Vettel leads Red Bull 1-2 at Sepang

04/04/2010
NEWS STORY

After the mayhem of yesterday's qualifying session, it is widely expected that we are in for much of the same today, and in all honesty, most fans will be relishing the prospect.

In the wake of the soporific season opener, everyman and his dog had an opinion on how to spice up races and increase overtaking. One of the most common suggestions was that grid be reversed, thereby leaving the pace-setters with no option but to overtake the slower cars at the front.

Thanks to today's crazy, mixed-up grid, we'll hopefully get to see whether such a plan would work.

While Adrian Sutil, Nico Hulkenberg and Kamui Kobayashi get to mix it with the likes of Webber, Vettel, Rosberg, Kubica and Schumacher, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa will find themselves surrounded by the likes of Trulli, Chandhok, Glock, Senna and di Grassi.

Even in the dry such a topsy-turvy grid would be a wonder to behold as it sorts itself out, should a Monsoon deluge hit Sepang as expected, the possibilities are endless.

Yesterday's qualifying was described as a lottery, and so it was. However, that shouldn't detract from an excellent call by Webber and his team and several other incredible performances. Nor does it excuse the shambolic efforts of McLaren and Ferrari.

Consequently, bearing in mind that we are facing the prospect of a lottery, it would be futile to attempt to make predictions, for as we know from experience on days like this anything can happen, and usually does.

That said, while there remains concern as to the reliability of the Red Bulls, should the weather gods let rip this will put less strain on the cars than in a flat-out dry race. However, whatever the conditions, it will be fascinating to see how Sebastian handles Mark, because, after the disappointment of Bahrain and Melbourne, the German badly needs to add to his tally.

Nico Rosberg must go into today's race believing that a podium is the very least he can hope for, while Adrian Sutil will be happy simply to open his 2010 points account, particularly in light of his disappointment in the opening races.

Having failed to live up to expectations thus far, it will be interesting to see how Nico Hulkenberg fares today, the German youngster widely tipped as the new Schumacher, or is that new Vettel. As added motivation, Nico has his Williams teammate, the highly experienced Rubens Barrichello, starting right behind.

After his superb performance in Melbourne, Robert Kubica, and his team, will enter today's race with spirits raised. After a lacklustre season in 2009, the Pole appears to have rediscovered his form.

It will be interesting to see how Barrichello deals with former teammate Michael Schumacher, who starts alongside, the German really needing a result today, if only to (temporarily) silence the media.

We're not sure why, but other than levelling the field, bad weather also appears to bring out the best in Japanese drivers, therefore it will be interesting to see if Kamui Kobayashi can continue where he left off at the end of 2009, while Tonio Liuzzi has a good chance of scoring points in his third successive race.

As for Button, Hamilton, Alonso and Massa, all we can say is sit back and enjoy the ride. Whatever the conditions, each of them has to deal not only with one another, but those that stand in their way in term of places, points and - looking at the bigger picture - the title.

Like yesterday, at 15:00 it is bright and sunny. However, every day for the last week the heavens have opened up shortly after, and those blue skies suddenly give way to a Monsoon deluge and all that it brings.

The cars leave the pits and make their way to the grid, some driving through the pitlane in order that they can complete a second installation lap. Hulkenberg runs wide, while de la Rosa stalls at the end of the pitlane and has to be rescued by the Sauber crew. The Spaniard eventually gets going but subsequently stops out on track.

As the cars line up on the grid, the general consensus is that it is going to rain at some point, indeed, some drivers admit that they want it to rain. Bernie Ecclestone, as witty as ever, reveals that he's ordered the first downpour for 16:15.

As the field prepares to head off on the warm-up lap, the air temperature is 32 degrees C, while the track temperature is 45 degrees. Pedro de la Rosa is officially out of the race before it has even started.

The field heads off on the warm-up lap, some on the prime tyre (hard) others on the option (soft).

They're away, and though Webber makes the better start it is Vettel who nicks it at the first corner. Great start by Kobayashi while Barrichello appears to stall.

Button loses a couple of places as Vettel leads Webber, Rosberg, Kubica, Sutil, Schumacher, Hulkenberg and Liuzzi. Hamilton is already up to twelfth, Massa is fourteenth, ahead of Alonso and Button.

On lap 3, Webber posts the fastest lap (41.632) as he attempts to keep Vettel honest. Schumacher is all over Sutil, while Hulkenberg heads a train that includes Liuzzi, Petrov and Hamilton. Glock's race is over, the German appearing to have clouted his former Toyota teammate, Trulli.

As Vettel posts a new fastest lap (41.403), Hamilton is all over Petrov, leaving Kobayashi 1.2s behind.

