2010 Malaysian Grand Prix (Sepang, Round 3, April 2nd – 4th)

Of all the circuits designed by Hermann Tilke, Sepang probably stands out as his finest attempt – although there is no stand out corners on the track (the sweeps from turns 5-8 are still very nice), it is a good design as a whole. Malaysia has actually given the Formula 1 community some very good races over the years – the race in 2001 is a good example – however this has been driven more about the possibility of monsoon conditions that any other aspect. If anything, last year’s event at Sepang is a classic example of how it can all go wrong as the race was halted after only 31 laps due to excessive rain. For this race, the organisers have brought the race forward by one hour; however early weather reports that the same weather conditions may also arrive one hour earlier.

With the first two events out of the way, Fernando Alonso is leading the Championship chase, just ahead of Felipe Massa and Jenson Button, but Sebastian Vettel has been the real star of the season openers and could have easily won both of the first two races had he not suffered car failures. This is Lotus’ home race, so expect them to put out all the stops to make their presence felt.

For the first session on Friday morning, Malaysian reserve driver Fairuz Fauzy took to the Lotus seat in place of Heikki Kovalainen, while Paul di Resta drove the Force India in place of Antonio Liuzzi. Fauzy ran around 6 seconds off the pace for the returning team; however he suffered a half-spin through turn twelve 40 minutes into the session – thankfully no damage was done to his green and yellow machine, but his car appears very nervous through some of the faster exits. There were also slight offs for Mark Webber, Pedro de la Rosa and Felipe Massa during the session. Red Bull continue to have reliability issues as Webber is parked early on with an overheating engine and Vettel suffers from brake problems. Red Bull’s sister team – Toro Rosso – also appeared to have difficulties as an electronic problem brought an early end to Jaime Alguersuari’s morning session; although he was able to get his car to beginning of the pitlane, rather than park it out on track. There were also mechanical problems for the experienced Michael Schumacher (hydraulics) and rookies Vitaly Petrov (fuel leak) and Lucas di Grassi (temperature issues), however all three drivers still managed to get some mileage in. The session was topped by the McLaren of with Lewis Hamilton with team mate Button in third, sandwiching the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg.
The second Friday session saw both Liuzzi and Kovalainen back in their respective seats as Fauzy and di Resta finish their runs for the Malaysian event and while di Resta will replace Liuzzi on Friday morning in China, it is yet unclear when Fauzy will be in the Lotus seat again. Spins and off track excursions dominated second practice as much as it had the morning session with Kamui Kobayashi, Adrian Sutil, Alguersuari (twice), Sebastien Buemi, Timo Glock and Bruno Senna all losing sight of the road at one point or another. Unreliability once again reaped havoc with Red Bull as Webber suffered from a gearbox problem early in the session that caused his number 6 machine to grind to a halt and Vettel having power steering difficulties; however the young German was able to continue for the rest of practice. It was a session that also saw very heavy tyre wear – especially on the left rear as hard and fast right hand turns stressed the rubber – as many of the principle runners did long stints, with the fast times all being set early on. At the top of the timing list once again was Hamilton, but this time Vettel and Rosberg claimed the next two spots. Button and Schumacher completed the top five with times around half-a-second slower than the 2008 World Champion.

Heavy rain was expected throughout the third session on Saturday morning and it prompted many drivers to hit the track early on to get laps in – especially Mark Webber, whose poor reliability issues during Friday, severely hampered his practice runs. The session became an exercise in fast lap swapping between Webber, Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso and Schumacher; with the McLaren and Ferrari pilots clearly having an advantage over their team mates, although the gap between the Mercedes duo remained very close throughout the sixty minutes.
Webber took fastest lap ahead of Hamilton and Vettel, but the German Red Bull driver was the victim of a bizarre incident thirty minutes in as a piece of tape wrapped itself around the suspension on his left front and caused some damage to the wishbones. Vettel was not the only driver to have drama’s though as both Petrov and Alguersuari vaulted their respective machines over kerbs and gravel and Heikki Kovalainen damaged his front wing after he went wide entering the back straight.

