Malaysian Grand Prix Review 

Sebastian has taken back-to-back victories in the 2011 championship season, winning the Malaysian Grand Prix today from Jenson Button and Nick Heidfeld, despite his Red Bull challenger experiencing more reliability issues with KERS.

In contrast to the Australian Grand Prix, a combination of factors – a higher-speed circuit, warmer temperatures, and higher tyre wear – all contributed to ensure the German didn’t enjoy the kind of dominance from a fortnight ago, but he still had enough in the tank to ensure he was never truly challenged en route to his fifth win in his last six races.

Button took an excellent second place with team-mate Lewis Hamilton troubled with mid-race tyre issues and well down in seventh, while Heidfeld’s podium was well-deserved after a fantastic start and a hard-fought defence in the closing laps against Mark Webber.

It was an afternoon spent in recovery mode for Webber, whose KERS failed on his warm-up lap, a situation that saw him swamped off the line into Turn 1. The Australian put in a brave drive on a four-stop strategy, and just missed out on a podium. He finished ahead of the two Ferraris, with Massa finishing just ahead of team-mate Alonso.

With the forecasted rain never really proving a factor – some spots fell in the early laps, but never enough to cause major concerns – the main strategic concern in the race was about tyre management, and how many (or how few) pit stops the drivers could get away with.

With the softer ‘option’ Pirelli tyres only able to last around 9 laps per stint and the harder ‘prime’ compound not able to do much more than 15, a three-stop race (at minimum) was on the cards with the rules governing the use of both compounds during the race.

But this created plenty of strategy considerations. Did a driver go all-out on their tyres to gain the lap times with the risk of having to pit more often, or did a driver opt for a slower and more cautious approach in the hope that they may have to make one less Vettel fends off Hamilton on the run into Turn 1, while the fast-starting Renaults are on the outside linepit stop?

The race start was to also prove crucial, for while Vettel converted pole into an opening-lap lead, the two Renaults of Heidfeld and Petrov simply launched off the starting grid, moving from sixth and eight to second and fifth respectively under braking for Turn 1, either side of the McLarens, but ahead of the Ferraris.

Meanwhile, Webber tumbled down the order and fell from third to ninth by Turn 1, and lost another spot to Kamui Kobayashi on the opening lap.

By the end of the opening lap, Vettel’s lead to Heidfeld was almost two seconds, and it looked as though he would saunter away into the distance. But Heidfeld kept up his pace and kept the chasing pack behind him to run within seven seconds of Vettel in the opening stint.

But when Heidfeld pitted for fresh tyres, it released the McLarens and Alonso (who had passed Petrov) into clean air and the chance to close down on Vettel.

Hamilton managed to pull the gap to within four seconds, while behind him Alonso managed to nip past Button for third at Turn 1, and the running order for the top-four remained the same after the first pit stops.

Vettel then lost his KERS at mid-distance and his rivals’ hopes seem to have improved, only to be dashed again when the defending World Champion proved his class by being able to pull out a gap, even without the power-boosting device at his disposal. It must have been truly heartbreaking for his rivals…

By now, Button was starting to make his presence felt, overtaking Alonso during the second round of pit stops and then making his third and final pit stop on lap 38, leaving him with a daunting 19-lap final stint on the prime tyre.

Running in clear air allowed him to jump Hamilton when he pitted on lap 41, and Hamilton just simply wasn’t able to maintain his pace, falling quickly into Alonso’s clutches.

The Briton tried valiantly to hold off the Spaniard and made his McLaren very wide at times with what looked to be several changes of direction on the front straight as he defended his position from Alonso.

Heidfeld breaks his front wing on Hamilton's rear But Alonso had his own problem: his adjustable rear wing had apparently packed it in, and so he needed to be rather more tactical in trying to find his way by.

On lap 45, Alonso made a better exit from Turn 2 but got caught in Hamilton’s tow through Turn 3, just clipping the McLaren’s rear as he tried to jink out to pass him. Result: a broken front wing and another pit stop.

Perhaps with his McLaren now further damaged, Hamilton slipped backwards into Heidfeld’s clutches, and the German breezed by into Turn 1 with a good helping of KERS and the DRS to seal the deal. Just minutes later, Hamilton ran wide at Turn 7 and allowed Webber through, and he too pitted for fresh rubber, dropping him behind the Ferraris and Vitaly Petrov.

Vitaly Petrov gets plenty of air Petrov looked set to consolidate his Australian GP podium finish with another solid points haul for seventh place, but he ran out of grip and off-track at Turn 7. Trying to rejoin the circuit a full speed, he ran over a rain gully and was launched at least two feet in the air, before landing on all four wheels. The impact shattered the Renault’s steering, and Petrov was forced to retire with only four laps to run.

By now the focus was on the battle for third place, with Heidfeld pulling out all stops to keep a charging Webber at bay. The German was disciplined in his use of KERS while battling some very worn tyres, and he just managed to hold Webber off to take his first podium finish since the rain-shortened race here two years ago. It was a well-deserved result, and while beaming on the podium, it was clear that the veteran had scarcely broken into a sweat during the 56-lap race!

