Round 2 of the 2011 World Championship took place early this morning (UK time), and it was clear from yesterday's close qualifying session that this race would be harder to call than the previous race in Australia.
The Championship leader, Sebastian Vettel, started on pole ahead of McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, Vettel's team mate Mark Webber and the second McLaren of Jenson Button.
Webber radioed in a problem in his warm-up lap, which was later revealed to be a KERS issue - the Red Bull team reluctantly running the system as it is believed to be particularly important at this race. It was immediately obvious from the start that the Australian was suffering without the boost off the line, dropping several positions before the first corner.
It was the two Lotus-Renault cars of Nick Heidfeld and Vitaly Petrov who benefited the most at the start, moving up from sixth and eight respectively on the grid, to battling with the leading cars in the first turn.
Tyres played a much bigger part here than in the first race, where Sergio Perez impressively managed to stop just once, whilst in the hotter conditions of Kuala Lumpur, three and four stop strategies were the flavour of the day.
Positions changed regularly due to the high number of stops, with some drivers performing better on the soft and hard tyres than others. In addition, rain arrived (as is so often the case at this track) but lasted for just a few laps, with all drivers opting to stay on the dry tyres.
At approximately half distance, race leader Vettel was told by his race engineer that he was not to use KERS, and the gap he had managed to build to his rivals slowly started to disolve. The issue seemed to resolve itself later in the race, and the German was able to use it on occasion. Alonso was also having issues of his own, with his rear wing not opening when he tried to operate his DRS whilst chasing the apparently struggling Hamilton.
Alonso managed to pass his former team mate, only to lose the position again at the following bend, then, when attempting another move, the Spaniard touched the rear-right wheel of Hamilton's McLaren, ruining the Ferrari's front wing. Alonso was forced to pit for a new nose-cone, but Hamilton appeared to emerge relatively unscathed. His lap times never really recovered though, suggesting there may have been some damage to the rear of his car. Hamilton had to pit once more for tyres, allowing Alonso to leap-frog him position.
At the front, Vettel appeared to be able to match whatever second place Button could throw at him, the gap between the two remained fairly static. Heidfeld looked fairly secure in third place, but Webber had started to mount a late charge, on tyres which were several laps newer than Heidfeld's. The charge came slightly too late though, with Heidfeld managing to keep hold of the final podium place - his first since this same race two years ago.
With only three laps remaining, Petrov ran wide in the sister Lotus-Renault, and tried to maintain his speed through the grass. However, he hit a hidden bump which launched the black and gold car into the air. The car landed heavily, and somehow the steering wheel came away from the cockpit leaving the Russian helpless to direct his stricken vehicle, which fortunately came to a rest in the grass on the other side of the track.
Post race, both Hamilton and Alonso were summoned by the race stewards and were each awarded a 20 second penalty, the McLaren driver for weaving whilst defending, and the Ferrari for causing the subsequent collision. This dropped Hamilton down to eighth behind Kamui Kobayashi, whilst Alonso's sixth place was unaffected. Hamilton, however, admitted he was not surprised by the decision. (For more on this see www.autosport.com)
Provisional race results:
1. Sebastian Vettel - RBR - Prediction 2nd
2. Jenson Button - MCL - Prediction 4th
3. Nick Heidfeld - REN - Prediction 6th
4. Mark Webber - RBR - Prediction 1st
5. Felipe Massa - FER - Prediction 5th
6. Fernando Alonso - FER - Prediction 7th
7. Kamui Kobayashi - SAU - Prediction 15th
8. Lewis Hamilton - MCL - Prediction 3rd
9. Michael Schumacher - MER - Prediction 17th
10. Paul di Resta - FOR - Prediction 14th
11. Adrian Sutil - FOR - Prediction 11th
12. Nico Rosberg - MER - Prediction 9th
13. Sebastien Buemi - STR - Prediction 12th
14. Jaime Alguersuari - STR - Prediction 13th
15. Heikki Kovalainen - LOT - Prediction 20th
16. Timo Glock - VIR - Prediction 19th
17. Vitaly Petrov - REN - Prediction 10th
DNF Vitantonio Liuzzi - HRT - Prediction 24th
DNF Jerome D'Ambrosio - VIR - Prediction 22nd
DNF Jarno Trulli - LOT - Prediction 21st
DNF Sergio Perez - SAU - Prediction 16th
DNF Rubens Barrichello - WIL - Prediction 8th
DNF Narain Karthikeyan - HRT - Prediction 23rd
DNF Pastor Maldonado - WIL - Prediction 18th
A definite improvement from the Formula One Results Predictor in comparison to the last race. Hopefully the predictions will continue to improve as the season progresses!
For more information on the race, visit www.autosport.com