Unlike Albert Park in Melbourne, Sepang is a bespoke racing circuit, albeit a Tilkedrome. Long straights, a grippier surface and hot weather meant DRS and tyre degradation worked according to plan and significantly influenced the outcome of the race. However the main result was the same, Vettel put it on pole and won. This time his Red Bull was fitted with KERS but about half way through the race he was instructed not to use it anymore.
In marked contrast to Webber, (Oxon) Lotus-Renault's Nick Heidfeld made a demon start, rocketing up from sixth to second. His team mate Petrov had a great start too, going from eighth to fifth, passing both Ferraris. Massa got him back on lap 5, using DRS to perfection and drafting past into turn 1. This was to be the first of a number of passes facilitated by the system. Opinion amongst race fans is divided, some think it's good and others think it's too false and gimmicky, but there is no doubt it allows a quicker car to get past a slower. It's not yet clear to me what effect it has when the cars are equal or whether it allows a slower car to pass a quicker.
Very soon after this the car/pit radio traffic was all about tyres. Drivers were urged to look after them as rain was expected. In the event only a few drops fell which did not affect the outcome of the race. Mark Webber stopped first, his first stop of four. Vettel went to lap 13 and managed with two more stops only on his way to another comfortable win.
The McLarens had pushed the Red Bulls reasonably hard in qualifying with Hamilton second a tenth off Vettel and Button fourth a couple of hundredths behind Webber. Both Maccas were passed by the fast-starting Heidfeld, but Hamilton passed him in the first pit stops. Hamilton was amongst the first to pit, which meant he had to pit early for the second time as his tyres were worn out. This put him out of phase with the others and necessitated a fourth stop just four laps from the end. By contrast his team-mate Button made three stops on his way to second. The Pirelli tyres suffer a sudden large drop-off in performance which the teams referred to as "the cliff".
It makes me wonder what on earth Pirelli gets out of this by way of positive marketing. The only mention of Pirelli is in a negative context - and no amount of explanation about how the FIA wanted a fast-wearing tyre will make the average road-punter desire a set of those for the road car....
Kamui Kobayashi got his Sauber into Q3 and raced home in his normal entertaining fashion to claim seventh. Mercedes had another poor weekend but Schuey managed ninth. How much more would we like to see him leading a Ferrari campaign at Le Mans. Paul di Resta (Force India) took the final point again, this time on merit and beating his experienced team mate.
Alonso's comments on race pace led me to carry out the following analysis of each team's fastest race lap. From this it's clear that the four leading teams Red Bull, Ferrari, Renault and McLaren are pretty close. The second group are Mercedes and Sauber, then Toro Rosso and Force India with Lotus next. Then there's a big gap to Virgin and the shockingly bad Williams, though they only ran to 22 laps, so would have been fuel heavy. Even so, I wonder what their new shareholders think? HRT bring up the rear. It was a good effort for them to even get into the race, but how long can you keep on saying that? As for Virgin, the low budget CFD-only approach does not seem to be paying off. Wonder how much it would cost to go in a wind tunnel? Also, if you're in their corporate hospitality is it extra for a drink or a sandwich?
Click here for FIA lap chart
Stefano Domenicali: “We cannot be pleased with this result, because today, we had the possibility to finally leap up onto the podium. Two incidents, linked one to a reliability issue (a failure of the moveable rear wing on Fernando’s car) and one at a pit stop (a problem with the left front at Felipe’s first stop) cost us very dear. It’s a shame, because in terms of race pace the 150º Italia seemed much more competitive when compared to its qualifying performance, as we had already seen in Melbourne."