More notes from Sepang
- Adrian Sutil was stunning to watch today – a Kimi Raikkonen clone in terms of his cornering technique. This is a smoother, more compliant Sutil than the one we saw at the end of 2012 – and even then he was very consistently quick. The new Sutil is all that and more. Into Turn Six he was able to arc-in a good half-a-car’s width earlier than his team-mate and secure a beautifully-straight exit. It was no surprise to see him run top-three in both dry qualifying sessions. It went away in the wet but that was no surprise. A suspected broken engine seal precluded any wet-weather running on Friday and Adrian, in these early comeback races, is in any event logically going to leave a little bit of margin in the wet.
- Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton again showed their timing and class as qualifying came to a boil. Seb, as normal, had refrained from using the options in Q1 and consequently made the show by less than half a second. Mark Webber looked good in Q2. Then, in Q3, when it mattered, Seb reminded us that his prodigious success rate isn’t entirely due to his maximizing Adrian Newey’s downforce in the dry. His was a skillfully-honed pole, under pressure, in the mist. At AMG Mercedes, meanwhile, it was again Nico Rosberg who set the pre-Q3 pace. Lewis would do a time; Nico would better it. Lewis’s driving even began to look like Nico’s. Then, a little earlier than Seb, on the wet track, Lewis was suddenly Lewis again. Beautiful little neutral zones just when he needed them. Just the right amount of steering input versus load. Brilliant.
- A big hand, too, for Felipe Massa. Felipe looked very Webber-esque on his quickest lap, flinging the F138 from one side to the other in a way that suggested he had total and utter confidence in Pat Fry’s running gear. Felipe’s edge is ragged; Fernando’s remains more-rounded. They make an interesting combo now that Ferrari’s Number Two is again quick enough to win.
- Romain Grosjean, by contrast, is very different from the driver we saw last year. As reactive and on-the-edge as Romain is, “quietening down” was always going to lead to slower lap times. It’s only the vee-drivers – the manipulative drivers like Kimi, Lewis, Seb Vettel, Fernando (when he feels like it), Sutil, Bottas and a couple of others – who can develop maturity without eroding away their natural pace. No doubt Romain will soon let frustration get the better of him and will move the counterweight in the reverse direction; and that’s a good thing, I believe. If he isn’t going to change his technique, then there’s no point in just driving slower, even if he is going to finish more races. Above all, Romain Grosjean is a racing driver, not a professional F1 point-scorer. Let him be, say I.
- Over in the GP2 paddock the scene was staggeringly underwhelming. Sweating under a giant tent, the Eu4m teams were separated only by temporary banners. There was no access for the GP2 personnel to the F1 paddock; there were no frills under that fan-cooled tent. Actually, I have nothing against communal garages like this. They used to work a treat both at Watkins Glen and Long Beach – and in Detroit, for that matter. The Monaco car park is too big to be included in the list but Sepang could have been very different if everyone had mucked in together and decided to go “open plan”, with the fans walking down the aisles as they watched the mechanics at work. As it was, Sepang’s GP2 paddock to my eye was just a sad attempt to look like F1’s second cousin twice removed. The awnings were there to give the team names some prominence – but who was going to take photographs?
- I tweeted from Melbourne that Red Bull Racing are “potentially” going to try Hitco brakes in the near future. This is still the plan, I understand, although the rain in Melbourne and the obvious chance of rain in Malaysia has made their traditional Brembos the obvious choice in the short-term. It is confusing for mere observers, though, because it’s now well-nigh impossible to identify brake types without close examination of the products in question. Take the situation at AMG Mercedes, for example: Lewis Hamilton has lost no time in persuading the team to switch from their traditional Brembos to Carbone Industrie (the brakes he raced on at McLaren) but Brembo’s Massimo Arduini told me after Malaysian qualifying that Merc had reverted to Brembos “because they are so good in the wet”. As it happens, both Lewis and Nico qualified on Carbon Industries, so, if nothing else, I guess this just underlines how competitive the brake battle has become.More about that in next month’s F1 Racing.