Monday, April 09, 2007

Malaysia – Race Analysis

Malaysia 2007 was not a race that will be remembered as one of the greatest in the history of Formula One, but there was some action among the boringness. Fernando Alonso, though, will keep the trophy as one of his most memorable races: a perfect drive for his first McLaren win. Ferrari – Felipe Massa at least – seemed faster all weekend long, but somehow the victory slipped out of their hands. Let's analyse how...

The start: Advantage to second place

Is it just me or the starting grid in Malaysia gave an advantage to whoever qualified on the right hand side - i.e., 2nd, 4th, and other even positions? Why does the pole sitter start on the left side? The first corner is to the right. It would only make sense for the pole sitter to start on the left side if that were the race line where cars would normally go by. The race line has tyre rubber all over it and provides more grip for acceleration, being an advantage to whoever starts on top of it.

In Malaysia, the last corner is a left hander. Therefore, drivers exit the last corner on the right side of the track and go across the straightway to take the first corner from the left side. So the race line is actually diagonally across the starting grid. Since there is no better grip on either side, the best starting position is on the right – exactly where Alonso and Hamilton started – because it is an advantage going into the first corner. It is not a surprise that both got by their same-row opponents – Massa and Raikkonen, respectively – on the first corner.

Alonso not only got first place, but also blocked the way for Massa to take the inside line. As he took the first corner from the outside, Massa got on the dirty part of the track, outside the race line. This allowed Hamilton to drive side-by-side and carry more speed out of the next left hander. Two corners after the start, McLaren had a huge advantage, just because they started from the even grid positions. Someone at the FIA must have seen this...

Clean race for Alonso

Alonso is the man who takes whichever opportunity he has and scores the most out of it. I have compared him to Emerson Fittipaldi before, and I think the comparison is suitable again. After qualifying second, Alonso would be happy to finish in that position and take 8 points. With the advantage at the start, the opportunity was to win, so he drove one flying lap after another, without making any mistakes. It was a perfect race. Even without the help from Hamilton, who held Massa and Raikkonen, he would have won.

Hamilton: Too good to be true

Is Hamilton really a rookie, racing only his second F1 race? The guy is unbelievable. He drives like a veteran. He sometimes makes minor mistakes – a lock-up or a trip off-track –, but he never lets them interfere on the race result. He held Massa like Alonso would. And I am sure that with more experience, he will be able to race like Alonso did yesterday, as well. He lacks only a little bit of speed and lap-time consistency, but he will get there by the end of the season.

Massa beyond the limit

Massa wanted the win so much that he forgot the championship is 17 races long. Had he thought about the championship, he would have been more careful. He could have finished at least third, better than the fifth he got after the off-track excursion that was the result from trying too hard to overtake Hamilton.

I cannot blame him much, though. At least he tried something. It was exciting to watch. Unfortunately he made the biggest error in a weekend in which few drivers made mistakes. I will have to call him the ‘Shame of the Race’... The fact that he allowed Heidfeld’s BMW to finish ahead of him was decisive. Ferrari is still better than BMW, he should have finished ahead.

Modest race for Raikkonen, but he gets 6 points

Raikkonen is paid a lot more than Massa – 3 to 4 times. He should be faster than Massa. He is not at this point. It was Massa who made the mistake and let Raikkonen go by. Raikkonen did nothing more than, for example, what Rubens Barrichello would have done as a Ferrari driver. I expect a lot more from him.

He later explained that Ferrari was not giving full power to his engine, trying to avoid a breakdown after the water leak in Australia. Still, he was very close to Hamilton on the first stint, he could have at least pulled the car to the side entering corners, trying to cause a mistake by Hamilton.

Malaysia’s quick notes

- Rubens Barrichello had one of the greatest races of his career, starting last after an engine failure and finishing 11th on the ridiculously slow Honda, ahead of teammate Button. No one cares about 11th, though...

- Nico Rosberg had a great race and was robbed of a second consecutive points finish as his car broke down. The cause is still unconfirmed, but the DNF is not a surprise, as Williams has been unreliable during 2006 as well.

- Williams’ speed was confirmed by the great race that Alexander Wurz drove, starting 19th and finishing 9th. Although he finished the race, we can also say that he did not score points due to lack of reliability, since he had gearbox problems in qualifying.

Star of the race:

McLaren: Both drivers were great, but the team strategy was also perfect.

Shame of the race:

Felipe Massa: At least he admitted his own mistake.

--Andre N.

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