While the practices may have stayed relatively dry, qualifying reminded the Formula 1 paddock just how changeable the Malaysian weather front can be. Dark clouds formed and the rain came very quickly, yet while many in the field poured out onto the track, a few of the leading runners stayed in and it cost them. By the time Alonso, Hamilton and Massa went out on track, it was far too wet to set a fast time and all three qualified 19th, 20th and 21st respectively. Jenson Button in the second McLaren put in a time good enough for second qualifying, but spun it into the gravel at turn 1, thereby finishing his day early – 17th position for the reigning champion. There were spins aplenty in the wet conditions; primarily from Hamilton, Petrov (twice), both Ferrari’s, Buemi, Liuzzi and Senna. Precipitation continued during Qualifying 2, although not as drastic as the first period; however offs for Timo Glock and Jaime Alguersuari saw them drop out.  Regen-meister, Michael Schumacher planted his car on the bubble in tenth position and for the first time this season, both Williams and Force India’s made it into the final qualifying session.
All the remaining cars went straight out for the final part of qualifying, but another large shower halted the clock with seven-and-a-half minutes remaining – the red flag emerging for the first time in 2010. As the session restarted, both Webber and Rosberg go on track on intermediate tyres; however it took several laps for the lighter rubber to fall into a good operating window – all the while the full wet tyres drove for one good lap before trailing off in the final sector. The strategy worked perfectly as they secure the first two slots on the grid with Webber approximately 1.3 seconds ahead of the younger Mercedes driver; their respective team mates of Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher qualified 3rd and 8th. Sutil and Hulkenberg qualified their cars in 4th and 5th places respectively, thereby ensuring that four of top 5 qualifiers were German – a first in Formula 1.

Come Sunday afternoon, the race started dry although worries of a downpour abounded; however none of this mattered to Pedro de la Rosa as an engine failure scuppered his Grand Prix before the Spaniard had even made it to the grid. With the Sauber cleared from the circuit, the lights counted down and a charging Vettel swept into the race lead at the first corner ahead of Webber and Rosberg. The lead Mercedes driver fell to third place; however there were gains behind the front three as Kubica jumped to 4th and the Hamilton / Massa pair vaulted to 12th and 13th respectively from their lowly starting positions.
During the early laps, Hamilton continued to busy himself by charging through the the field in sublime fashion, unlike Virgin’s Timo Glock who managed to take himself out of the Grand Prix by sliding into the side Trulli – the Lotus driver lucky to continue. Young Vitaly Petrov also found himself in the wars battled hard with both Toro Rosso cars and Hamilton – the latter battle became one of the prime moments of controversy during the race as once past the Russian, Hamilton weaved four times across the face of the circuit to try and break the tow to the Renault. It garnered the McLaren driver a warning from the stewards, but nothing else; however the incident successfully managed to reopen the many discussions about weaving and deliberate blocking. An early pitstop from the reigning champion saw him jump a number of places once the stops are completed – his fresher tyres allowing him to jump from 14th to 7th eventually, but come the end of the 190-miles, Button’s 47 lap stint of Sepang hurt his tyres very badly and left him with an eighth place finish as Massa sliced by on fresher tyres with 12 remaining. Hamilton pitted his McLaren mid-way through the race and edged out his team mate into turn 1 by a aggressive wheel and registered the fastest pitstop in the process – the McLaren mechanics turning over the 2008 World Champion in 3.5 seconds and sending him out on another fruitless chase after Sutil.
There were early retirements for Schumacher (loose left rear wheel), Kobayashi (engine) and Liuzzi (throttle) and they were joined by Petrov (lap 34 – gearbox) and Fernando Alonso, whose engine exploded spectacularly with two laps remaining. Alonso had driven the entire Grand Prix with a faulty downshift and his mechanical calamity promoted Nico Hulkenberg to tenth for his first points scoring race, while fellow German Adrian Sutil registered his best finish since Monza last season with 5th place – his first points of the 2010 season. There were improved performances from the Toro Rosso duo as Alguersuari secured his first Formula 1 score with a solid 9th place (and a supreme overtaking move around the outside of Hulkenberg on lap 31) and Buemi, who came home in 11th.
Up front though, the Grand Prix was an easily controlled race from the Red Bull’s of Vettel and Webber as they serenely marched to a dominant victory – so much so, they barely appear on screen for the entire broadcast. There were also good performances too from Rosberg and Kubica – both of whom silently assumed 3rd and 4th place finishes. Amongst the new teams, both HRT finished the race with Di Grassi and Trulli also seeing the chequered flag – unfortunately for the Virgin, their fuel management nightmare appeared for the first time and he had to run some 15 seconds off of the pace in the final laps.
The 2010 Malaysian Grand Prix eventually stayed dry throughout – much to the surprise of all involved, but still managed to be solid race with lots of overtaking, yet one can’t help but think the quality of the event was aided by a topsy-turvy qualifying result. However outside of the big teams, there was still a lot of overtaking and action – particularly from Williams, Toro Rosso and Petrov, so maybe all is not lost yet.
Race Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Sepang, Malaysian Grand Prix (Round 3, April 4th)
1 VETTEL Red Bull

