Every time the F1 comes to Malaysia the first thing on everybody’s mind are the chances of rain. And they are always said to be quite big. Surprisingly however, so far the only proper rain came down on 2001 Malaysian GP. I went to the Sepang race three times in very recent past. All the races and if I remember well even all the practice and qualifying sessions were always dry (altghough humid and hot). The only visibility problems I remember was the haze that came out of nowhere and covered the track back in 2005. What I also remember however is that every time I was in Kuala Lumpur this time of the year it rained heavy every day in the early evening. Early evening was the time the heavy rain came down yesterday. Early evening also was when the 2009 Malaysian GP was still in full swing thanks to that wise decision to move the start to 5pm … Why on Earth did the organizers agree to such a late start is beyond me … Anyway, back to what happened before the rain stopped the race.
Jenson Button made a mess of the start and dropped back from the pole behind Nico Rosberg, Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso. Rosberg and Trulli pulled away while heavily fueled Alonso held everybody back. Button managed to overtake him before the lap 1 was over and quickly caught up with Rosberg and Trulli. Alonso helped to create huge gap behind them. Heikki Kovalainen spun off soon after start, Robert Kubica’s engine expired on lap 1 too (Kubica reported starnge sounds from engine during his installation lap).
The rain was on the cards from the race start and it was only matter of the time when it will arrive. As the first pit stop window approached many drivers probably hoped that the arrival of the rain would coincide with their pit stop. That did not happen (the only one lucky was Heidfeld) and most of the drivers put fresh set of soft tyres on. The first one to gamble on wet tyres was Kimi Raikkonen (see image below). Ferrari probably had the reason to think it may rain soon, same as they had reason to believe that starting on super soft was good idea in Melbourne or that one lap in Q3 will be enough Massa if qualifying for Malaysian GP. The rain came eventually, but only several laps later and by then Raikkonen’s wet tyres were totally destroyed and Raikkonen far back after lapping several laps 20 second slower than the rest of the field.
After all the front runners made their first pit stops Jenson Button was in the lead. Only three laps after his first pit stop the first drops felt and Button stopped again, this time for set of wet tyres expecting as most of the field the rain to be heavy right away. The intermediates however were clearly better tyres at that time and on lap 29 also Button made the switch to inters too. He dropped behind Glock but overtook him just before the end of lap 30. Glock however turned into the pit lane an took on full wet tyres as the rain became heavier. On lap 32 Button returned to pits for his 4th pit stop and switched back to full wet tyres. He returned back to track still in the lead. Moments later the safety car was deployed and a lap later the red flags stopped the race.
Mark Webber was immediately out of his car talking to other drivers and getting their opinions on the conditions. At that moment it was not clear if the race would be restarted or not. But as the time went on it became clear that even if the race starts again there would not be enough time left to finish more than 75% of the distance needed for full points to be awarded. I have no idea why the race control had to let the cars and the drivers out there in that rain until almost 7pm before announcing the race is over … Anyway, that is what they did. The race was stopped on lap 33, the results went back to lap 31. Jenson Button ended up as the winner, Nick Heidfeld climbed up to 2nd place (thanks also to the fact that he only made one pitstop), Timo Glock dropped to 3rd.
Brawn GP again showed that they are class of the field at the moment. When Button needed to put his foot down he drover the fastest lap of the race creating anouh gap to leapfrog both Trulli and Rosberg after first pit stop. The team now also can see that the car that never tested in wet can handle that kind of conditions well too. They also had luck on their side with the timing of their wet and inters pit stops because if the race was stopped a lap earlier the win could have gone to Glock …
Both Toyota and Williams are very strong and both have potentially race winning cars at this moment. Toyota needed only a bit more luck on their side today. Williams however will need to do something about their strategies and team work. They are not as hopeless as Ferarri at the moment, but tactical errors are costing them points and podiums while there aren’t that many cars better than theirs …
Red Bull is another impressive team and the wet conditions seem to only emphasize how good the new Red Bull car is. The one thing they do not have on their side is luck. Such a car but only 1.5 point after 2 races …
Heidfeld brought the BMW Sauber to the podium making the most of what the conditions offered. Robert Kubica who outqualified Heidfeld is still without any points as his engine expired very early on.
Lewis Hamilton pushed his uncompetitive McLaren to points, to one point to be precise. That is probably as much as can be expected from the team at the moment. Heikki Kovalainen crashed out, right after the start, long before the rain.
Ferarri that is a special chapter. Their car is not a race winner at the moment but it doesn’t seem to be much worse piece of machinery than for example BMW Sauber at the moment for example. But what a mess are the team and drivers making out of the races this year … It has been long time since the red cars failed to score any points in first 2 races of the season (how long, you can find out in this week’s quiz). The only positive moment for Kimi on Sunday was probably this (click to see the pictures).
The prediction game results will be out later today.