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MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX

 

Ricciardo's odd celebration - will it catch on?  Well that was a race that had just about everything. A different and very popular winner drinking champagne from a shoe – almost a Cinderella story if you will. Plenty of overtaking. Cars bursting into flames. First corner carnage. Cretinous penalties and idiots in budgie smugglers getting arrested. Hell, where to start. At the beginning I suppose.

 

 

  On Friday morning the potential safety hazards of imposing the “halo” were brought firmly into focus. Kevin Magnussen’s Renault suffered a fuel system failure relating to a breather pipe and the fuel tank over pressurised, forcing the fuel out of a vent and erupting in flames in the pit lane. Magnussen was able to extricate himself from the blazing Renault without any injury, but the question now stands even more starkly than before. Would the “halo” restrict a driver getting out of the car in case of a fire? In the situation that arose at Sepang with the car upright and in the pit lane it would probably have slowed Kevin but perhaps not to a very dangerous level. But suppose for a minute that the fuel had leaked while Magnussen was on a balls out qualifying lap, got under his rear tyres causing a spin and the Renault had been upside down after an accident? One of the more ridiculous comments in this safety debate recently is that Formula One cars do not catch fire any more, even in accidents. While admittedly none have for some time, Friday proved that sometimes they still do and it will never be possible to ensure they don’t. The last time we endured the sight of a driver burning to death during a race telecast was back in 1982 – poor bloody Ricardo Paletti – and it’s one that anyone who witnessed it will ever forget and never wants to see again. Maybe Alonso’s call for removable “halos” has merit but could they then ever be strong enough to carry out their intended function – deflecting large heavy pieces of debris such as errant wheels? Way – way more thought needs to go into these devices before they are mandated.

 

  I noted with some amusement the war of words between Vettel and Verstappen both blaming each other for the first corner bingle that robbed Nico Rosberg of his chance at victory. Vettel claiming that it was all Verstappen’s fault for squeezing in on him entering the corner and Verstappen calling Vettel a maniac for diving up the inside. Almost exactly the opposite of the event and words after the first corner at Spa. Guys, it’s a race. Get over it. And the grid penalty that Vettel has copped was not to do with any maniacal dive up the inside of Verstappen, it was for clouting into the side of an innocent Rosberg after he had missed Mad Max. Not that I’m a great fan of Vettel but this is one of the cretinous penalties referred to earlier. OK if there was fault to be found, Seb was probably going a bit too fast to make the corner without clattering into Nico but for Christs sake, this was the first corner at Sepang where there is almost always some sort of carnage as not everyone gets it totally right on entry to a very tight corner. It wasn’t as if Vettel intended to take Rosberg out, it was just an accident – they happen. Again - it’s a race. Get over it.

 

  Which takes us to the second of those cretinous penalties referred to earlier. A ten second time penalty for Rosberg for causing a collision with Raikkonen at turn two. Just what are these morons trying to do. Eliminate all overtaking from Formula One? Why not just ban it and have all the cars drive around in grid order behind a safety car while encased in a protective shield of bubble wrap? At the very same time as the powers (???) that be are debating how to make the sport more “entertaining” to the “casual” viewer they go and hand out a penalty for one of the better – forceful – overtaking moves of the year. It wasn’t all Nico’s fault. It was obvious from any objective view point that Rosberg was lining himself up for a run down the inside of turn two from the way he positioned his car through turn one. It was not too fast as he would have made the corner had Kimi not turned in as tightly as he did. This is not to blame Kimi as he would not have been aware of Nico’s presence at that precise moment in time. So neither driver was truly at fault in what amounted to a minor bump that didn’t really effect either driver nor the outcome of the race. So just what was the point of the penalty? Drivers and some fans have been bitching about the “artificial” DRS making overtaking too easy and wanting passing to be harder to achieve so that you would have moves very much like Nico made on Kimi being more the norm. Sort of what it was like back in the eighties – the good old days. Ah yes, the good old days. When you were lucky to see more than two or three overtaking moves in a race because the drivers all just waited for the pit stops to gain a place because it was too damned dangerous to try it on the track. And as for the DRS being artificial? What about the turbo boost button they all had which handed a driver an extra 100 or so horse power. The only thing more artificial about the DRS than the boost button is that it is regulated in its use so not everyone is using it at the same time. There was plenty of good overtaking at Sepang, some of which was assisted by the DRS but very little that was generated by it. You still had to be in the faster car to get by, and that I believe is the point of motor racing.