2 WEBBER Red Bull +4.8s
3 ROSBERG Mercedes +13.5s
4 KUBICA Renault +18.5s
5 SUTIL Force India +21.0s
6 HAMILTON McLaren +23.4s
7 MASSA Ferrari +27.0s
8 BUTTON McLaren +37.9s
9 ALGUERSUARI Toro Rosso +70.6s
10 HULKENBERG Williams +73.3s
11 BUEMI Toro Rosso +78.9s
12 BARRICHELLO Williams +1 lap
13 ALONSO Ferrari +2 laps
14 DI GRASSI Virgin +3 laps
15 CHANDHOK HRT +3 laps
16 SENNA HRT +4 laps
17 TRULLI Lotus +5 laps
R KOVALAINEN Lotus +10 laps
R PETROV Renault +24 laps
R LIUZZI Force India +44 laps
R SCHUMACHER Mercedes +47 laps
R KOBAYASHI Sauber +48 laps
R GLOCK Virgin +54 laps
DNS DE LA ROSA Sauber +56 laps

Sepang, Qualifying (April 3rd)
3rd Session
1 WEBBER Red Bull 1m49.327s
2 ROSBERG Mercedes 1m50.673s
3 VETTEL Red Bull 1m50.789s
4 SUTIL Force India 1m50.914s
5 HULKENBERG Williams 1m51.001s
6 KUBICA Renault 1m51.051s
7 BARRICHELLO Williams 1m51.511s
8 SCHUMACHER Mercedes 1m51.717s
9 KOBAYASHI Sauber 1m51.767s
10 LIUZZI Force India 1m52.254s
2nd Session
11 PETROV Renault 1m48.760s
12 DE LA ROSA Sauber 1m48.771s
13 BUEMI Toro Rosso 1m49.207s
14 ALGUERSUARI Toro Rosso 1m49.464s
15 KOVALAINEN Lotus 1m52.270s
16 GLOCK Virgin 1m52.520s
17 BUTTON McLaren no time
1st Session
18 TRULLI Lotus 1m52.884s
19 ALONSO Ferrari 1m53.044s
20 HAMILTON McLaren 1m53.050s
21 MASSA Ferrari 1m53.283s
22 CHANDHOK HRT 1m56.299s
23 SENNA HRT 1m57.269s
24 DI GRASSI Virgin 1m59.977s

