2011 Malaysia F1 GP – race and TV coverage

There’s good luck, and bad luck, and then there are Formula One Grand Prix. Malaysia was rather a different kind of luck for the drivers this year. No rain, or at least, none by Malaysian standards. Not so many parts breaking as qualifying, but mechanical issues still gave some drivers a hard time, others good. But for me, the event began with the pre-race TV coverage on BBC1.

One of Mark Webber’s comments was:

Even at 34 you continue to learn!

Hey, Mark, that’s still incredibly young! He just doesn’t know it yet.

Lee McKenzie did an interview with Christian Horner (who has one of those weird ‘foreign-type’ accents with a ‘t’ pronounced more like a ‘d’ but he really is British. At the end of the interview, Lee showed us the difference between male interviewers, for whom interviews are often seen as competitive sport, and female interviewers. Her final comment was “I hope it’s not too stressful on the pit wall for you…” which completely defuses any sense of competition Christian Horner might feel if interviewed by a man such as little Eddie Jordan who’s a bit like a Jack Russell terrier. Next time, you can bet Lee will get a good interview out of Christian.

On the grid, Martin Brundle was his usual professional self. I’m sure he does it for the buzz, but he’s actually informative, descriptive, and entertaining. He pointed out the dry ice going into the radiators and the cockpits of the cars to keep the drivers cool and made me wonder: since dry ice is CO2, won’t feeding it into the cockpit of the F1 cars displace Oxygen that might otherwise keep the drivers brains sharper? CO2 is of course heavier than O2, so once it gets into the cockpit it will hand around in there for a bit.

One driver who might need some pure Oxygen on the grid because of his consistently poor starts this year, usually to the detriment of his team mate, is Lewis Hamilton. I don’t know what’s happened to him, but his first season’s starting excellence seems to have gone on holiday. But Button made sure he was well clear of him this time. Vettel on the other hand learned well from the Schumacher years of weaving all over the place to stop people getting past. At the time when Schumacher was in his more successful first F1 career, he developed the art of blocking any following competitors through weaving all over the track, and because he had the ear of the FIA he got away with it (although many other drivers at the time did not). Still the precedent was made, and today’s race saw it’s ugly head raised again as Vettel moved certainly more than once from the start line.

His team mate however had bad luck again – mechanical bad luck with his KERS  booster refusing to function. This was something his more favoured team mate did not suffer from, strangely. How is it that now in two races, Webber has had two mechanical failures, and his team mate none? His poor pace in Australia has been identified as being a broken suspension damper while Vettel has been unimpeded by such calamities.

In fact, Vettel has yet to be seriously challenged on the track because he seems to be the only one to get away smoothly at the front of the pack. With Hamilton starting poorly, he impedes other Vettel-chasers and today Vettel had a 9 second lead very quickly. This will not continue indefinitely, even if the cars do not improve technically to any great effect. Once the rest of the field get a clear start to pass Hamilton Vettel will be more closely challenged. He can’t rely for ever on his team mate having a broken car (OK, some will say he can rely on that, but I don’t necessarily subscribe to that view) and maybe the rest of the field will get a better start soon.

From what I’ve seen so far, KERS is pretty useless as an aid to overtaking. If all the cars have it, what’s the advantage? All it can do is ruin a driver’s race but not working correctly, so that we don’t get to see good scraps between Mark Webber and Vettel. DRS is another new introduction so far, and I’m coming around to the conclusion that it doesn’t aid the racing, just passing. There is a difference. Overtaking manoeuvres only take place at the end of the straight, and are over in an instant, the superiority it seems to give is so high. Old style overtaking was long and difficult, like Mansell on Senna at Barcelona, or Hakkinen on Schumacher at Spa. OK, Mansell on Senna in Hungary was over quickly too, but it was still very entertaining.

