March 25, 2012
*PRE-RACE: The closer it got to the point where the teams had to get off the grid and the cars had to roll out on the recon lap, the closer and heavier the rainclouds got. Then, with around five minutes to go, the rain began to fall gently upon the asphalt. Off came the slick tires, on went the Intermediates, and the mechanics scurried to the grass.
As the cars circumnavigated the track, the calls began to come in... some parts of the circuit were wetter than others. Maybe it was just a localized shower and the Inters would only be on for a few laps. The Thundering Herd took their places on the grid, anticipating the extinguishing of the lights and the start of the race... but at this point, nobody noticed that the lone HRT on the grid, driven by Narain Kittylitter, was on the full wet tires, while his teammate, Pete Rose, was in the pit lane, getting the Wellingtons put on his car as well.
*LIGHTS OUT: As the field made its way to the Turn 1/2 Complex, everything was fine, just another drive in the park. This week, polesitter Lewis Hamilton kept his teammate Jenson Button behind as they swung through the turns, while behind them there was much in the way of sound and fury, in the end signifying nothing. Because when they reached Turns 3 and 4, all the skies broke loose.
The Sepang International Circuit is uniquely suited for wet races, in that it is wider than most tracks at 45 feet. This allows the field to spread out to a certain degree so as not to be blinded by the spray. While this is great for the leaders, it just makes life even harder for the people behind. The man they call "The Rainmaster," Slappy Schumacher, spun almost immediately upon hitting the wet, maybe taking Lettuce Grosjean with him (or maybe being helped by the Renault Lotus). Coming to a halt nearly in the center of the track, it was only by luck he wasn't run over by the cars behind. Two turns later, Bruno Senna rotated his way off-track, missing the nearby graveltrap by scant inches. By the end of Lap 2, some members of the field were diving into the pits for the full wet tires, others were staying out on the rapidly weakening Inters but keeping their cars on-track by force of will alone it appeared. As occasionally happens at larger racetracks, the rain was heavier on one part of the circuit (the two straights and the first set of turns) than on other parts (the "back side"). Lettuce Grosjean, perhaps from damage suffered in his little dance with Slappy, spun off into a graveltrap and dug himself in on Lap 4, never to be seen again. Jenson Button decided, apparently on his own, to come in and change to the Wet tires on Lap 5 while his teammate stayed out in the lead... as the rain began to bucket down even harder, now spreading to cover the entire circuit. Even as skilled a driver as Hamilton began to suffer with the Inters as the Sepang International Swimming Pool began to retain, not shed, the water. Meanwhile, Button on the Wets made up ground hand over fist. Lewis ducked into the pit lane for his Wet tires on Lap 6, and it was going to be close to see if he'd get out ahead of Button. The difference ended up being around one car's length, but Hamilton just barely stayed in the lead. In the pit shuffle, the Sauber of Sergio Perez, who stopped at the end of Lap 1, wound up in third place.
*SAFETY CAR: At this point on Lap 7, a number of things happened at the same time. First, Jenson Button radioed to the pit wall (and by extension, to Charlie Whiting, race controller) that "the third sector was a lake." Second, the Safety Car was sent out. Third, and perhaps most importantly, multiple bolts of lightning touched down in the vicinity of the rear grandstands, knocking out power to a number of the FIA cameras (and, coincidentally, much of the SkySports feed). Then came the news that it was going to rain for at least another half-hour, and suddenly there was a lot of talk of the 2009 GP of Malaysia. Well, the rain wasn't that heavy, but it was a valid concern. It only took one lap behind Berndt Maylander before the red flag was thrown, and the race ground to a halt on Lap 9, the Herd forming up on the grid.
*AMAZING: As the cars were put under the collapsible gazebos, deadly creatures they may be, some oddball bits of information began to appear. For example, starting on the full wet tires had paid off for Narain Kittylitter, who was sitting in 10th place! Jules Vergne's Toro Rosso was in 7th having never put on Wet tires at all, perhaps the bravest piece of driving we'd ever seen.
*THUMB-TWIDDLING: And so we sat under the red flag for nearly an hour.
Drivers would eventually get out of their cars and wander off the grid, presumably to towel off, play parcheesi, talk about the weather, that sort of thing, then eventually wander back, only to be told to go back and play Stratego... or something. On the grid, the teams would every now and again stick a mechanic in the cockpit and fire up the cars, so as to keep the engines warm. This is imperative, as when cold, a F1 engine is essentially a solid block of metal, the tolerances are so fine. To start one, you need to preheat the lubricants, water, and so forth, then feed them in before it'll fire up. Letting the lump get too cool on the grid means you're out of the race. Eventually the rain cleared off, the track began to dry a bit, and the field was given five minutes to get ready.
*HERE WE GO AGAIN: The field perambulated behind the Mercedes AMG for three laps, then the race began again... but we must acknowledge the jape played by The Varsha, lead member of the Legendary Announce Team. As the Safety Car pulled away from the field to get clear before the restart, he said "The lights are out on the Safety Car, we'll be back after this commercial break." As the other two members of the L.A.T. made incoherent noises of outrage, The Varsha merely replied with "Somebody dared me."
*AND WE'RE OFF: The race resumed, eventually the field came in for Inters around Lap 15 or 16. Lewis Hamilton's stop was mangled terribly and he rejoined the field in 9th, which would become 3rd as the cars ahead of him stopped for tires. Then Jenson Button, who had already stopped, got tangled up in the HRT of Kittylitter and lost his front wing. To be fair, Kittylitter did nothing wrong. He was under no obligation to move aside, since this was for position. Button just made a mistake, and paid for it. His stop was a hopeless blunder, the front nose going on well enough, but the tire change taking forever and the rear jack seem to get hung up. Button fell from 9th to 20th, and would never factor in the race again.
*SETTLING IN: Then a frantic race began to relax a bit, with the Ferrari of HWMNBN in front, followed by Sergio Perez' Sauber and the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton. Seb Vettel, Nico Rosberg and Kimi Raikkonen followed behind, but were never close to a podium position. On Lap 31, with everybody still on Inters, HWMNBN led Sergio Perez by nearly eight seconds...
*RATCHETING UP: ...and then the Malaysian Miracle began. It was clear at Australia that while the Saubers were gentle on their tires, the Ferraris weren't overly so. The gap dropped to seven seconds... then 6.5 seconds... on Lap 35, it was just under five seconds. Then it was clear that HWMNBN must have burned his tires straight off, because by Lap 36, the lead was 3.95 seconds. Now the concern for both drivers had to be how long the tires would last before completely failing. HWMNBN, Perez, and Hamilton were all on the Inters they put on some 20 laps previously, and while they may have been babying them, Inters just aren't designed to go that long.
Hamilton's were essentially slicks already, the Ferrari was showing signs that his were dying... only Perez was looking solid. There was a stop coming... the only question was, would they go with Inters, or would they put on dry tires? When Daniel Ricciardo put soft slicks on at Lap 39, everybody held their breath... as lightning flashed in the background. Not only did Ricciardo survive the first try on drys, he turned the fastest lap of the race so far. Since most of the rest of the field had Inters that looked like Hamilton's, everybody began to put on the racing shoes.
*THE MIRACLE MANIFESTS: Everybody but the two men up front. They had opened up such a gap to the McLaren that they could pit, put on new tires and come back on track and still not lose their positions. A shocking turn of events after the prior week! On Lap 40, Perez had nearly caught the Ferrari, cutting the lead to under one second. The Red Team knew something had to be done, and they called their man in for fresh tires. Shockingly, Sauber left Perez out on-track instead of ghosting the movements of the Ferrari. Sergio Perez had the race in his hand at this point; if he could push hard enough and fast enough, he might be able to pit and get out again before HWMNBN could get by, taking the lead in the pit rotation. It was not to be, however, and when the Sauber pitted, he rejoined the race behind the Ferrari... still in second place, but some four seconds behind and dropping rapidly as he tried to get the dry tires up to temperature. By the time they were there, he was some seven seconds in arrears. But nothing was going to stop the Mexican, not today. By Lap 46, the lead was 3.2 seconds and again falling fast. The stress levels were going through the roof, and even a little comic relief from Seb Vettel couldn't help (see Mooooooo-ooove Of The Race, below).
