What’s the greatest pleasure after a demanding week at work? A Formula 1 race weekend, of course! Unfortunately, the next race is in two weeks, on the Shanghai International Circuit in China. But I can’t really complain, last weekend was a race weekend and the weekend before that was as well. The previous race was in Malaysia, on the Sepang International Circuit, where, not surprisingly, the heavens opened up and gave us both a safety car and a red flag because the guy who built the track forgot all about drainage.
In addition to the rain showers that always happen during the Malaysian Grand Prix, the heat is also a challenge, both for the drivers and their machines. The drivers have to stay cool and drink a lot of water during the race, while the intense track temperature of 46 °C (115 °F) wears out the tires quicker than on cooler surfaces.
Like in Melbourne, the qualifying session in Malaysia brought us a couple of surprises: Kimi Räikkönen qualified 5th for Lotus, but started 10th on the grid because of a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change after the second practice session. Romain Grosjean, also driving for Lotus, managed to get to Q3, but only qualified 7th, 4 places down from his 3rd grid position in Melbourne. Still, a very good qualifying for Lotus, which struggled big time last season. A driver who is struggling this season is Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, who isn’t at all as comfortable in this year’s car as he’s been in the two previous seasons. Now that he doesn’t have the best car on the grid he’s got the chance to prove that he is a great driver - if he is. This time he only qualified 6th, last season he had 15 pole positions, his poorest grid position being 3rd. Ferrari is still having some problems with their car, but Fernando Alonso managed to qualify 9th, with Sauber’s rookie-ish driver Sergio Pérez starting from 10th on the grid - his second best grid position ever.
Because of moist conditions and the radar showing heavy rain coming, most of the drivers started the race on intermediate tires. Just like last race, Romain Grosjean managed to get himself into trouble early on, making contact with Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher as early as in the fourth corner on the first lap. He eventually retired on lap three after getting stuck in a gravel trap. Grosjean’s got a lot of potential, he shows that during qualifying, but that doesn’t matter when he isn’t capable of finishing a race. The safety car was deployed on the 7th lap, purely because of the heavy rain, and the race was suspended on lap 9.
After about 50 minutes of dicking around on the grid, the race was restarted under the safety car. On lap 15, McLaren’s Jenson Button managed to slam his car into HRT driver Narain Karthikeyan, forcing him to pit to replace the front wing. Button eventually finished 10th. Sebastian Vettel also had a bad day and had to pit with a rear puncture. He finished just behind Button, on 11th. Wet races are always interesting, because they tend to mix up the usual top ten spots. This wet race was no exception: Through some brilliant driving and a little luck, Fernando Alonso managed to be the first guy across the checkered flag, with the weekend’s happiest man, Sergio Pérez, finishing just two and a half seconds behind him. William’s Bruno Senna, Jean-Éric Vergne for Toro Rosso and both Force India drivers, Nico Hülkenberg and Paul di Resta, managed to finish among the top ten and these are driver’s who wouldn’t usually be finding themselves in that situation. Kimi Räikkönen fin(n)ished 5th and The Lotus seems very competitive this year. I wouldn’t be too surprised if we see him among the top ten drivers often this season. Maybe Romain Grosjean as well, if he manages to finish a damn race.
Fernando Alonso once again showed that he is a brilliant driver who performs great under pressure. If you’re a Formula 1 fan and a Twitter user, I recommend following @alo_oficial, where Fernando tweets quite a lot of interesting things. He seems like a very passionate, professional and likable guy. Can he manage to go all the way to the top in 2012? In the current Ferrari, probably not, but it might be that they will get their act together and give Alonso the car he deserves. There are still a lot of races to go.
As always, here are a few highlights from the race weekend: