For the entire week prior to the Malaysian Grand Prix, talks were about the rain that would likely fall during at least one of the sessions. Formula One does not seem to like probabilities this year, so the unlikely happened again and we ended up with a dry track for all 5 sessions, including the race.
Everything (Almost) Perfect for Ferrari
Kimi Raikkonen showed the world why he is the current world champion, with a brilliant performance that balanced raw speed and strategy. At the start, he might have passed teammate Felipe Massa going into the first corner, but opted to stay behind since he knew he had fuel for one more lap before the first pit stop. For the next 17 laps he shadowed Massa. Both were pretty quick at this point, but later Kimi would mention at the press conference that they had already reduced the engine's at that time. They were still faster than everybody else and, good for us fans, running in equal conditions. When Felipe came in, Kimi got some clean air and made the best of it, gaining the best part of the 2 seconds that he needed.
Some time was handed to him by the fact that Massa stayed in the pits for about 0.6s longer. I am not sure if Ferrari put more fuel on his car - which would not make any sense -, or if it was just a case of not-so-great pit work. Anyway, Kimi got P1 when he returned to the track and started to pull away from Felipe.
Then it was disaster for Massa. Mental disaster, it seems. After he was more than 4s behind Raikkonen, he should have realized that 2nd place was all he could get. Pressure has never been a factor in his career, and his pace in qualifying showed that. He is a fighter, though, and many times that hurts him more than helps. As he tried harder and harder to keep up with his teammate, he hit the kerb very hard in turn six and his car switched ends between turns 7 and 8. Usually cars understeer going around those corners, so it is very likely that hitting that kerb caused some suspension damage. To make matters worse, he got stuck in the gravel trap and had to abandon the race.
The Best of the Rest
That left the door open for Robert Kubica to finish 2nd. He quietly drove his BMW to the checkered flag, and except for some excessive wheelspin at the start, he made no major mistakes. Since the 2 McLarens had to start back in 8th and 9th - after the blocking penalty in Qualifying - and his teammate Nick Heidfeld lost a few positions going wide around the first corner, no other car that could match his pace was close enough to challenge him. His ideal position would be to finish behind the Ferrari, and luckily for him only one of the red cars made it to the end.
Heikki Kovalainen had a brilliant performance. He outpaced Lewis Hamilton in qualifying, despite having fuel for an extra lap. During the race, he was able to save his tyres, although he drove a long time in traffic, which causes major understeer in today's aerodynamically dependent F1.
Hamilton showed some carelessness with his rubber, just as he did a few times in his rookie season. He certainly needs to improve that, but the main issue for him in Malaysia was that he lost about 10 seconds during the first pit stop, due to a problem with an air gun. At the end of the race he pushed as hard as he could to catch Jarno Trulli, who had a surprisingly good performance for Toyota. As Trulli drove some of his best laps of the race, he guaranteed that Hamilton would finish behind. Those laps were so fast - for a Toyota, that is - and so important, that I must give Trulli the Star of the Race award. Hamilton is still leading the championship, so kudos for him for not trying anything stupid.
- Fernando Alonso once again showed that he is pushing Renault to better results than they would get without him. He once again had a fantastic overtake move, this time around David Coulthard. That was only overshadowed by the fact that Nick Heidfeld passed both Coulthard and Alonso as they were fighting against each other.
- Nelsinho Piquet showed a promising race pace. He still has a lot to learn, but he is showing that he can have a year as good as Kovalainen had in 2007. We cannot forget that he fought against Hamilton for the 2006 GP2. What if he drove a McLaren?
- Rubens Barrichello turned the speed limiter off too soon while leaving the pits, and got a drive-through penalty. He later stated that the pit exit was not clearly marked. That is too bad, Rubens, but for some reason the other drivers did not have trouble with that. Good for you that Massa guaranteed the Shame of the Race award with his spin, otherwise...
- Both Williams and STR never showed the same pace from Australia. Sebastian Vettel had a strong showing during the practice sections, but that was it. I wish he had a more reliable car, because he is really great. It was a double DNF for STR and a 'no-pointer' for Williams. I thought Williams was at the same level as RBR, if not better, but now I am not so sure.
Star of the Race
Shame of the Race