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Formula 1 6

Malaysian Grand Prix – day one

The HP sauce bottle and Marmite jar are reassuring symbols of a Williams media breakfast – a Friday custom whose traditional British overtones contrast with the oppressive warmth outside.

f1  Malaysian Grand Prix   day one

The Sepang International Circuit’s grandstands are thinly populated when the opening free practice session commences soon afterwards. I’ve always wondered about the Malaysian GP’s sustainability, although the present contract runs until 2015: a few years ago I tracked a stream of comments on a regional newspaper website, wherein cash-strapped locals discussed the best places to climb the track’s perimeter fencing and thereby avoid having to pay. Had this been Monza, they’d simply have used wire-cutters.

There is evidence of a significant tourist element among the select gathering – including a few replica football shirts (not the usual British brands that percolate, but Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield Town and thus worn by proper fans).

f1  Malaysian Grand Prix   day one

Initially there isn’t a great deal for anybody to watch. Following an installation lap or two, the track remains largely silent for more than half an hour during the opening free practice. Restricting each weekend’s tyre allocation might help to contain costs, but it can also have a detrimental impact on the show – particularly at circuits that take a high toll on rubber. This one, for instance. There is a moment of levity towards the session’s end, when Adrian Sutil’s race engineer instructs his charge to avoid the kerbs. The German thinks he’s being told not to use KERS. “No,” comes back the message, “kerbs, the things by the edge of the track.”

The second session confirms that the Lotus E21 will be no less brisk here than it was in Australia – on one side of the garage at least, although Romain Grosjean continues to be plagued by a mysterious handling imbalance. Kimi Räikkönen sets fastest time of the day, shading Sebastian Vettel by a couple of hundredths, but a short, sharp shower compromises teams’ scheduled long-run plans. Such interruptions are likely to be a motif for the weekend: the forecast hints at dry mornings, with isolated afternoon downpours a daily possibility. Hardly news in this part of the world, but Sunday’s 4pm start risks casting the sport into the eye of an electric storm.

f1  Malaysian Grand Prix   day one

The first round of the GP2 Series forms part of the support programme – and British driver James Calado (ART) missed top spot by just 0.004s after having to negotiate an awkwardly located rival during his final flier. “That cost me a bit of time,” he said, “but things look OK for tomorrow.” Stefano Coletti (Rapax) thus took his maiden GP2 pole, with Felipe Nasr (Carlin) eight thousandths off the pace in third and less than half a second covering the top half of the grid.

Series returnee Sam Bird initially qualified fifth for the newly formed RUSSIAN TIME team – a decent result given that he was recruited less than a week ago and missed all the pre-season tests. The Englishman ran with heavy fuel during free practice, so his true pace only became apparent during the afternoon. At one stage, he was involved in a controversial incident with Arden driver Johnny Cecotto, who swerved at Bird and forced the Englishman onto the grass. “I got onto the marbles through Turn Six,” Bird said, “and probably impeded him a bit while I was sorting myself out. I tried to get out of his way as quickly as I could, but everybody saw what happened next.” Bird was later penalised three grid positions for the initial obstruction, while Cecotto dropped from 14th to last after having all his times annulled.

Cecotto has a proven turn of speed – and illustrated the point with fine GP2 victories at Monaco and Hockenheim last season. He is also more familiar than most, though, with the route to the stewards’ office.

GP2 is designed to be a finishing school, but some drivers seem never to learn.

f1  Malaysian Grand Prix   day one

Add your comments

6 comments on Malaysian Grand Prix – day one

  1. ray t, 22 March 2013 16:42

    I’m wondering if we’re going to see a ding dong battle between Kimi, the two RBRs, the Mercedes cars and both the Ferraris.

    I wonder if Massa’s going to rattle Alonso’s cage sooner than later as he can’t afford to drop too far behind the Spaniard in the points table.

    If Massa can prove to be there or thereabouts of Alonso, I think other teams may look to signing him as there aren’t too many F1 drivers who’ve proven to be nearly a match for Schumacher (still in his Pomp at Ferrari), Raikkonen (when not favoured at Ferrari) and Alonso (the current King at Ferrari).

    Alonso never seemed comfortable with a too-competitive driver in the other car (Trulli, 2004; Hamilton, 2007) so i’d love to see the Brazilian back to late ’06 – mid ’09/pre-Hockenheim’10 Team Orders levels and put Nando under real pressure.

    Here’s hoping Ferrari want to also gun for the Constructor’s Championship. They’ve got a propper shot at it in 2013.

  2. Ray T, 22 March 2013 19:10

    The other Ray T…
    Many drivers have shown to be a match for Schumacher, like Rosberg over the last two years.
    I doubt Massa will worry Alonso at all. Most people are amazed Massa still has a job at all in F1.

  3. John B, 22 March 2013 20:30

    I’m still reserving judgment on Massa for another half season.
    The signs are there he might be coming back but if he a poor run he has to go.
    Had he pitted before Alonso in Melbourne he probably would have beaten him in the race.
    Unless Alonso was “faster” of course

  4. John Read, 23 March 2013 06:27

    Never take the form of a Ferrari second-banana on face value.

  5. Andrew Scoley, 23 March 2013 08:24

    I thought the harmmony at Ferari would be tested this year after Massa started showing some form at the end of last. The fact the he was pretty annoyed with the result last week was the first sign to me that there could be ‘developments’ afoot! As Berger once said, the ideal team mate is the one who is one second slower than you.

    Any chance one of the Mercedes drivers could change the colour of their helmet? I haven’t a clue which one is which at the moment.

    Encouraging signs that RBR is having trouble making tyres last, hopefully they won’t run away with the races. I just want a different winner this year that’s all! Speaking of which, I’m sure I’m not alone in being completely bored by tyre talk already. So, apologies for raising the matter. Again.

  6. Ray T, 23 March 2013 17:29

    Funny about the helmet color comment, Coulthard made a comment about Hamilton sitting in his car in qualifying and it was actually Rosberg.
    Honestly, I think F1 sometime really, really does not care about the spectators at all. The drivers wear different helmet colors every race, the car numbers are getting smaller because of transponders, and the cars have the driver names in 2cm letters no one can read from the 200 euro seats.
    Would it crush the sport to make the drivers easily identifiable?

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