I think I would be improper for me to comment on this race without commenting on the circumstances surrounding it. Personally I think the decision to go there was the wrong one, solely because the race was always going to be hijacked by both sides of the civil-unrest in Bahrain, but some of the reportage surrounding the race was gratuitous. Some media outlets only reported on the situation in Bahrain because the F1 circus travelled there, and then immediately stopped once it left, this did a disservice both the Bahraini people and F1 a disservice. That’s all I have to say on that, so on to the race itself.
After the 2010 experiment of using the “endurance” layout of the Sakhir track, we reverted back to the less boring (but still oh-so-dreary) “grand prix” configuration, but the result seemed very 2011. Sebastian Vettel beat Hamilton to pole by less than a tenth of a second, pulled out his customary gap of more than a second in the first two laps and then kept his tyres in shape. The young German showed why he is a double world champion by yet again having speed and knowing when to use it. Red Bull and Vettel haven’t had the best opening few races, but nobody else has either, so by winning this race (along with Webber finishing fourth for the fourth time running), both team and driver top their respective championship.
Sorry that I’ve failed to keep up with things, so time to catch up.
For Rosberg and Mercedes things finally came good, the former-Brawn squad had two disappointing seasons after their championship year, but a first pole and win for the German driver provided a glimpse of what they can deliver. The cooler temperatures in Shanghai meant the Anglo-German car did not suffer from its usual issue of high tyre degradation, and this combined with the inherent stability their double-DRS system gives the car allowed them to show impressive form all weekend. The manner of victory was crushing with Rosberg finishing 20 seconds ahead of the McLarens and ran the whole race untroubled by anyone. A stellar weekend for the Brackley-based team was only let down by a costly pit error that led to Schumacher leaving the pits with only three wheels secured to his wagon.
As races go, it wasn’t too bad. Nine constructors in the top ten, the cars starting eighth and ninth finishing first and second, and a glut of racers having excellent drives.
Pre-season testing did not bode well for the start of Alonso’s season, but he leads the drivers’ championship after two races. The weather in Malaysia disguised the F2012’s poor handling traits and allowed Alonso to get off to a stormer, while others made errors ruining their races (and occasionally harming the chancres of others too), he steadily worked his way through the pack. Once more Alonso showed his tenacious side, any sniff of a win is enough for him to start chasing it down, but it was his tyre management and ability to soak up pressure that won him this race. While others pushed their tyres too much and had to take an extra pit stop, or failed to switch on the tyres, Alonso managed to keep his inters alive long enough to last to the switchover to slicks in a condition capable of consistently lapping faster than Hamilton in third. Perez in second was an altogether different matter. The first Mexican to step upon a podium in 41 years; Sergio Perez came within five laps of his first win. After switching from wets to inters, Alonso quickly overtook Checo and opened out the gap to 7.7 seconds, before the Sauber driver began hauling the Prancing Horse back in, the gap down to around a second when Alonso dived into the pits for a set of medium Pirellis. The Swiss team erred on the side of caution bringing in Perez a lap later; this combined with a slipping clutch lost him enough time to fall back to seven seconds behind again, but his hard tyres worked better than Alonso’s mediums and his car liked the dry more than his opponent’s. With five laps to go, the gap was down to 0.6 and it looked like a case of when rather than if he would pass the Spaniard, but one foot wrong left him out wide and with too much to do in the time left. But second was an excellent result for him and Sauber’s best ever result as a non-manufacturer entity.
One race down then, so what have we learned? Well it would appear to be good news for most, but especially to those of us watching, competition all through the field is always a good thing.
Jenson Button leaves Melbourne with a smile on his face; he claimed to be more nervous than normal before the race, possibly because he realised he was sitting in the best car he’d had since the start of the 2009 season, but nervous or not, he was imperious. Button took a page from the Book of Vettel and scampered off into the distance to the tune of three seconds – well away from the danger of DRS – but was able to keep the tyres in good shape thanks to his smooth style. Hamilton is less happy, he failed to convert a superb pole into a win, he never looked capable of challenging for the win, but second looked assured until Petrov parked up in a dangerous position and the resulting safety car allowed Vettel to jump him at the stops. Hamilton will most be upset by his lack of pace against his teammate, you get the impression that the 2011 demons won’t truly have been exorcised until Lewis gets the upper hand over Jenson for a few races straight.
As we approach the end of pre-season testing, a picture of where the teams stand is beginning to emerge. We may be subjected to some horrific looking noses on this year’s cars, but it would appear we will see some more competition for the top step of the podium. So in order of last year’s constructors’ championship, let’s see where we stand going into the 2012 season.