- Karun Chandhok's ESPNF1 column
A totally unexpected resultKarun Chandhok March 28, 2012
What a totally unexpected result that was! I wonder if anyone on the planet predicted an Alonso-Perez 1-2 in Malaysia? I highly doubt it … maybe Bernie! There were so many stories that came out of the race weekend but equally there are still so many unanswered questions about people's pace this season.
McLaren once again showed that it has a very fast car, and over one lap, probably the fastest car with another front row lock out in qualifying. Lewis' qualifying lap was mightily impressive until the last corner where a mistake cost him probably a quarter of a second, although he still managed to stick it on pole. When Lewis is in this form, there are very few people in the world with the natural speed and ability who can take the fight to him over 1 lap - Sebastian, Fernando or Kimi probably - so Jenson would've been pretty pleased with qualifying on the front row. The race didn't go quite as well for either driver but I think Lewis will come away from the weekend pretty pleased with 15 points and second in the Championship with only Fernando in front. He'll know that unless Ferrari has a monumental upgrade coming, his main rivals are Jenson and the Red Bulls. For Jenson, a messy afternoon; the collision with Narain and then a struggle with a set of intermediate tyres which cost him chunks of time and also forced him to make an extra stop took him out of contention but in a low scoring day for the Red Bulls and Lewis not winning, it's not as bad as it could've been. There were pockets of the race where he was the fastest man on track and he'll take solace in the fact that the result was down to circumstance rather than a lack of speed.
This is something that Mercedes can't say unfortunately. It's bizarre how a car that's so very fast in qualifying is seemingly unable to have the race pace of its rivals. Nico Rosberg seemed to be running reasonably competitively for a while but then just ran out of pace as the track started to dry and went backwards very quickly for the rest of the afternoon. Michael Schumacher clearly has a car he can attack with for the first time since his come back and showed in qualifying that he has still got the speed that his doubters question. The collision with Grosjean on lap 1 made a mess of his day, but if you consider that at the re-start Bruno Senna was dead last and yet finished 6th, you still have to question the race pace of the Mercs. A normal dry race will tell us the full story but I'm sure there are already big investigations going on in Brackley to understand how to get the consistency on the long runs.
Long run consistency is something that Red Bull and Lotus are counting on I think. If you analyse the Friday afternoon sessions, Sebastian seemed to have the best race pace, although you have to factor in a small question mark on the fuel loads. It's clear that the Red Bulls don't have the speed advantage over 1 lap that they enjoyed last year where they took all but one pole position. In race trim however it looks very evenly matched and in the current Pirelli / DRS era, this still opens up the possibility for race wins. Their stumbling block could be getting track position especially if the Mercs and Lotus cars qualify in front of them, potentially creating enough of a road block for the McLarens to break away early on. It's clear that they're going to have a big fight on their hands with McLaren all year and unless there's a eureka moment where one sticks on a big upgrade worth half a second, this year is going to be all about small gains and playing to your strengths to score the maximum points when possible.
Interestingly Kimi's race pace on Friday looked second best only to Sebastian. You have to be impressed with the Finn on his return to F1 - no messing about, straight back on the pace, good at wheel to wheel battles and seemingly helping to push Lotus out of their troubles from 2011. But should we be surprised? He is after all a World Champion who has got more God given talent in his little finger than most other drivers on the planet! The Lotus duo looked good again all weekend with the car having best of the rest pace behind McLaren, Red Bull … and Perez!
The Mexican was the undoubted star of the race with a potentially career-making drive. Along with the team he made the right strategy call early on to swap to the full wet which gave him track position at the restart. From there on they were perhaps a bit conservative and pitted a lap or two too late to swap onto first the inters and then the slicks, but in their situation, you could understand why it was better not to take the risk when a podium was on the cards. It was quite amazing in the stint after the re-start to see 'Checo' match and then catch Fernando Alonso, while the pair of them drew away from Lewis. All common logic seemed to point towards a McLaren / Hamilton win but as the race went on it became clear that he didn't have the pace we all expected to take on the top 2. You could criticise Checo for making the mistake towards the end, especially when he was taking 6-7 tenths a lap out of Alonso and had 5 laps to go to make the move but in the end, he did an outstanding job to put himself in that position anyway. The pace of the Sauber will serve notice to the likes of Williams, Force India and Toro Rosso as they all fight for midfield honours.
My final words go to the race winner. Just as in Fuji in 2008 or Monza 2010 or Silverstone 2011, Fernando Alonso showed that when he has a sniff of victory, he digs deep and unlocks a few more tenths to make it count. Ferrari and Fernando are under no illusions that in normal dry circumstances they didn't have a hope in hell of winning but the great drivers are the ones who win the races they're not supposed to - think Prost in Mexico (1990), Senna in Donington (1993) or Schumacher in Barcelona (1996). This will certainly give the team further impetus to push for developments although whether they'll be able to close down the deficit of about a second a lap in normal dry running is yet to be seen. Roll on China!
Karun Chandhok gives his views exclusively to ESPNF1 at the end of every grand prix weekend