While the red cars netted a double points finish, it was a disappointing result that could have perhaps been better were it not for Alonso’s coming-together with Hamilton, and a slow pit stop for Massa. It was a good performance from Massa, who showed a lot more aggression than had previously been on display.

But for Alonso and Hamilton, the drama wouldn’t be over, as both were slapped with 20-second post-race penalties by the race stewards. As we had earlier written, Hamilton’s robust defence of his position caught the stewards’ ire, particularly given he had been warned for similar behaviour against Vitaly Petrov at the same race last year.

But Alonso’s is undoubtedly absurd: his was for colliding with Hamilton!

Rounding out the points, Kamui Kobayashi netted some points for Sauber with eighth place, courtesy of an excellent two-stop strategy and a side order of brave overtaking moves throughout the race.

The Japanese driver enjoyed several outstanding battles with Michael Schumacher, who opened Mercedes GP’s points account with a drive to ninth in what was a tough day for the Silver Arrows. Despite starting in the top-ten, Nico Rosberg made a dreadful start and simply didn’t have the pace in the race, finishing a lacklustre twelfth. Contrastingly, Schumacher made an excellent getaway off the line, but he struggled with tyre wear during the race.

Paul di Resta took the final point with a tenth-placed finish in the Force India with an excellent drive. The Scot outperformed his more experienced team-mate Adrian Sutil, and the rookie would have taken ninth were he not passed by Schumacher late in the race.

The Toro Rosso pairing of Sébastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari didn’t have the race pace after a solid qualifying effort yesterday, and eventually came out as the losers in their race-long battle with Rosberg to finish 13th and 14th respectively. Buemi was also slapped with a 10-second stop-go penalty for speeding in the pit lane during his first pit stop.

Team Lotus finished best of the sophomore teams with Heikki Kovalainen impressively finishing right under Alguersuari’s rear wing to net the first finish of 2011 for the Finn, Vettel takes his trophywhile Timo Glock was the last of the finishers running when the chequered flag was unfurled.

The race featured a double-DNF once again for Williams, with Pastor Maldonado and Rubens Barrichello (who suffered an early-race puncture) retiring with mechanical gremlins, while the HRTs were not unexpectedly retirees in their first outing in race conditions in the Cosworth-powered F111s.

Sauber rookie Sergio Pérez was another retiree and an unlucky one at that given he looked good for a points finish in just his second race: apparently damaging his car when he ran over debris from another car.


2011 Malaysian Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (56 laps):

Driver Team Laps Result
1. Sebastian Vettel DEU Red Bull Racing – Renault RB7 56 1:37:39.832
2. Jenson Button GBR Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-26 56 + 3.261
3. Nick Heidfeld DEU Lotus Renault GP R31 56 + 25.075
4. Mark Webber AUS Red Bull Racing – Renault RB7 56 + 26.384
5. Felipe Massa BRZ Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro F150° Italia 56 + 36.958
6. Fernando Alonso* ESP Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro F150° Italia 56 + 57.248
7. Kamui Kobayashi JPN Sauber F1 Team – Ferrari C30 56 + 1:07.239
8. Lewis Hamilton* GBR Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-26 56 + 1:09.957
9. Michael Schumacher DEU Mercedes GP Petronas F1 Team W02 56 + 1:24.896
10. Paul di Resta GBR Force India F1 Team – Mercedes VJM04 56 + 1:31.563
11. Adrian Sutil DEU Force India F1 Team – Mercedes VJM04 55 + 1:45.000
12. Nico Rosberg DEU Mercedes GP Petronas F1 Team W02 55 1 lap behind
13. Sébastien Buemi SUI Scuderia Toro Rosso – Ferrari STR6 55 1 lap behind
14. Jaime Alguersuari ESP Scuderia Toro Rosso – Ferrari STR6 55 1 lap behind
15. Heikki Kovalainen FIN Team Lotus – Renault T128 55 1 lap behind
16. Timo Glock DEU Marussia Virgin Racing – Cosworth 54 2 laps behind
17. Vitaly Petrov RUS Lotus Renault GP R31 52 Accident
NCF Vitantonio Liuzzi ITA HRT F1 Team – Cosworth F111 46 10 laps behind
DNF Jérôme d’Ambrosio BEL Marussia Virgin Racing – Cosworth 42 TBA
DNF Jarno Trulli ITA Team Lotus – Renault T128 31 Clutch
DNF Sergio Pérez MEX Sauber F1 Team – Ferrari C30 23 Debris damage
DNF Rubens Barrichello BRZ AT&T Williams – Cosworth FW33 22 Transmission
DNF Narain Karthikeyan IND HRT F1 Team – Cosworth F111 14 TBA
DNF Pastor Maldonado VEN AT&T Williams – Cosworth FW33 8 Transmission
  FASTEST LAP     Lap  
  Mark Webber AUS Red Bull Racing – Renault RB7 46 1:40.571

* Twenty-second post-race time penalty imposed to Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton – Alonso’s was for contact with Hamilton; Hamilton’s penalty was for overly defensive driving.

Click here to view the current Drivers’ and Constructors’ championship standings.

[Original images via AUTOSPORT, GP Update, LAT, Sutton Images]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.