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Archive for the tag “Sepang”

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 RacingIMG-20130323-00680

Notes from the Sepang paddock

  • After the beauty of the AGP 60th anniversary celebrations at Albert Park, it’s a shame that not more is being made of this being Sepang’s 15th F1 birthday. I know it’s not a major milestone but, so far as modern supercircuits go, Sepang has done well to get this far. It has none of the carnival atmosphere of Melbourne; it’s hot and debilitating; but it does boast some incredible corners and it does have the Malaysian government full-square behind it, despite relatively small crowds. Personally, I love Sepang. I just wish the weekend as a whole had a bit more AGP-style gift-wrapping.
  • Speaking of great corners, I spent Friday watching our aces through the very quick left- and right-handers they call Turns Five and Six. I’m particularly fond of this section because there are about three different solutions to the problems posed by high-speed changes of direction. You can really lean on the right rear as you go in, then ask a lot of the car as you pivot it back to the left rear for the dive into the right-hander (as Mark Webber, Romain Grosjean, Paul di Resta and Sergio Perez were doing); you can compromise the left-hander a little and move the car way over to the left for the right-hander that follows (as Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button were neatly doing); or you can ride a very narrow line of perfection by finding the tiniest of “neutral” zones for the change of direction between the two corners (as Kimi Raikkonen, Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Adrian Sutil were doing).  The last group also tucked in a little earlier to the apex of the right-hander (Turn Six), thus shortening the corner.  All this in a flash of a second – but easy to see from the elevated vantage points both on the inside and outside of the corners.  Best through this section? Kimi, by a car’s width or two, although Lewis never really looked as though he was on the absolute limit.
  • Then it rained.  For the second race in a row, plaudits must go to Sauber’s new signing, Esteban Gutierrez, who looked very relaxed and supple in the semi-wet. There was about a five minute period of reasonable consistency, weather-wise, in FP2, and Gutierrez for this little cameo was right up there with Romain Grosjean, Nico Rosberg, Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso.   He was fastest, indeed, on my stopwatch. Romain had a big moment at the aforementioned high-speed esses but – unlike Melbourne – Esteban kept it all nicely on the island.  Sauber didn’t have the greatest of days in the dry (fire extinguisher and cracked exhaust issues) so this should have cheered them at least for ten minutes or so.  Also impressive in the wet (as in Melbourne) was STR’s Jean-Eric Vergne.  Unlike Kimi (who should know better) JEV also kept his car nicely to the right-hand side of the finishing straight all day whilst accelerating through the gears.  Kimi, for some strange reason, was running diagonally across the straight over to his braking point for Turn One.
  • It was good to see Daniel Riccardo juggling a trio of tennis balls as he walked to his garage this morning.  I’m sure most F1 drivers are able to juggle if they put their minds to it, but it’s not often you actually see the skill in motion in the F1 paddock.  Ross Cheever, the mega-quick American, was also a serious juggler and we know that both Lewis and Nico are mono-cyclists of some repute.  Then there’s Kimi.  I’ve seen him balancing a motionless mountain bike for well over a couple of minutes.  Again, I’m sure he’s not alone.  Why don’t we organize some sort of “circus” day for the F1 stars?  It’s one thing to see them plying their skills at 280kph.  It would be quite another to seem them displaying their co-ordination, balance, timing and eyesight in ways that we can all understand.
  • I may be wrong, but I suspect – I say I suspect – that still nothing has formerly been done about the pre-race national anthems.  Certainly it looked to be the usual shambles in Melbourne.  The AGP Corporation, like all organizing bodies, went to great lengths to execute the anthem with a local singing star and with suitable respect for their country – “Please be upstanding for the National Anthem of Australia”, said the circuit PA – but the F1 world, from what I could see, just went on about its business on the starting grid, sucking drink bottles, looking at watches (sorry, “timepieces”), checking tyre warmers, downloading data and generally milling around.  There was no observance whatsoever, in other words, of the local national anthem.  Can it be that hard for the F1 industry to set itself a new standard of behaviour?  We can’t expect the drivers to stand to attention – or even sit to attention if they’re already in their car – but why isn’t it de rigour for each team to nominate a representative to stand to attention at the front of the grid whilst the anthem is played?  Is the opening anthem any less important than the post-race podium anthems?  Pre-race, the TV cameras could pan along the row of uniforms, rugby-style, and commentators could stay quiet for a minute whilst the anthem is respected.  It would be a poignant, respectful moment.  A moment that at present we don’t have.  And that, I think, is wrong.

Anyway, time for dinner.  I’m staying at an amazing hotel called the Golden Palm Tree.  Our cottage is on stilts;  the water shimmers beneath us; and the circuit is but a 40-min adventurous ride away in a battle-scarred Proton. This weekend the locals are due to set fire to elaborate paper decorations they’ve been keeping specially for the occasion.  Should add nicely to the general heat and haze.    As I say, I love Sepang.S2360003

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