Malaysian GP Qualifying Debrief

If Sebastian Vettel had longer blonde locks and more feminine features, news agencies around the world would be chomping at the bit to run the headline “Oops, he did it again.” If only Nico Rosberg were dominating Formula One at this very moment.
Sebastian Vettel looked beatable in the lead up to this weekend. He issued his first salvo by obliterating the competition in Australia. Mark Webber stood up and took notice by beating Vettel in all of the free practice sessions, both McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button looked fast, Sebastian Vettel was probably idling by checking his Facebook in between installation laps.
Despite Vettel’s Malaysian pole, it was far from the terrifying margin by which he was ahead in Australia. It’s hard to deny the Red Bulls are the class of the field at the moment, but it is foolish to assume that the teams behind them aren’t throwing all of their might and resources into beating them. McLaren have gone from writing off their championship aspirations into being Red Bulls most threatening competitor. Imagine what their car could have been like if they didn’t have to furiously re-design their car. Or maybe it was that age old myth of them sandbagging.
There was a poignant shot in the FIA weighting zone – they really need to come up with a more marketable name for that place – where Fernando Alonso glumly stared at the timing screen. Still wearing his helmet and his shoulders slumped. He must be disheartened that he hasn’t found himself in the best all round car. Sure his Ferrari last year showed glimpses of decimating pace, but you have to go back to his 2005 and 2006 campaigns with Renault to find Alonso in his true element. He is loving his time at Ferrari, but at the moment, he’s struggling to find his trademark Dolmio grin behind the wheel.
From the sublime to the ridiculous, HRT made a lot of people consume some very humble pie with their qualifying performance. Albeit drenched in engine oil. Credit must given where credit’s due that the HRT staff and their drivers were able to qualify one of the most mocked and oft frowned upon cars in the field. Their worth to the sport and their long-term future is for another argument, but there is something rather warm and fuzzy about a team that can survive in Formula One despite the odds very much stacked against them.
Formula One did lose something when the likes of Minardi and Jordan disappeared, sure their respective fortunes improved in the future and the standards of teams bettered, but the sport has lacked that perennial backmarker character. Super Aguri filled that void briefly, far too briefly, but there’s got to be an alternative amongst the masses of Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari merchandise amongst the crowds. I would personally be happier to wander around a Grand Prix weekend wearing an old Pacific Grand Prix t-shirt and Arrows cap than a pricey Red Bull billboard on my shoulders. Then again, the anorak market isn’t as big.
Rain has threatened, nay teased, Malaysia all weekend. The typical torrential weather has managed to miss the teams during all sessions this weekend, but the threat of rain during the race is still forecast. The field hasn’t encountered a wet session so far this season, and a rain-affected race will throw a lot of strategies into the proverbial swimming pool. Even with the best planning and the lengthiest engineering debriefs, there are something you just can’t predict for. The weather will play a major part in the race, if indeed it does factor in at all. We have seen in years gone by – when it rains in Malaysia, the Grand Prix transforms into a rally. An underwater rally.
Sebastian Vettel will be looking to uphold his title as reigning (pun intended) victor in Malaysia. However he has a gaggle of drivers, and teams for that matter, wanting to see the downfall of the boy genius. It will be a fascinating sight to witness if anyone can surpass Vettel’s level of performance and confidence at this very moment.
I’m less enthusiastic of Vettel potentially changing his helmet design between qualifying and the race however.
For a more comprehensive overview of results during qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix, click here

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