Red Bull avoid reliability woes to crush the opposition
It was about time that fortune favoured Sebastian Vettel. For him, the start of the season had been less than satisfactory. Two magnificent poles but yet, only 12 points to show from it. However, the Malaysian Grand Prix put Vettel right back into the mix and also sends an ominous warning to the rest of the field. The RB6 is a fast car and it has yet to show its full pace. Had a few parts not fallen off in Bahrain and Australia, it’s highly probable that the championship would be already sealed for Red Bull. As it is, there are six or seven drivers who are still in the hunt and there have been three different drivers from three different teams winning the opening three races of the season.
At the start, Mark Webber got the jump from pole but Vettel was immediately on his tail and left a gap big enough for a Formula One car to slot into. From there, Vettel took a lead which he was to relinquish just for a few laps when Webber was in the pits. Behind the duelling Bulls, Rosberg was ahead of Kubica and Sutil, who had managed to make a good start to jump ahead of Hulkenberg.
The Williams had a dreadful start. Hulkenberg lost out from a brilliant 5th place on the grid whilst team mate Barrichello had his customary once in a while stall to drop to the back of the field. From there, he never made much of an impact in the race.
At the back, Lewis Hamilton had made a lightening start and shot up from 20th to 12th. Felipe Massa followed him through but from then on he never made the gains that Lewis did. Hamilton easily passed a few cars before he got by Petrov, only to be duped by the Russian and be overtaken again. Hamilton’s excessive weaving on the pit straight raised a few eyebrows and sensibly, he was cautioned by the stewards.
Michael Schumacher had made up two places from the start and was optimistic about the prospect of taking a healthy dose of points. However, a wheel nut worked loose and he pulled off the track between Turns 8 and 9.
The Ferrari’s were having a dismal showing though as Massa still looked uncomfortable in the F10 and Fernando Alonso was not able to close down his team mate. Buemi, using the same engine, was holding up the pair but something was not quite right with Alonso’s machine. From the onboard shots, you could hear that the double world champion was having issues when downshifting and it later transpired that he drove the whole race without a clutch. With this in mind, he drove very well when you look at the sort of pace he was doing.
Back at the front and Mark Webber was hunting down Vettel, but he couldn’t make a huge impression. The gap was around one and a half seconds during the first stint and was highly likely that the drivers were being told to maintain a certain pace and ensure they didn’t fall off the track.
When the pit stops came it was Vettel who came in first and crucially, he managed to stay ahead of the yet-to-pit Lewis Hamilton. From there, the German set a blistering out lap that meant when Webber pitted, he had no chance. Add to that a sticking wheel gun and Webber fell 4 to 5 seconds behind his team mate. When Lewis pitted, the McLaren team set the fastest pit stop of the year in an astonishing 3.5 seconds which meant that Hamilton got the edge, just, on Button when he exited the pits.
Button himself was having a fairly plain race and having pitted early, he dropped back from Hamilton at a rapid pace and fell into the clutches of Massa, who had put a couple of fast laps in on his fresh set of soft tyres. Hamilton, however, had caught up to the back of close friend Adrian Sutil and found life a little bit tougher than he would have imagined.
Sutil was desperate for some decent points, having been overshadowed by Liuzzi’s performances in the previous two outings. The Italian was forced to take an early bath following what appeared to be a hydraulics issue. However, back to Sutil and whilst Hamilton closed the gap rapidly and was on the sort of pace where he might have challenged the podium, a move eluded him as the power of Sutil’s Mercedes engine was difficult to beat and Hamilton stayed in 6th for the remainder of the race.
Behind him, Felipe Massa had finally got a move on and slid down the inside of Jenson Button. Next up for Button was Fernando Alonso who hounded the Brit, despite his ailing Ferrari becoming sicker by the lap. The problem became terminal at the start of the penultimate lap as sparks flew from beneath the F10 and Alonso slid inside Button to avoid a crash. He tried to continue, but the engine blew and he parked up at Turn 4. His parked car nearly cost Vettel the race as the German had to lap Jarno Trulli’s very slow Lotus (he was lapping about 30 seconds slower thanks to a hydraulics issue) under waved yellow flags. Given the circumstances, the stewards took no further action. Trulli was just told to finish Lotus’ home race, even though his car was stuttering badly.