Still, maybe I need to give the system more time. The TV coverage today was absolutely awful – so confusing I really had no clue what was going on a lot of the time. In the old days, it used to be possible to follow a car, or a battle, and see the whole thing. Nowadays the camera jumps around from shot to shot, few of which show you much competition, and often just as something interesting happens, the camera moves away. One typical example of this was on Lap 27 when Vettel caught Massa on the back straight, rounded the corner so his DRS would work, and then got closer, and closer – and then the camera shot switched to a car stopped in the pits! BORING!!! After a few seconds of nothing interesting happening, the camera switched back to a picture of Vettel level with Massa, almost as it was all over. The continuity was lost, the build up was non-existent, it was dire.

Having the DRS to make racing more exciting for the fans is all very well, but if the director prefers showing shots of cars in the pits (and for some reason we can’t have picture in picture shots of pitstops) than it doesn’t matter what technology the teams add, if we don’d see the action, we don’t see the action. Simples.

This confusion clearly hit the commentary team today as well. Martin Brundle was caught out a couple of times, but to be fair it was clear he was looking up some data on sector and lap times of different drivers so I’m not surprised he got a couple of things wrong. David Coulthard however did a great job today, much better than last week – but he’s still obsessed with jargon it seems. When describing the possibility of Vettel’s Red Bull having a minor lockup, he wondered out loud:

maybe he’s under-rotated a tyre…?

Err, yes, clearly David. You’re supposed to tell us what these things mean, not just use them willy nilly. Under-rotated a tyre indeed. He did make some good points though, and Martin Brundle was entertaining as always even when he got a few things wrong, like where cars were. I suffered from that too. But that was the Director’s fault.

Alonso had another coming together with Hamilton. Driving a Ferrari that was clearly good enough for a podium today he ruined his race trying to carry out that manoeuvre that hamilton performed on him all those years ago – you remember, the one where (I think it was at Monza) Hamilton’s McLaren popped out from under Alonso’s rear wing to pass him. But there are of course many incidents between those two over the years. Why Alonso crashed into him was a puzzle for our trusty commentators, but Martin had just said that perhaps Hamilton’s traction out of corner’s was suffering due to his tyre wear so my guess is Hamilton just couldn’t accelerate as well as Alonso’s fresh tyres and Alonso just didn’t think of that, react quickly enough, or make his move early enough. Even waiting until he was on the straight again would have been good. So I put that accident down to poor traction from Hamilton’s shot rear tyres.

Button on the other hand seems to have done a lot better with his tyre management. His lasted longer than anyone else’s had all weekend, and so he managed to get around without a last minute tyre change as Hamilton had to with five laps to go. That dropped him from the podium to nowheresville. Button on the other hand finished second and took the lead in the Championship over his team mate by two points. Vettel on the other hand with two wins now has almost twice that many points.

Clearly tyres are going to take a major role in this championship. All those expensive technical gadgets they added add nothing compared to the effect of the tyres in my opinion. In fact, the tech stuff not only costs money, it is also more likely to cause a mechanical problem that spoils the fans’ fun. Mercedes are having problems with both KERS and the flappy DRS wings, Red Bull – and particularly Mark Webber – has problems with KERS, and Ferrari has problems with the DRS.

Red Bull have some weird radio language though: Plan B for tyre stops; “Do not use the KERS” to Vettel to make sure he switched it on – and in fact, whenever they told him not to use it, he actually went a heck of a lot faster after having used it. I won’t repeat Vettel’s rather corny line at the end of the race though, it’s such a corny habit he’s developing I really hope he gives it up soon. Just be yourself Sebastian, none of this poorly scripted mumbo jumbo man! Just remember, you’re not University material so don’t give up the day job! Deep and meaningful doesn’t naturally come from a 23 year old, it sounds odd, and only makes you sound a bit of a joke.

Of the lower order teams, I thought one of the best showings was Paul di Resta – he’s gaining confidence by the minute, and while he himself appears to be a very quiet and unassuming character – perhaps a bit like Jim Clark – his racing is excellent. One day I see him in either a McLaren or a Ferrari…

Next week, China. First race in which Vettel doesn’t get an easy ride? We’ll see. Maybe instead he’ll take Webber’s bad luck, Hamilton will get a good start, and Button will show what he can do with tyres. I can’t wait!

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