet to announce their second driver as the teams head to Malaysia for the first race of the season.

Vettel and Bortolotti dominate in India and Spain

What a day! Formula One completed the inaugural running of the Indian Grand Prix (won, as expected, in a dominant fashion by Sebastian Vettel) and the F2 championship was completed.

F1
The sun was shining through the haze as twenty-four cars set off for the first corner. But only 23 made it through as Kamui Kobayashi got into an incident with a few other drivers including Barrichello and Glock. Barrichello pitted for a new front wing, and despite attempting to continue, Glock retired on lap two.
There was a second incident at the next corner, and Jarno Trulli received a puncture from one of the HRTs. He drove slowly back to the pits, but ended up finishing the race two laps behind Daniel Ricciardo. Trulli’s teammate Kovalainen, howver, had a good race. For the first half he scrapped with the back of the midfield, but after changing to hard tyres he could not keep in touch with Petrov, Perez and di Resta. The trio had got their hard tyre stint done in the first lap, which paid off in the form of a point for Perez.
The Toro Rossos had plenty of wings, and though Sebastien Buemi had a failure which forced him to retire, Jaime Alguersuari finished eighth. This puts the team level with Sauber on points, though Sauber are ahead due to a fifth-place finish for Kobayashi. Renault weren’t so lucky. Senna was running well but needed to use the hard tyre. He had to pit in the final few laps, losing him the chance of a point, while Petrov was unable to overtake Perez.
Schumacher had a brilliant start and finished fifth with teammate Rosberg unable to keep up. Rosberg was sixth. Behind them came Lewis Hamilton, who once again came off badly after an incident with Felipe Massa. It is astonishing how regularly they have collided this year. Massa was penalised with a drive-through, but later retired after breaking his suspension on one of the kerbs. The other driver who retired was Pastor Maldonado, who has been having problems all weekend. He also had a mechanical failure.
Sharing the podium with Vettel were Jenson Button – who had a relatively quiet race after being troubled by Webber – and Fernando Alonso who undercut Webber in the pits. If Red Bull are going to get Mark into second in the championship, it is going to be hard work; he is 19 points behind Button and 6 behind Alonso. The way Button has been running recently, he is most likely not to lose out to the Aussie or the Spaniard. As for Hamilton, he is 38 points behind Button. This is very likely to be the first season he is beaten by his teammate.
Elsewhere, the Renaults finished 11th and 12th, di Resta came home 13th ahead of Kovalainen, and the two HRTs finished behind d’Ambrosio in 17th and 18th for Karthikeyan and Ricciardo respectively. The Indian should consider this to be a good race.

F2
Two spectacular dominating races for Mirko Bortolotti saw him top the podium in Barcelona on Saturday and Sunday, starting each from pole. Second on Saturday was Miki Monras, who found himself in a no-man’s land between Bortolotti and his fellow-countryman Ramon Pineiro who came third. Pineiro was in a similar state. On Sunday, Pineiro came second, once again running a lonely race. Behind him, however, Mihai Marinescu fended off Monras for third. It was not enough for Pineiro to take second in the championship, but he did take a well-deserved third and will soon get to test a GP2 car along with Christopher Zanella. Bortolotti, however, will be packing for Abu Dhabi where he will participare in the young drivers’ test with Williams.
There was not a huge amount of overtaking in the race, but Mikkel Mac managed a spectacular pass on Jack Clarke. Alex Brundle finishes the season top Brit after a tough year. He has only two points more than Jack Clarke, and ten more than Will Bratt who probably would have been a championship challenger if he had been able to continue. Full championship listings will be found on this website in a few days’ time.

Title deciders – Formula Renault UK and F1

It was a weekend of championship deciders as the British Touring Car Championship and support races had their final weekend of 2011. This included Formula Renault UK, and with 10 wins under his belt Alex Lynn was always likely to confirm his victory today.
He did so in style, winning the first of the races and taking fastest lap. But the second race did not go so well. Though starting from pole, he had a battle with teammate Oliver Rowland which left Lynn spinning. He came back into the race further down the field. He began his comeback, but a recurring problem for all the support races came back to bite him. In almost every race, the drivers had been running wide and putting all four wheels over the white line. Race control took a hard line: three offences were okay, fourth got a warning, and the fifth got a drive-through penalty. Lynn, Alice Powell, Oscar King and Felix Serrales all had to suffer this indignity. A few others, including Jordan King, came very close.
Winner of the race was Rowland, who secured second in the championship as Tio Ellinas chose to fight for third in the race (and hence second in the championship) rather than retire. Retiring would have seen him come second under the dropped points system.
Lynn will probably be in British F3 next year, and I expect several other drivers will be looking around at their options. Alice Powell even mentioned GP3 when she was doing commentary for the Formula Renault BARC race. Some of the graduates will hopefully return to Formula Renault, and compete for the championship next season.

