Who wants to bet against the season’s new defensive-driving rules coming into play tomorrow? Last season’s official most-fighty starter and man-most-likely-to-make-it-hard-to-pass Michael Schumacher lines up third behind the McLarens for tomorrow’s Malaysian Grand Prix (see how quickly we got bored of Team GB’s dominance there).
So what odds Michael getting by the in-fighting Macs with Lewis (pole) more concerned with the bloke next to him (JB) and forgetting to keep the bloke behind in check? And God help us all if Michael arrives at Turn One first because over a race distance, the McLaren is still the car to beat. Expect lock-ups, fist waving, ‘stewards investigating….’ captions on-screen, drive-through penalties and stone-walling Germans.
Nobody wanted the Michael fairy tale to happen more than us so, when we wrote him off at the start of the season, we did so based on two seasons of Michael getting blown off by Nico Rosberg (who, to paraphrase John Lennon, is widely regarded as “not even the fastest racer in the Rosbergs”). So we’re beaming today. We don’t think he’ll win tomorrow, but two qualis on the second row means this old man is sticking in to the young ‘uns. And we like that.
Both Mercedes and Pirelli have been saying all week that the FW-03’s tyre binging has been cured, without saying how or even what the problem was, so we’re inclined not to take it too seriously. So who will take the fight to the Macs? Not Red Bull. When Mark Webber again out-qualifies Sebastian Vettel you realise it’s not all going to plan. Even more so when Red Bull effectively abandons any hope of getting its champ further up the grid and sends him out on the hard tyres in the hope a strategic gain come the race. On-the-fly strategy switches aren’t Red Bull’s strength.
Webber starts fourth, Vettel sixth. Or would do, had Lotus not been forced to change Kimi Raikkonen’s gearbox meaning a five place drop which translates Kimi’s fifth fastest time to a tenth place on the grid, behind Romain Grosjean who we are starting to think it’s the sweetest fella on the grid. Like we said yesterday, the Lotus E20 is a fast car. Raikkonen meanwhile is giving every impression that he’s taking this all very seriously. Anyone who thought he might be at sea with the complexity of this year’s cars —DRS KERS and all — only need look at his qualifying lap. He wasn’t Googling a decent bar in KL with all that button pressing and knob turning.
There are changes afoot at Ferrari. A new car which might or might not abandon the pull-rod front suspension (you know, the opposite to the push-rod suspension Jezza so comprehensively explained on the boys last outing) is due when the circus lands in Barcelona. Meanwhile Ferrari has expressed its absolute faith in Felipe Massa. We all know what that means. Alonso starts ninth (eight after Kimi’s penalty). Massa didn’t make it to Q3.
Talking of Massa, Sergio Perez was the only mid-field interloper in the big boys game in Q3, setting tenth fastest time. Among the Q2 boys it’s reasonable to say that Williams’ form, if not as impressive as in Melbourne, continues to show promise. Force India meanwhile, who everyone expected to graduate to the major league, continue to confuse. 11th thru’ 17th is covered by half a second… Williams, Ferrari, Williams, Force India, Toro Rosso, Force India and Kobayshi’s Sauber.
Paul Di Resta will have been happy to have gone quicker than Hulkenberg, but he doesn’t seem to be the happy boy he was last year. Daniel Ricciardo meanwhile will no doubt have been delighted that team-mate Vergne didn’t make it to Q2 and joined the inevitable Caterhams, Marussias and HRTs lining up abreast at the back of the grid.
Toro Rosso is, as we know, F1’s most intense new driver hot house. And this year especially what with Schumacher and Webber spotted browsing lawnmower catalogues before the start of the season.
Mind you, after today, those gardens might need to wait a little longer.