Sepang, 3rd Free Practice (April 3rd)
1 WEBBER Red Bull 1m33.542s
2 HAMILTON McLaren 1m33.559s
3 VETTEL Red Bull 1m33.587s
4 ALONSO Ferrari 1m33.751s
5 SCHUMACHER Mercedes 1m33.992s
6 ROSBERG Mercedes 1m34.090s
7 BUTTON McLaren 1m34.113s
8 MASSA Ferrari 1m34.174s
9 BARRICHELLO Williams 1m34.540s
10 KUBICA Renault 1m34.549s
11 SUTIL Force India 1m34.623s
12 BUEMI Toro Rosso 1m34.673s
13 HULKENBERG Williams 1m34.882s
14 LIUZZI Force India 1m34.957s
15 ALGUERSUARI Toro Rosso 1m35.026s
16 PETROV Renault 1m35.076s
17 DE LA ROSA Sauber 1m35.477s
18 KOBAYASHI Sauber 1m36.404s
19 GLOCK Virgin 1m37.299s
20 TRULLI Lotus 1m37.369s
21 KOVALAINEN Lotus 1m38.161s
22 DI GRASSI Virgin 1m38.783s
23 SENNA HRT 1m39.868s
24 CHANDHOK HRT 1m39.895s

Sepang, 2nd Free Practice (April 2nd)
1 HAMILTON McLaren 1m34.175s
2 VETTEL Red Bull 1m34.441s
3 ROSBERG Mercedes 1m34.443s
4 BUTTON McLaren 1m34.538s
5 SCHUMACHER Mercedes 1m34.674s
6 KUBICA Renault 1m35.148s
7 ALONSO Ferrari 1m35.581s
8 BUEMI Toro Rosso 1m35.660s
9 PETROV Renault 1m35.872s
10 SUTIL Force India 1m35.957s
11 KOBAYASHI Sauber 1m36.018s
12 LIUZZI Force India 1m36.221s
13 DE LA ROSA Sauber 1m36.325s
14 ALGUERSUARI Toro Rosso 1m36.325s
15 MASSA Ferrari 1m36.602s
16 BARRICHELLO Williams 1m36.813s
17 HULKENBERG Williams 1m37.415s
18 TRULLI Lotus 1m38.454s
19 KOVALAINEN Lotus 1m38.530s
20 WEBBER Red Bull 1m38.786s
21 GLOCK Virgin 1m39.061s
22 DI GRASSI Virgin 1m39.158s
23 CHANDHOK HRT 1m41.084s
24 SENNA HRT 1m41.481s

Sepang, 1st Free Practice (April 2nd)
1 HAMILTON McLaren 1m34.921s
2 ROSBERG Mercedes 1m35.106s
3 BUTTON McLaren 1m35.207s
4 SCHUMACHER Mercedes 1m35.225s
5 KUBICA Renault 1m35.402s
6 WEBBER Red Bull 1m35.479s
7 SUTIL Force India 1m35.955s
8 ALONSO Ferrari 1m35.959s
9 VETTEL Red Bull 1m36.043s
10 BUEMI Toro Rosso 1m36.100s
11 MASSA Ferrari 1m36.451s1
2 KOBAYASHI Sauber 1m36.503s
13 ALGUERSUARI Toro Rosso 1m36.645s
14 PETROV Renault 1m36.712s
15 DI RESTA Force India 1m36.891s
16 DE LA ROSA Sauber 1m36.899s
17 HULKENBERG Williams 1m37.802s
18 BARRICHELLO Williams 1m38.278s
19 TRULLI Lotus 1m39.460s
20 GLOCK Virgin 1m39.755s
21 DI GRASSI Virgin 1m40.159s
22 FAUZY Lotus 1m40.721s
23 SENNA HRT 1m41.832s
24 CHANDHOK HRT 1m41.966s

Driver Team Points
1. Felipe Massa Ferrari 39
2. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 37
3. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing 37
4. Jenson Button McLaren 35
5. Nico Rosberg Mercedes GP 35
6. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 31
7. Robert Kubica Renault 30
8. Mark Webber Red Bull Racing 24
9. Adrian Sutil Force India 10
10. Michael Schumacher Mercedes GP 9
11. Antonio Liuzzi Force India 8
12. Rubens Barrichello Williams 5
13. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso 2
14. Nico Hulkenberg Williams 1
Constructor Team Points
1. Ferrari 76
2. McLaren 66
3. Red Bull Racing 61
4. Mercedes GP 44
5. Renault 30
6. Force India 18
7. Williams 6
8. Toro Rosso 2

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