*MIRACLE MASSACRE: On Lap 49, the lead was .670 seconds and it was clear that there was little that HWMNBN would be able to do to defend the lead, what with Perez being able to use the DRS seven more times. He'd be able to block, surely, but with the rulebook having been rewritten to prevent weaving, there's only so much that even a driver of HWMNBN's caliber could do to stop a clearly faster car from getting by. Then the radio to the Sauber driver came alive with a call from his race engineer: "Remember, Sergio, we need this position." While this was valid, particularly considering what happened to Williams F1 at the last race on the final lap, it seemed an odd time to make such a call. Your driver is getting ready to stampede past a Ferrari for the lead and, incidentally, Sauber's first victory since 2008 and their second in 20 years of racing, and you're telling him to be careful? Immediately the LAT wondered if the call was made because they run Ferrari engines. While all three poo-poohed the idea, the thought remains... particularly because on Lap 50, mere moments after the call was made, Perez blew Turn 14 and ran wide, handing HWMNBN a full five seconds cushion. At this point, the official F1U! notebook is filled with profanities and incoherent screamings.
*THE END: Sergio Perez wasn't done. He returned to his prior quickness, taking a second per lap off the Ferrari, but he ran out of laps. He finished second, only 2.26 seconds behind the Ferrari of HWMNBN. Lewis Hamilton finished third, nearly 13 seconds behind the Sauber.
*DRIVER OF THE RACE: HWMNBN has a lousy Ferrari underneath him, but even a bad Ferrari is usually better than the rest of the field, and he's now won 28 times in F1. Sergio Perez has started fewer races than the Spaniard has won, and nearly took this victory away from him in an underfunded Sauber. If Gandalf Kobayashi hadn't've retired his car from the points just before the radio call for Perez to be careful, would he have won? We'll never know. What we do know is that Perez had the bigger challenge ahead of him, and nearly shocked the world.
*TEAM OF THE RACE: None. The top eight positions were held by eight different teams. If pressed, we suppose we'd have to give it to Ferrari. They won the race after all, right? But we'd prefer to go with none.
*MOVE OF THE RACE: On Lap 30, Gandalf Kobayashi was all over the back of seven-time World Champion Slappy Schumacher. The Mercedes had lost whatever pace it had shown back in Quals, while the Sauber was proving to be rather spritely on the day. Nevertheless, just the fact that Slappy was involved meant that any passing attempt would be difficult.
Out of Turn 4, Gandalf got better grip out of the exit of the turn and was therefore able to pile on the power faster than Slappy.
Through the entrance of Turn 5, the two were side-by-side, with Gandalf on the outside of the turn, but on the inside of the upcoming Turn 6. The Sauber kept the power on, and though the track was dryer than it had been earlier, it was hardly dry. Both drivers managed to keep control, and Kobayashi kept Shadowfax right alongside the Silver Arrow all the way through the long turn.
As Five turned to Six, Slappy wisely backed out of the throttle and let the youthful Japanese driver by. A solid pass in questionable conditions, and the best one of the day.
*MOOOOOOO-OOOVE OF THE RACE: On Lap 46, Seb Vettel was in 5th place and solidly in the points. As he blew past the lapped HRT of Narain Kittylitter, he braked hard and cut across the nose of the Indian driver. Now, the new tire compounds brought by Pirelli are called "hard", "medium" and so forth, but to be honest, that's only in comparison to each other. You can easily push a finger deeply into the "hard" tires. Now, when they're rotating fast enough to make a car go 140mph and you run them over another car's carbon fiber front wing, what do you think happens?
By the time Vettel made it back to the pits and returned to the track, he had dropped to 12th, and the damage from the flailing tire carcass would eventually cause him to drop out on the final lap. No points and while Kittylitter got penalized for the incident, Sebby should have known better than to have cut it that fine. Here's your Mooooooooo-ooove, World Champ!