Sadly the live timing loses the plot as Hamilton passes Petrov, however, the Russian fights back, clearly having no intention of letting the McLaren driver get away with it. The two have a great scrap with the Englishman having to use every trick in his book. Elsewhere, Button makes surprisingly short work of Alonso to take fifteenth.

Kobayashi pulls to the side of the track in the first sector, a day to forget for Sauber.

At the end of lap 9, Button is the first driver to pit, the Englishman switching to the prime tyre. The world champion rejoins in fifteenth as Schumacher grinds to a halt with a problem at the left-rear of his car. "Something broke" he tells his crew.
On lap 10, Webber posts a new fastest lap (41.355) as Hamilton is advised that he has received a warning from the stewards for his "weaving" during his battle with Petrov.

Kovalainen almost comes to grief as he tries to pass di Grassi, the two battling for sixteenth. The Finn subsequently slows appearing to have suffered a puncture. Elsewhere, Liuzzi is also running slowly.

After twelve laps, it's: Vettel, Webber, Rosberg, Kubica, Sutil, Hulkenberg, Hamilton, Petrov, Alguersuari and Buemi. Button posts a new fastest lap (41.155).

At the end of lap 13, Hulkenberg and Petrov both pit, rejoining in twelfth and thirteenth.

Buemi pits t the end of lap 14 as Button posts another fastest lap (41.095). The Ferraris of Massa and Alonso are now running in eighth and ninth with the 2009 champion in hot pursuit.

Vettel post a new fastest lap (41.040), but this is almost instantly beaten by Hamilton (40.899).

"Sebastian's had the call to push a bit," Webber is told, "stay with him!" Elsewhere, Trulli and Chandhok both pit.

Split by 1.1s, the Red Bulls are now 6.5s clear of third-placed Rosberg. The Mercedes driver is 1.7s ahead of Kubica who has 4.2s in hand over Sutil.

As Buemi and Button both post fastest sector times, Vettel posts a new outright fastest lap, crossing the line at 40.593. He is now 1.4s ahead of his teammate.

Another pit stop for Kovalainen as Lotus' home race turns from bad to worse. Elsewhere, a new fastest lap from Hamilton (40.574).

Alguersuari pits, which is good news for the Ferrari duo running behind the Spaniard. The Maranello duo now up to seventh and eighth.

Sutil pits at the end of lap 20, promoting Hamilton up to fifth. The German rejoins in eighth. Alguersuari is all over the back of Petrov as they battle for eleventh.

At the end of lap 21, Kubica pits, leaving Vettel, Webber, Rosberg, Hamilton, Massa and Alonso as the only other driver still to stop. The Pole rejoins in sixth.

Next time around Rosberg pits, rejoining just ahead of Kubica and the Ferraris.

Vettel pits at the end of lap 23, handing the lead to his teammate. The German rejoins in second just ahead of Hamilton. Relay shows the German almost going off as he entered the pitlane.

Next time around it is Webber who stops, however, there's a slight problem with one of the wheels. A 6.2 pitstop sees the Australian rejoin in third behind Vettel and Hamilton.

A new fastest lap for Vettel, the German posting 39.854. Button, now in ninth, is 5.4s behind Sutil. Hamilton and the Ferraris still to stop.

As Massa pits at the end of lap 26, Webber posts a new fastest lap (39.739). The Ferrari driver rejoins in ninth just ahead of Hulkenberg.

As di Grassi (fifteenth) pits, Massa goes quickest in the second and third sectors. Rosberg is losing ground to Kubica.

A new fastest lap for Massa on lap 28, the Brazilian posting 38.002. A very, very fast lap from the Ferrari driver. However, his option tyres have to last for the remainder of the race.

Just over half distance, Hamilton and Alonso remain the only drivers still to stop.

The order is: Vettel, Hamilton, Webber, Rosberg, Kubica, Alonso, Sutil, Button, Massa and Hulkenberg.

At the end of lap 30, Hamilton pits, just as Rosberg is warned that the Englishman will be pitting "late". The 2008 champion rejoins just ahead of his McLaren teammate, for a few moments they are side by side but Hamilton has the advantage. Button, not wanting an accident, gives way.

Alguersuari is having the race of his life, the Spaniard winning a great battle with Hulkenberg for tenth.

Hamilton, who is already 2s clear of his teammate, posts a new fastest lap, crossing the line at 37.745.

After 32 laps, Vettel leads Webber by 5.2s with Rosberg a further 8s behind. Kubica is fourth, 1.7s down on the German, and 4.5s ahead of Alonso who has still to stop.

It's all over for Petrov who has pulled to the side of the track in sector two. Both Hispanias are still running.

As Buemi pits at the end of lap 34, Hamilton is all over the back of Sutil, the two covered by just 0.3s. Elsewhere, Massa is a similar gap behind Button, the Brazilian being told that he has to pass the McLaren.

