The Malaysian Grand Prix gave us all an insight into what racing will be like in 2011. The opening race of the year in Australia did not allow the DRS or Pirelli to fully show just how influential they can be this season. Malaysia though showed just how much has changed since the final race of last season in Abu Dhabi and after the Malaysian Grand Prix I think that….
Pirelli definitely succeeded in meeting their stated aims! Whereas last year the Bridgestone tyres were incredibly durable the Pirelli offering in Malaysia showed just how difficult it can be to maintain tyre life for the duration of a near 200 mile race. This was preciously the mandate set to the Italian manufacturer when they were awarded the contract to be the sole supplier to Formula 1.
The teams, drivers and the FIA all agreed that something needed to be done in terms of eliminating the uniformity of strategy that dominated last year and the opening two races have seen various strategies used by teams, with varying degrees of success.
The main talking point after the opening race was that Sergio Perez had managed to make it through the race with just one pitstop, there was no chance of a similar strategy being employed in Sepang but it was interesting that once more Sauber, this time with Kamui Kobayashi, was able to make it through the race with one less stop than their rivals. The new Sauber is clearly very easy on its tyres but the form of Kobayashi in qualifying also showed that it has the speed to be seen as a consistent points scorer this season.
At the front of the field we saw the majority of runners use three stops with Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton the both making an additional stop. The Australian suffered badly with tyre wear and his decision to make an extra stop was not based on the team feeling it was the fastest strategy it was decided through necessity that Webber needed an extra stop.
Hamilton’s race was also determined by his tyre wear. While the majority of post race analysis focused on his time penalty the main reason that he found himself facing with Fernando Alonso was that he could not perform well on the prime tyres when the race was drawing to a close.
Your race performance was dictated by qualifying The reason for Hamilton’s struggles was rooted in Saturday’s qualifying session.
The former champion was hampered by his need to use an extra set of tyres in qualifying in comparison to the majority of leading drivers. With tyre life on such a knife edge it is crucial to get through qualifying with as many fresh sets of tyres available for use in the race.
Sebastian Vettel was superb in qualifying. Apart from setting a superb lap at the very end of qualifying the German used only one set of tyres in the first two sessions. This gave him an advantage of one fresh set of boots over Jenson Button in the race, and crucially two sets of tyres over Hamilton. By using less tyres to get through the session Vettel found himself perfectly placed for making the right strategic calls on Sunday.
In the coming races expect to see a few leading drivers employ tactics similar to Vettel and try and make it through the opening two sessions of qualifying by using one set of prime tyres in the opening session before using a single set of options in the second session.
DRS assisted but did not guarantee overtaking When DRS was originally mooted there was a lot of apprehension for the use of such artificial methods of bringing overtaking to the fore and this race clearly showed just how effective the device could be.
It was clear that DRS was very useful for drivers trying to make a move on the car in front but, by and large, the overtaking moves were still occurring when drivers were entering the braking zone and still “on the edge.” It was clear that DRS made it easier for overtaking moves to occur but it was also clear that using the device was far from a guarantee of a successful manoeuvre.
The main orchestrator of overtaking moves was clearly the Pirelli tyres with drivers struggling with little to no grip at the end of stints becoming easy prey for rival drivers. Some of these moves occurred in the DRS zone but there was also little doubt that the driver behind would get ahead sooner or later due to their better performing tyres.
The primary example of this type of overtaking was the moves made on Michael Schumacher at the end of his stints where he became little more than a sitting duck to the drivers behind him.
Schumacher had an impressive weekend When all things are considered it is clear that this was a much better weekend from Schumacher. Even though he was outqualified by his teammate, Nico Rosberg, Schumacher was clearly much happier this weekend and showed some good form.
Schumacher had a strong qualifying session, outpacing Rosberg in the opening 20 minutes, before being hampered by a DRS problem in Q2. Even with the issue Schumacher was just 0.6s slower than Rosberg and qualified 11th. He then made a superb start to run eighth in the early laps.
In the race Schumacher’s tyre woes saw him fall to ninth but he finished over 40s ahead of Rosberg and showed that even though the car was a handful he is much more in tune with it than he was in the early stages of his comeback year. Mercedes need to find race pace but it has to be encouraging for Schumacher that he was so dominant over his teammate throughout the race.
There are still question marks over Red Bull’s reliability With two wins for Vettel in the opening two races it might seem foolish to say that there are storm clouds gathering at Red Bull but the team has to have serious concerns over the reliability of its KERS.
In both races so far their drivers have been struck by failures on the system. Webber’s race was clearly hamstrung by his inability to use KERS off the line and when Vettel’s system also stopped working at half distance it was clear that the team have issues with the technology.
While Ferrari, Red Bull, Renault and Sauber all have experience of how to package, handle and use KERS Red Bull did not use the system in 2009 and are starting from a fresh piece of paper in 2010. Adrian Newey has always loved to have an incredibly tightly packaged car and while it is clear that the RB7 is the fastest car on the grid once more it is also clear that the reliability of their KERS could be an Achilles heel until they prove its reliability.