Saturday, 29 March 2014

Malaysian GP Qualifying: Wet Wet Wet

Lewis Hamilton equals Jim Clark's British record of poles

Whisper it quietly but the Malaysian Grand Prix (apparently renamed the Malaysia Grand Prix in 2011 – go figure) is one of my favourites of The Unfashionable Races on the F1 calendar. Not a fan of Hermann Tilke-bot circuits as a general rule but those clever race schedule bods (or Bernie?!) like to hold this race during the tail end of something called the Northeast Monsoon. So whatever inherent dullness there is in the Sepang International Circuit is helpfully mitigated by tropical storms and apocalyptic weather conditions. And also lets be honest the fact that Malaysia is usually race no.2 of the season means we’re still a bit like mad-fer-it freshers ready to binge on anything F1.

Interestingly (at least I thought so) although the Malaysian Grand Prix has been in the F1 diary since 1999, only 4 different drivers have ever won there. Michael Schumacher (3 times), Alonso (3 times), Vettel (3 times) and Kimi (twice). So Lewis Hamilton for the win tomorrow then.

The drivers are sporting tributes on their cars and helmets to the 238 crew and passengers on the missing flight MH370 which tragically disappeared on 8 March. A lovely gesture.

So without any further ado lets gets stuck into Q1. But oh we can’t because surprise surprise it is absolutely chucking it down. We are talking biblical rain, floods, the works. Qualifying keeps being delayed every 15 minutes for another 15 minutes which is handy as the 3 year old (in a shock event) had a lie-in until 7.15am and consequently we’re all running behind in Power Towers.

Eventually, we had lift off for Q1. Predictions please of who will crash first? Actually it took quite a long time for a big smash although when it came it was a likely suspect. Right near the end Marcus Ericsson lost control of his Caterham, ploughed into a barrier and spun back onto the track. Very very narrowly missing another car. Changes of overalls all round.

OUT: Ericsson and Kobayashi (Caterham x2), Max Chilton and Jules Bianchi (Marussia x2), plus Adrian Sutil (Sauber) and Pastor Maldonado (Lotus). No real shocks there then.

Before Q2 officially began, we had a traffic jam of cars in the pitlane all chomping at the bit to get out on the track. The Ferrari cars had opted for intermediates (have they seen the state of the track?!) with the others mostly going for wet tyres.

And within 2 minutes we had a collision out on track. Daniil Kvyat and Alonso had a coming together and it looks like Alonso’s suspension might be buggered with a broken front wishbone. The Finger of Suspicion was initially pointed at poor old Kvyat but honestly where was he supposed to go? Alonso had gone so wide that it was entirely reasonable for Kyvat to take the inside line. Everyone should just take a chill pill and chalk it off to a racing incident in poor visibility conditions.

Kevin Magnussen veered off into the gravel although managed to keep his car going and take it straight into the pits. Despite all the monsoon conditions and countless spins and crashes, whatdya know the top four spots with 2 minutes to go was 1. Mercedes 2. Mercedes 3. Red Bull 4. Red Bull. Yawn.

Bottas had it all to do languishing down in 16th place and his team-mate, Massa wasn’t faring much better in a lowly 13th place. And despite last ditch attempts, we had confirmation that Williams will line up on the grid in 13th and 15th place. Not where Williams would have wanted to be AT ALL. How incredibly disappointing. Who made the call for Bottas to stay on intermediates so long. A very costly mistake.

Kvyat managed to climb into 10th and then almost immediately was bumped down by Vergne. The final flying laps in Q2 turned out to be really anything but. Everyone pretty stayed as they were. All the plaudits in Q2 must go to the Ferrari mechanics who managed to repair Alonso’s seemingly terminal car and send him back out to set the 6th fastest time in the session.

OUT: 11) Kvyat 12) Gutierrez 13) Massa 14) Perez 15) Bottas 16) Grosjean.

Q3 –The Moment of Truth was here. In other words time to watch cars doing laps for 12 minutes before a Mercedes and Red Bull front two rows lock-out. Stifles another yawn.

All the drivers were on wets except for Kimi Raikkonen who was on intermediates. It looks pretty freaking wet to me. All depends on the short-range weather forecast. If more rain is expected then Kimi could conceivably steal a march. But then we had Jenson Button coming into the pits for inters. Very interesting, Mr Bond.

And the first flying laps started to come in thick and fast: Hamilton, Vettel, Alonso, Rosberg, Ricciardo, Kimi, Hulkenberg, Vergne making up the top 8 with 6 minutes to go. Mercedes urged their drivers to keep pushing, as well they might with Sebastian Vettel ominously lying in wait in provisional second place.

Not a good move from the Ferrari mechanics to tell Kimi to keep pushing. His tyres were totally fried (as were Jenson’s) so clearly wets were the way to go. Apparently its raining even more now so will we even see anyone improve on their time? Bah.

Hulkenberg went 7th fastest and I am struggling to immediately call to mind his Force India team-mate (okay its Perez) who isn’t taking part in Q3. I might have to dedicate a whole blog to the Hulk one day because he NEVER EVER gets the recognition he deserves. Who has he offended in F1?! I am at a loss to understand why he hasn’t been given a top top drive in F1. And Ferrari mechanics of Fernando Alonso take a bow – from broken suspension to your man running 3rd in Q3. That is stunning!

Everyone has crossed the line before the 0.00 EXCEPT Vettel who now has missed the cut-off for a final flying lap. The husband is convinced that Rosberg deliberately came steaming past Vettel and then slowed to hold Vettel up for those crucial few hundredths of a second. I couldn’t possibly comment but if there is a nano-gram of truth in it then Christian will be speed-dialling Charlie Whiting before the drivers’ weigh-in has finished. And in other news that I spotted (admittedly in the Sidebar of Shame) earlier – Christian Horner and Geri Halliwell. Ewwwwww. Not like she hasn’t been stalking the F1 paddock for years to pounce on some poor sucker. We will now be subjected to her pouty musings in countless races now. *Shudder*

Hamilton’s pole challengers fade away one by one and it was all down to Rosberg now to mix things up but he can only take 3rd. So plus c'est la même chose. There was to be no grandstand finish to qualifying and all in all a bit of a damp squib. Literally.

The grid will line up tomorrow as follows:

1) Hamilton 2) Vettel 3) Rosberg 4) Alonso 5) Ricciardo 6) Raikkonen 7) Hulkenberg 8) Magnussen 9) Vergne 10) Button

11) Kvyat 12) Gutierrez 13) Massa 14) Perez 15) Bottas 16) Grosjean
17) Maldonado 18) Sutil 19) Bianchi 20) Kobayashi 21) Chilton 22) Ericsson

So Lewis Hamilton takes his 33rd career pole. He has now equalled the British record set by Jim Clark for poles. A very impressive achievement though a quick word in the shell-like of the Sky TV producers – if you’re going to bleat on endlessly about it then please pretty please kindly do a feature on Jim Clark. Of all the drivers that Mr Eau Rouge Snr (not the husband
!) saw race – and it’s a stellar list – he was apparently the stand out most naturally gifted driver of them all.

Tomorrow the weather forecast for Sepang is very hot and very wet. And (even more thrillingly) none other than Benedict Cumberbatch is in town for the Malaysian Grand Prix. So happy Mother’s Day to me (and all you lovely mothers out there!).

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