At the end of lap 36, Alonso finally pits, rejoining in ninth after a 4.2s pit stop.

As Hamilton is left frustrated behind Sutil and Massa is equally frustrated behind Button, it is brought home that despite the supposed 'revival' in Melbourne, F1 still has major problems, drivers are unable - or unwilling - to pass in the dry.

Alonso posts a new fastest lap (37.415), as he closes to within 7.6s of his Ferrari teammate.

"I can't pass his guy," (Sutil), Hamilton tells his crew, "he's too fast on the straights".

"Mark, can you press the throttle pedal harder on the straight," Webber is told.

"Fernando is going to pressurise Massa," Button is told as the second Spaniard closes to within 2.1s of his Ferrari teammate who remains 0.3s down on the McLaren.

Massa makes his move and there is nothing Button can do, the McLaren driver having pitted on lap 9. "Good boy, beautiful," says Rob Smedley, massaging Massa's ego.

Having seen his teammate make short work of Button, Alonso lines up the world champion who is now one of the slowest men on the track, lapping in the 40.3s. Elsewhere, Barrichello makes his second stop of he afternoon.

After 45 laps, it's: Vettel, Webber, Rosberg, Kubica, Sutil, Hamilton, Massa, Button, Alonso and Alguersuari.

Alonso has a go and passes Button but the Englishman reclaims the position at the next corner. However, looking at his tyres it is only a matter of time before the Spaniard makes it stick.

Hamilton is warned that Massa is closing and will be with him by the end of the race. However, "being with", "battling" and "passing" are entirely different things, the Sutil/Hamilton situation being a case in hand.

Behind the leading ten, Hulkenberg is eleventh, ahead of Buemi, Barrichello, di Grassi, Chandhok, Trulli and Senna.

As Hamilton slips to 1.1s behind Sutil, he is advised that Massa will be with him by the last three or four laps of the race. Button is now 7.1s down on the Brazilian and under intense pressure from Alonso.

On lap 51, Hamilton goes quickest in the first sector, as Massa closes to within 2.1s. However, Sutil responds in the second sector.

Out front, Vettel, Webber and Rosberg are enjoying a pleasant, but hot, Sunday afternoon drive, with just five laps remaining.

Alonso makes a late charge on Button but runs wide, as Vettel goes quickest in the second sector, as if to prove a point. Trulli, running last, is now lapping almost 20s - yes twenty seconds! - off the pace, but his team wants him to finish its home race

A new fastest lap as Webber crosses the line at 37.054, the gap to his teammate now running at 5.4s. Rosberg, in third, is now 14.9s down on the Australian.

Another charge sees Alonso pass Button, however, he leaves his braking far too late and runs wide handing position back to the McLaren driver. However, all is not as it appears, the Ferrari has a major engine problem, it's all over for the championship leader as he pulls to the side of the track enveloped in a cloud of white smoke.

Vettel takes the chequered flag and Webber makes it a 1-2 for the team which must have wondered what it had done to offend Lady Luck.

Rosberg finishes third to give Mercedes its first podium since Monza 1955, while another sterling drive sees Kubica take fourth ahead of Sutil, who must surely be one of the leading contenders for 'man of the race'.

Hamilton finishes sixth, while Massa is seventh, ahead of Button, Alguersuari, Hulkenberg, Buemi, Barrichello, Alonso, di Grassi, Chandhok, Senna and Trulli.

While full praise must be given to Vettel, Webber and Red Bull, not to mention Rosberg, Kubica and Sutil, it has to be said that the race did not live up to expectations.

Last week, following an incident filled Australian Grand Prix, we were told that F1 had proved its critics wrong, indeed, Fernando Alonso advised the critics to watch another sport.

However, it was noted that despite some tremendous charges up through the field, once the rain stopped and the track dried the charges eased of and appeared to hold station. Sadly, this is exactly what happened today.

Formula One, cannot be dependant on the weather gods, it is ludicrous to see a charge such as Hamilton's brought to a sudden halt, in the same way that Massa and Alonso had to hold station behind the clearly (tyre) stricken Button.

We saw some battles continue right throughout the race, however, we have top ask was Hamilton really unable to pass Sutil's Force India and if so, why?

It is no use Formula One relying on the weather, for if that is the case then we might as well adopt John Watson's suggestion and install sprinklers.

Sections of the media, team bosses, drivers, broadcasters and others with a vested interest may well insist that this was another thrilling", "action packed" race, but the fans will see it differently.

It was a great performance from Red Bull and it drivers, however, the fact is there remains something fundamentally wrong with Formula One and it has to be addressed as soon as possible.

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    Published: 04/04/2010
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