Another championship decided today was the Formula One constructors’ championship. Vettel was behind Hamilton at the start, but got ahead and stayed there for the rest of the race. But Hamilton had a great show of form, and his faster McLaren defended well against the Red Bull of Webber to secure second. Though Webber tried and tried, the car’s straight-line speed with DRS and KERS was not enough. At one point he overtook Hamilton just before the DRS detection point, but the McLaren had the advantage and took the place back.
In fourth was Jenson Button, who had a quiet race as Massa had held Alonso up for too long in the first half. Though Alonso had caught up to Button in the final two laps, it was too late to have a go as he was running low on fuel. Massa was sixth.
Jaime Alguersuari had a good race. Able to pit later than the other frontrunners, he was behind Nico Rosberg after his second stop. The Mercedes held on for a long time, but on the final lap his tyres fell away and the Toro Rosso driver overtook on the final corner to come home for a great seventh-place finish. This matches his best all-time finish. Rosberg took eighth. Behind, Buemi was battling with the Force Indias and won to take ninth, while Di Resta was tenth. Just outside the points, Sutil came 11th, Barrichello 12th. Senna was the first of the lapped drivers as his tyres had gone two laps before the end. A rapidly-closing Kovalainen was not quite able to beat the Renault, but took a decent fourteenth. In a strange turn of fortune, both Saubers did three stops and finished behind Kovalainen but ahead of seventeenth-placed Trulli. Ricciardo split Glock and D’Ambrosio, while Liuzzi had another torrid race.
The retirees were Maldonado (with technical problems), Petrov and Schumacher. Petrov hit Schumacher just after he had overtaken Alonso, destroying the Merc’s rear wing and causing a safety car. The Russian has a five-place grid penalty for India. HRT had a 5000 Euro fine for an unsafe release of Daniel Ricciardo.

Vettel and Wickens win titles

Two titles were decided today, as the inter-team battle of Vergne vs Wickens was decided in Formula Renault 3.5, while Sebastian Vettel finished in the points at Suzuka to take the world championship and become the youngest-ever double world champion.

Robert Wickens only needed to finish nine points or less behind Jean-Eric Vergne to take the title, but his hopes were almost dashed at the start of the race as he took himself out in an altercation with Vergne. The Virgin driver had to watch the race from the pits, and hope Vergne didn’t finish in the top five. The Red Bull driver struggled himself, and eventually retired on lap nine when he clashed with Fairuz Fauzy.
It was a race of high attrition, with only fourteen drivers surviving till the finish. Six of those drivers (including Wickens) didn’t even complete the first lap. Albert Costa won, with Nick Yelloly second and Brendon Hartley third. But it was Robert Wickens who celebrated winning the title after two years being runner-up.
Alex Rossi took third in the drivers’ championship after finishing seventh in the race, with Albert Costa’s win taking him to fourth. Daniel Ricciardo’s F1 career meant he missed the race and was demoted to fifth.

In Formula One, Vettel naturally took the lead from pole, with Lewis Hamilton getting into second. But Button was on the pace, and overtook Hamilton when his tyres were fading. After the first round of pit stops he was right on the tail of the Red Bull, and came out ahead after the second stops. From then on, Jenson dominated, though Alonso (who got out ahead of Vettel as well) was closing on him at the finish. Vettel took his first third-place of the season, which was enough to secure him the championship.
It was a good race for Team Lotus, who finished for the first time on the lead lap. They were helped by a safety car mid-way through the race, which pulled the field back together. Both Virgins and Daniel Ricciardo finished two laps down, while Tonio Liuzzi was lapped three times. The only non-finisher was Sebastien Buemi, whose tyre hadn’t been fitted properly. It was a similar problem to Alguersuari’s in China.
Hamilton and Massa had their regulation collision, though for once Lewis wasn’t penalised. It did cause Massa to lose a small part of his car, which was the cause of the safety car. But these two seem to be coming together far too often. Massa ended up seventh as Schumacher’s tyre strategy paid off. The German led a race for the first time today since the Japanese GP five years ago. Hamilton finished fifth, with Webber fourth. In eight was Perez, not letting his illness get him down. Perez set the second-fastest lap of the day by 0.001 seconds – fastest was Button, whose previous lap had been 0.005s slower than Perez. Ninth was Petrov, and Rosberg came 10th from 23rd.

Kvyat and King dominate the NEC

The final two Formula Renault NEC races of the season took place yesterday. In the first of Sunday’s races, Danny Kvyat dominated from pole, though he was challenged by his teammate Carlos Sainz (the series champion). Jordan King was also battling with the pair, and it must have been a great race to watch. King took up the third step on the podium.
In the final race, Jordan King battled his way up into the top three with Kvyat chasing – the first six drivers were reversed from the finish of race one. Stoffel Vandoorne tried hard but lost his pole position start, while Clemente Picariello had been running in third for the final laps before hitting the kerb as the clock ran down, relinquishing the position to Jordan King.
Incredibly, Kvyat and King have dominated this final round of the NEC, with the British driver picking up his third, fourth and fifth podiums of the season. Kvyat narrowed his gap to fourty points behind Sainz, and has finished second in the championship. King finished 11th having only competed in half the races.

