There are three stories to the second round of the 2011 FIA Formula One World Championship: a young German, an Italian company, and a stoush between an Englishman and a Spaniard.
Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel made the perfect getaway from pole position and cruised to his second win of the year: a perfect 50 points as he defends the title he won so brilliantly in 2010.
Team-mate Mark Webber, meanwhile, suffered clutch problems and then a failure of his car’s KERS system to find himself back in 10th position after qualifying third. In the circumstances the Australian did brilliantly to fight back for fourth, just missing his first podium finish of the year and taking the fastest race lap on the way.
“I drove every lap on the limit,” said Webber, who also produced the move of the afternoon with a round-the-outside pass on Felipe Massa’s Ferrari at Turn 1 on lap 50. “It’s clear that Seb has made a great start to the season, but I’ll keep boxing, I’ll keep fighting – it’ll come.”
The Italians, of course, are Pirelli, and the second story of the race was tyres. In all there were 63 pit stops at Sepang this year. In 2010 that number was just 22. Tyre degradation, and the ‘marbles’ left on track by the rapid wear, posed problems for virtually everyone.
Perhaps that’s why Jenson Button, so gentle on the tyres, came home second for McLaren-Mercedes ahead of Lotus Renault’s Nick Heidfeld, making it two successive podium finishes for his revitalised team. “It’s clear the team has taken a big step forward this year,” said a delighted Heidfeld, who is standing in for the injured Robert Kubica at the Anglo-French team this season.
At Albert Park it was Vitaly Petrov who came third; in Sepang he produced another of the race’s major talking-points when his small mistake on lap 49 caused the Renault to take off over a kerb, leap high in the air and break its steering-column in the process.
With Webber just failing to catch Heidfeld on the sprint to the line, it was Ferrari’s Massa who took fifth ahead of team-mate Fernando Alonso – the Spaniard involved in our third story. In his pursuit of McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton Alonso pulled out of the Englishman’s slipstream but clipped the back of Hamilton’s car.
Both men were invited before the stewards, and both earned a 20-second time penalty that dropped Hamilton to eight but left Alonso’s sixth place intact. Hamilton was deemed to have changed direction more than once, Alonso to have caused the collision.
Turning around the disappointment of his team’s Melbourne disqualification, Kamui Kobayashi took eighth place for Sauber after what he called “some nice and fair battles with Webber” in the opening stages of a lively race. Rookie team-mate Sergio Perez’s car fell victim to debris from Sébastien Buemi’s Toro Rosso.
Ninth for Mercedes was Michael Schumacher, who admitted the team was just “too slow’ at this stage and only just managed to steal the extra point from another rookie, young Scot Paul di Resta in the Force India car.
This time all 24 cars started the race, although the HRT duo of Narain Karthikeyan and Tonio Liuzzi both stopped for precautionary reasons. There were 17 classified finishers; Vettel’s winning margin was a comfortable 3.261 seconds, while Webber’s fastest race lap – the seventh of his career – was a 1:40.571 on lap 46, an average speed of 198.415 km/h.
“I love what I do and don’t think I could be happier at this stage,” said Vettel, who has the chance to underline his dominance and increase the width of his smile in less than a week when Shanghai stages round three of the series on April 17.
1. Vettel 50 points
2. Button 26
3. Hamilton 22
4. Webber 22
5. Alonso 20
6. Massa 16
1. Red Bull Racing 72 points
2. McLaren-Mercedes 50
3. Ferrari 36