 

  It was hard not to feel some sympathy for Lewis Hamilton as his Mercedes engine went bang at the beginning of lap 41. His plaintive cry of  “Oh no…” as the flames poured out the back of his car showed just how much emotion there still is in the sport in these overly professional days. What I couldn’t feel any sympathy for were his comments later that “someone or something doesn’t want me to win” which despite attempts from team management to later play down the comments were clearly a hint that he felt that there was some sort of conspiracy against him. What utter bullshit. No team spending as much as Mercedes does on its two cars would ever contemplate deliberately sabotaging one of its drivers. Apart from the vast amounts involved there are two very good reasons for this. One; Does anyone really think that as a brand, Mercedes, who bank on their image of technical excellence, want the world to see one of their cars with flames pouring out the back as the result of an engine failure? Not likely. Two; Championships can be lost that way. Imagine for a moment that Lewis is correct and that the team had made his car so unreliable that he was only third or fourth in the standings. Nico has an accident and is out for the rest of the year. (Think Schumacher in 2009 or Villeneuve/Pironi in 1982). That, at this point, would leave Ricciardo and Red Bull –Renault as likely champions. Again not something I see Niki Lauda or Toto Wolff ever allowing.

 

  And that leads very nicely into the year’s most popular winner. Daniel Ricciardo finally got his much deserved 2016 win after the disappointments of Spain and Monaco with an utterly determined drive on Sunday. For whatever reason Sepang has never been one of the Aussie’s better circuits and throughout the weekend he was usually a fraction off Verstappen and never really on the pace of the Silver Slings – as usual. Come the race, and a bit of luck at turn one and when the Merc went pop on lap 41, Dan just wasn’t going to let the Dutchman go by. Shortly before Lewis’s flame out Verstappen, on fresher tyres, had caught Ricciardo and the pair fought a side by side, elbows out, wheel to wheel scrap for almost half a lap before Ricciardo outbraked Max into turn 7 and held onto what turned out to be critical track position. When the safety car came out to remove the stricken Mercedes, both Red Rags entered the pits to bung on soft tyres with which they would finish the race. Daniel’s were completely fresh, having used one set less in practice, and this may have been the deciding factor. Despite a concerted push from Max early in the stint Ricciardo finally pulled a two and a half second gap by the time the flag dropped to give Red Bull their first 1-2 finish since 2013 and that enormous smile was back and began one of the more bizarre celebrations the sport has seen. Playing up to the crowd on the podium the grinning West Australian removed one of his driving boots, filled it with champagne and drank from it. I can’t imagine it improved the flavour a great deal. But with the crowd cheering him on he not only convinced team boss Christian Horner to also sup from the boot, but also team-mate Verstappen and remarkably, Nico Rosberg, who should all be commended for their sportsmanship (and bravery) if not their sense of hygiene. Rosberg’s comeback drive from dead last to third after the corner one carambolage was one of his finest and probably just as good as his complete dominance in Singapore two weeks ago.

 

  On a sour note (and I’m not talking about the Champagne Shoe) nine utterly moronic Australian fans were arrested on the track after the podium ceremony after stripping down to their underpants, which were all in the image of the Malaysian National flag. A less respectful demonstration to a fairly conservative but generally delightful national populace I cannot imagine. At this point in time they are still in a Kuala Lumpur nick (good) awaiting a decision on whether to charge them or just expel them from the country. Give the stupid bastards a couple of months I say…..

 

 

 

For full results go to http://www.mmmsport.com.au/index.php/the-database/formula-1-races/2010-2019/2016-formula-1?limit=20&limitstart=20

 

Sam Snape

 

05-10 2016