Now to Formula One, and the race was dominated by Sebastian Vettel, though it came close at the end. Famously easy on his tyres, Jenson Button came close to the Red Bull driver at the end but the traffic prevented him from getting through.
There were four retirements from the race – Timo Glock took himself out on a wall in lap nine. Later, the two Mercedes drivers were battling with Perez and when the Sauber driver ran off the track, Rosberg got past. Schumacher was next to attempt to pass, but he ended up emulating Mark Webber’s accident in Valencia 2010. Though he didn’t fly, his accident was enough to cause a safety car. And Jarno Trulli was the second driver in the queue, having just been lapped by Vettel. The German was destined to get away, with second-placed Jenson fifth in the line.
It is clear that something needs to be done about the safety car proceedure in order to make it much more exciting when the car comes in. Watching as drivers try to untangle themselves ruins some of the excitement. If Jenson had been right behind Seb… who knows?
The third retirement was Jarno Trulli, whose gearbox blew up. It had been on the edge, but Lotus decided to run it anyway to avoid a penalty. It lasted until close to the end of the race, so it was a good risk. Finally, Jaime Alguersuari took himself out in the final few laps, too close to the end to call a safety car, so he was a classified non-finisher.
Of course, the accidents can’t tell the whole story of the race, and there was a big battle between Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa. They may have been championship rivals in 2008, but these guys are not getting on well this season. Hamilton was trying to overtake the Ferrari when he hit the Brazilian’s tyre with his front wing. The wing was damaged and the tyre punctured. This was – typically for Massa – right after they had pitted. Massa has had a lot of bad luck with his tyres getting damaged right after a pit stop.
The Brazilian was not happy, and only climbed back into ninth at the end, while Lewis – who was behind Massa after his drive-through – came back to fifth.
With Alonso finishing fourth and Button finishing second, Vettel hasn’t won the championship just yet. But as he only needs to score a single point – or either Alonso or Button to not win all the remaining races – to secure the championship, it is pretty-much in the bag.

Next weekend: Formula Renault UK action at Brands Hatch, Formula Two action at Monza.

Formula One round 13 report

Round 13 of the Formula One World Championship, and the sun was shining on Monza. But 13 turned out to be a very unlucky number in a race of high attrition.
Three drivers didn’t even make it to the end of the first lap, as Tonio Liuzzi tripped on the grass and lost control, slamming his HRT into Petrov’s Renault as the Russian negotiated the first chicane. Petrov collided with Rosberg’s Mercedes, and the three of them were out of the race. The safety car was called to the track. A few drivers took advantage of the situation to pit including Bruno Senna, who had started on hard tyres. He was now on softs till the end of the race. Fernando Alonso overtook Sebastian Vettel, and led the race.
Next to fall was Jerome d’Ambrosio, retiring at the end of the first lap with mechanical issues. A couple of laps later the race restarted. Schumacher took advantage of a slow Lewis Hamilton to get into third, resulting in a battle for third that would last a long time due to McLaren’s short gear ratio choice. Mark Webber found himself in sixth behind Felipe Massa as lap four commenced. At the start of lap five, Webber went wide on the chicane and hit his front wing into the Ferrari. The wing got caught under his nose, and as Vettel overtook Alonso for the lead, Webber found his wheels had no contact with the ground and he went sliding into the tyre wall. Down five drivers already.
The next drivers to go were Adrian Sutil, Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez. Daniel Ricciardo had car problems and started the race late, finishing fourteen laps down and wasn’t classified. This left only fifteen classified finishes. We might have had some boring races in 2011, but we’ve also had some fantastic ones.
So Vettel won. Second was Jenson Button, who overtook Fernando Alonso in the middle of the race. Alonso came third, avoiding the oncoming Lewis Hamilton because of the chequered flag. A few more laps and he would have lost that position. Fifth was Michael Schumacher, who had a great race. This is the first time five world champions have finished a race in positions 1-5.
13 was unlucky for the two Williams drivers finishing 11th and 12th. But it was lucky for Bruno Senna who finished 9th and was closing on Di Resta in 8th. It’s the Brazilian’s first points in F1, and the first points for a Senna since Australia 1993. 13 was especially lucky for Heikki Kovalainen. The Finn finished in that position for the first time this season, allowing him to move up in the championship standings. He is now between Trulli and Liuzzi.

Di Resta’s points mean Force India overtakes Sauber in the constructor’s championship, while 7th for Alguersuari and 10th for Buemi see Toro Rosso closing on the Swiss team. The non-finish for Webber regulates him to fourth, but still ahead of Lewis Hamilton. Alonso is in second. Vettel extends his championship lead, and could win it at the next round in Singapore. The battle is on for second, where it is close between Alonso, Button, Webber and Hamilton.