*SELECTED DRIVER QUOTES OF THE RACE:
"Todayayay... I consider myselfelfelf... the luckiest man on the face of the Earth." - HWMNBN
"It's only coincidence that Sauber uses Ferrari engines, that I'm the leading name to replace Massa this season at Ferrari, and that I was chasing a driver known to use his clout to get what he wants. Sure, just coincidence." - Sergio Perez
"Wait, how did all this happen?" - Lewis Hamilton
"Oh how the mighty have fallen... not me, I'm used to fourth." - Mark Webber
"mrmblm mrmrmmrllbblml mrmmrmrmbblbblbmmr. " - Kimi Raikkonen
"Do I have a 'hit me' painted on the back of my car or something?" - Bruno Senna
"Did anybody see me today?" - Paul di Resta
"Driving twitch on Inters twitchtwitch during the height of the twitch storm was easy twitch, no problem! I was getting oversteer in a straight line." - Jules Vergne
"Wow that all sucked." - Nico Hulkenburg
"I'd like to thank Narain Kittylitter for giving me 10th place today." - Slappy Schumacher
"To lose the race how I did is very frustrating. Some people need to look more where they are going. It's like on the normal roads you have idiots driving around. And today you had one here." - Seb Vettel (note: real quote)
"I tried to do better in the wet. Nothing worked." - Daniel Ricciardo
"Good lord, this chassis eats tires like they're delicious donuts. Mmmm. Donuts." - Nico Rosberg
"Y'know, after the crap day I had, I'm STILL third in the driver's championship. I'm okay with that." - Jenson Button
"I'm happy for him (Perez) and for his team, but how disturbing is it for me? Zero. Iâ€™m looking more for myself, my driving, my work. Please don't fire me." - Felipe Massa (note: mostly real quote)
"It was our home race... did you even realize the Caterhams were out there?" - The Red Menace
"We made the right call to go to wets at the start. That's a win for us, right there!" - Tim O'Glockenspiel
"I survived a car that had bad balance and bad grip in the wet. I'm going home tonight, and that's a win too." - Heikki Kovaleinninnie
"Man, blue smoke is not good to have comin' from your engine, man." - Cleric Maldonado
"I kept up with Tim, which is an accomplishment." - Sharl ToothPeek
"I must say I really enjoyed myself in that race. It really was the best race to make my debut with HRT." - Pete Rose (note: real quote. The mind boggles)
"Y'know what? Doubly-screw Vettel. That incident wasn't my fault, and he knows it... but I got penalized because he's Sebby F'N Vettel, and I drive for HRT." - Narain Kittylitter
"Shadowfax threw a shoe." - Gandalf Kobayashi
"AIEEEEEEEE!" - Lettuce Grosjean
So soggy Malaysia is behind us, and now there's a three week layoff before we hit China. We'll see you then, but keep looking here for all the F1 news you can stand!
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at March 25, 2012 11:34 PM (+rSRq)
Posted by: Wonderduck at March 25, 2012 11:44 PM (AzTWp)
Posted by: henry at March 26, 2012 10:50 AM (PB1KZ)
For that matter, Vettel tried to qualify on the hard tire too. And last week there was a lot of talk about how the medium tire's performance was so close to the soft that people were actually preferring to run on it. Did Pirelli close up the performance of their tires into too narrow a band or what? (At least they're lasting quite a bit better than last year, and I didn't see as much clag at Melbourne...)
Posted by: Avatar_exADV at March 26, 2012 11:50 AM (GJQTS)
"I could not feel the grip with the medium tyre compound." - Kamui Kobayashi, after Saturday's Quals.
I think it's pretty clear that Perez went out on the hard tires because the Sauber hated the medium compound rubber. Sometimes, it's just that simple. For whatever reason, for the Sauber the hard tires were faster last weekend.
Red Bull panicked in Quals. Realizing they weren't going to get pole, they made a snap decision to split their tire strategies. Being able to run longer, if a bit slower, historically works out fairly well... but then the rains came and it all became moot.
Posted by: Wonderduck at March 26, 2012 05:41 PM (AzTWp)
Posted by: dkallen99 at March 27, 2012 02:06 PM (2lHZP)
Posted by: Pete at March 28, 2012 04:37 PM (5OBKC)
Posted by: Wonderduck at March 28, 2012 05:54 PM (AzTWp)
Posted by: dkallen99 at March 30, 2012 12:06 PM (2lHZP)
Posted by: Mycroft W at March 30, 2012 03:05 PM (Z484j)
dkallen, I'm gonna have to disagree with you here... Kittylitter wasn't crying at all, he was defending himself from Vettel's constant bitching. About damn time, too. The accident was Sebby's fault, even if Kittylitter got the (pointless) penalty.
Posted by: Wonderduck at March 30, 2012 08:54 PM (AzTWp)
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