Sunday, 25 March 2012

Malaysia: post-race analysis

Well, the tip failed, but the race was hugely exciting and volatile.

It was wet at the start, so all cars started in intermediates or full wets. This meant Hamilton didn’t suffer any problems with his flat-spotted qualifying tyres. The top three remained in the same order as the grid initially, but then Schumacher get hit by Romain “Frank Spencer” Grosjean. The German was spun and half the field passed him.

Almost immediately after the race started torrential rain came down, and the race ended up being red flagged, though not for quite as long as the two hour interval of Canada last year. When it restarted I think Perez was third, but didn’t think he’d be able to hold onto that position.

Grosjean retired after crashing, making it two great qualifying sessions followed by appalling races in a row. Being fast is nice, but not ramming other cars is even nicer.

Button pitted a lap earlier than Hamilton, and leapfrogged him at the pit stops, but it only lasted a few corners. He hit an HRT he was lapping, which took off part of his front wing and meant another pit stop was needed. At this point I believe he was third, behind Alonso and Perez, and it wrecked his race.

Hamilton could do nothing in third. He wasn’t really under threat from Vettel (who later had to retire following a message on the radio) and then Webber, but couldn’t get near Perez. Senna had a good race, nabbing sixth for Williams, behind Raikkonen and ahead of di Resta.

However, Alonso was resurgent in the ‘dog’ of a car, as some silly persons have labelled the undoubtedly excellent 2012 Ferrari, leading the race. But, even better, Massa’s possible replacement Perez was catching him lap-by-lap at a fast rate of knots!

Sadly two things prevented Perez having a chance of overtaking Alonso. Firstly, the pit stop he made was a lap later than Alonso and cost him 6s (it was a slow stop). Secondly, he made a mistake with about four laps to go, and whilst this didn’t cost him 2nd it did mean he lacked the laps to catch up with Alonso. A real shame, as he probably had the pace to get an incredible win for Sauber. That said, second is still spectacular. It can be hard to know how good a driver is when they aren’t in a top car, but Perez looks like the real deal.

Maldonado failed to finish, which enabled Schumacher to get the final points position, behind Vergne and Hulkenberg, with Webber getting 4th.

It’s a bit disappointing to have two losses from two tips, and even moreso that I don’t know whether Button could’ve challenged Perez and Alonso. Hamilton was subdued in his McLaren, but Button tends to do well in wet-dry conditions. Still, it’s early days, and at least I didn’t tip No Safety Car and make it three losses from three.

Alonso, hilariously, is now top of the drivers’ league table, and Perez is 5th with 22 points. In the wet, the Ferrari and Sauber look pretty damned tasty. However, both drivers also benefited from tactical gambles, and from Schumacher/Button suffering misfortune. It’s also worth mentioning Rosberg, who failed to score points again because he was kept out on full wets too long, as a failed tactical ploy.

However, let’s not get carried away. Most races don’t feature monsoons and whilst Malaysia has been fantastic for Perez and Alonso I don’t see either as credible title challengers. Vettel suffered a serious blow by failing, like Button, to score points, and Hamilton’s second consecutive 3rd means he’s second (by 5 points) to Alonso in the standings. More importantly, for the long run, he’s ahead of his team mate and Vettel.

I still think we’ll end up with a McLaren duel for the title. Alonso drove very well today, but in the dry he’s got a severe qualifying handicap. Vettel could be a challenger but he needs a better car. He sounded unhappy before the race and he certainly won’t be happy with zero points.

There’s a three week break until China. Hopefully it’ll be better than last year when I had my worst race of 2011.

Morris Dancer


Nigel said...

Interesting race.

Is it just me that finds it irritating when the safety car stays out too long in wet conditions ?
It's not the first time that they've waited until its dry enough to come in almost immediately for intermediates. That can't be right, surely ?

The Sauber might not have the best aero package, but it's clearly one of the best balanced cars around.
I'm not sure what to make of the Ferrari after today's result - and equally I don't know why the McLaren lacked ultimate pace in wet conditions. It does suggest that the window in which this year's cars perform at their best with a particular setup is a fairly narrow one.

Morris Dancer said...

No, it's not just you.

The same thing happened in at least one race last year. If they need to swap wets immediately then the safety car's been out too long, otherwise the wets might as well be called safety tyres.

The Saubers have had bad qualifying sessions, but had better races in both the dry and wet. I wonder if they have a rubbish DRS, and so suffer the opposite of the Mercedes.

I could be wrong (I find it harder to keep track of things on the radio) but I think Button had good pace in the wet. The McLaren's not awful, but it clearly lacks the edge it has in the dry. As well as a potentially narrow operating window the grid this year is hyper-competitive, so even a small performance loss can mean a big difference.