Lotus other driver, Heikki Kovalainen, has his most difficult race so far. He had to pit for a lengthy period of time, but he was sent back out to get some valuable mileage, finishing the race but only completing 46 laps and therefore, not classified.
The other new teams had a brighter day as Virgin finally got a car to the finish in the hands of Lucas di Grassi, even if his fuel consumption was quite high towards the end of the race and having the team on tenterhooks.
HRT once again ran well, even if their car is desperately lacking downforce. The drivers managed to stay on the road and finish in 15th and 16th, with Karun Chandhok having the edge over his team mate throughout the event. However, the team now really need to run higher. They have managed to get the car to the finish and they didn’t have any reliability issues across the weekend. Now it is all about improving the pace of the car to close the gap to the Lotus’ and Virgins.
It was another bad day at the office for Sauber though. Pedro de La Rosa stopped at Turn 3 on his lap to the grid and Kamui Kobayashi spluttered to a halt when running in 8th place. It was another missed opportunity for the Swiss team and the promise they had over the winter has dissipated into pure disappointment amongst many fans. They’re also not aiding their cause of getting rid of their blank livery for next year.
Fellow midfield team Toro Rosso had a much better day though and Jaime Alguersuari drove like a man possessed to keep the Ferrari’s behind and then to attack the Williams, claiming his first points with an inspired drive to 9th place. He knew he had to improve on his 2009 performances and he has duly obliged with a strong effort. He is one to watch for the future. Buemi on the other hand missed out on points by just over 5 seconds as he was unable to hunt down GP2 champion Hulkenberg.
To the surprise of many, the rain stayed away and the scheduled 56 laps were completed and the first man to complete them was Sebastian Vettel, who claimed his first victory of the season and the sixth of his career. With Webber second it was a perfect day for Christian Horner’s team as they took away a one-two, pole position and, thanks to Mark Webber, a fastest lap. Mercedes took their first podium since their return whilst it was damage limitation mode for McLaren and Ferrari who collected a handful of points that may be very valuable come the end of the season.
The championship table now reads as follows: Massa 39, Alonso 37, Vettel 37, Button 35, Rosberg 35, Hamilton 31, Kubica 30, and Webber with 24. Analysing this raises questions. It seems quite funny how Massa, who has been quite unimpressive in the opening races, leads the championship whilst other drivers who have won and have driven their heart out are below him. Especially when the new points system was intended to reward drivers who win races rather than settle for second. Nonetheless, consistency is still key as long as you are near the front and not consistently retiring, Messrs Petrov, Glock and Kobayashi. Ferrari have a 10 point lead over McLaren in the constructors championship whilst Red Bull have jumped up to 3rd with their dominant performance.
So Red Bull is back in the hunt. But to be honest, were they ever out of it in the first place? The season is sure to get better and the next 15 races (I'm not including Valencia!) should be spellbinding.
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Classification | 04. 04. 2010 | 56 laps | Dry
Pos Driver Team Gap
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault
2. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 4.8s
3. Rosberg Mercedes + 13.5s
4. Kubica Renault + 18.5s
5. Sutil Force India-Mercedes + 21.0s
6. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes + 23.4s
7. Massa Ferrari + 27.0s
8. Button McLaren-Mercedes + 37.9s
9. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1m10.6s
10. Hulkenberg Williams + 1m13.3s
11. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1m18.9s
12. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth + 1 lap
13. Alonso Ferrari + 2 laps
14. Di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth + 3 laps
15. Chandhok Hispania-Cosworth + 3 laps
16. Senna Hispania-Cosworth + 4 laps
17. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth + 5 laps
Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 46 laps – Still running
Petrov Renault 32 laps - Gearbox
Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 12 laps - Throttle
Schumacher Mercedes 9 laps – Wheel nut
Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 8 laps - Engine
Glock Virgin-Cosworth 2 laps - Accident
De la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari 0 laps – Engine