News and views on motorsports

Sunday, April 29, 2007

What To Make Of Hamilton?

On the back of 3 successive podium finishes the media hails him as the next Schumacher. On the other hand, I'd urge a little caution before heaping such praise on Hamilton. The fact remains that on 2 out of the 3 races he's had so far, he's been beaten by his teammate. But nevertheless, Hamilton has exceeded my expectations and in fact he is a very solid driver indeed, I have to (grudgingly) admit.

Watching the two McLaren drivers in Sepang I was hard pressed to spot the differences in their driving styles. However, as Hamilton hounded Filipe Massa in Bahrain, I did notice one inescapable fact. He drives like a karter. He loves the edge of the track and takes a late turn in to the hairpin and clips a late apex. By comparison, Massa takes a much earlier turn in and tighter line. Hamilton's driving does in fact reflect Michael's early on in the great German's career. Lots of sharp turn ins, lots of brake lock ups.

Anyone who's watched him in the junior formulae will recognise that the almost cocky style of driving has been carried forward into Formula 1. In the GP2 last year, he was blindingly quick, at times up to a second faster than his rivals. When behind and chasing, he darts and weaves in a manner that leaves the viewer in no doubt of the man's confidence in his abilities and that of his car. It reminds me of his fellow Briton Nigel Mansell.

But confidence is certainly what he has in spades. That's how he's been able to handle the pressures and expectations. In fact, I believe he relishes the press he gets and the more he gets the more he thrives. Confidence. Thats what attracted Ron Dennis to him in the first place. In fact more than confident he's a little cocky to me. A bit like Michael I guess. If you can't see this on the track, you'll definitely notice it in the press conferences.

Let's not get carried away with the Schumacher mantle. There have been other drivers with impressive debuts as well. Have we all forgotten Juan Pablo Montoya so quickly? He too exploded into the scene with Williams and in the process gave Michael Schumacher a scare in only his second race overtaking Michael with such insolence and confidence in Sao Paolo. And like Hamilton, Juan Pablo also excelled in the junior formulae. Nick Heidfeld for instance can tell you how the Colombian simply blew him away in F3000. But now look where Juan Pablo has ended up. Quite a waste and potential unfulfilled.

But what Hamilton has got that Juan Pablo never had is a cool head, no doubt drummed into him under the tutelage of Ron Dennis. As I've said before, old Ron must be thrilled by the performance of his protege. But beat Fernando? I am as yet unconvinced. In time perhaps.

In the meantime, I wonder which rap artist will come up with a tune with the lyrics, "I bust a move like my name was Lewis Hamilton." Or something like that. And how long before Hamilton buys a Bentley slammed with 21 inch wheels?

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Indy Awards - Round 3

Here are the results for the Independent Team awards after the Bahrain Grand Prix. For more information regarding the scoring system please consult this post.

Post race comments
Williams scored maximum points in the independents award at the Bahrain Grand Prix. They were however, very fortunate to do so for in the race it seemed that the Red Bull were absolutely in flying form. David Coulthard drove a storming race starting from 21st on the grid to catch his teammate Mark Webber during the race. At the point when the two Red Bulls retired, they were in fact not only ahead of both the Williams drivers but were also ahead of both the Renaults. Adrian Newey's design excellence whilst not yet up there with the front runners, is starting to show its worth relative to the works Renaults. The cars were fast and their drivers were clearly up for it. Mark Webber was also going quickly but his pace was perhaps hampered by a fuel filler that refused to close once the car got underway after the first round of pitstops.

Both the Red Bulls retired as a result of drive train failure, whilst both were leading the works Renaults. Or so the explanation goes. But you can never tell these days of corporate PR cover ups. Coulthard retired with a broken driveshaft and Webber with a broken greabox. All in all, it has to be encouraging for Red Bull at this stage. Pre-season of course, the expectation was that an Adrian Newey chassis coupled with Mateschitz money should have seen them challenging in the top 5. But they are progressing, no doubt about it. And with Mark Webber, they have a driver thats clearly quick and not short of motivation. Do not forget David Coulthard as well who was quicker than Webber this weekend. And in fact, his race fastest lap was quicker than that of Heikki Kovalainen's. Had Mark Webber not had his fuel filler out of shape, chances are he'd have been faster than both Coulthard and Fisichella. Their independents score below does not do justice to their race performance last weekend.

The Super Aguris continue to do well. Anthony Davidson was only beaten out of the top 10 in qualifying after some last minute performances by Williams and Toyota and for quite some time, he looked like he was going to start in the top 10. This weekend Anthony Davidson was much quicker than teammate Sato who up until this point had outperformed the Briton. During the race however, Takuma managed to battle it out with Ralf Schumacher's Toyota and looked well on his way to beating the German. But alas, his engine gave way as well. Davidson though a classified finisher, would suffer the same fate. If I were being cheeky I'd say that the Japanese pushed the self destruct button to ensure that the sole surviving Honda of Barrichello would finish ahead of both the customer cars. As it is, Davidson's fastest lap of the race was quicker than that of Barrichello.

So, with the demise of the Red Bulls, Williams are once again the leading independent. But despite pushing hard they only finished 9th and 10th overall in the race. (Both Williams had fastest laps quicker than both the works Toyotas) But as I said, luck had everything to do with this. I have a feeling though, that as the season progresses, Adrian Newey's Red Bull might just be consistently beating Woking. And do not be surprised if they win more Wag The Dog points for beating the works cars on a regular basis. Now thats a prospect to relish.

Comments On The Customer Car Row
As it is, as you can see from the points scored in Bahrain and the overall standings, the Williams teams are beating all comers including the Toro Ross and Super Aguri, both teams who have been threatened by Williams with litigation of the customer car row. But as you can see, Williams have been consistently outperforming these customer cars. Therefore, I shouldn't think that Frank Williams will be bothered about taking this matter to the courts. The Spyker team are a different story altogether. Whilst the points do show that they are ahead of Toro Rosso in race finishes but they are in actual fact slower than both Toro Rosso and Super Aguri. They have every reason to want to seek legal recourse.

Colin Chapman Award - For Best independent drivers / teams

1. Nico Rosberg (Williams)- 9
2. Alex Wurz (Williams) - 6
3. Christian Albers (Spyker) - 4
4. Andre Sutil (Spyker) - 3
5 Anthony Davidson (Super Aguri) - 2
= Mark Webber (RBR) - 2 (1 for qualy + 1 for race finish)
7. David Coulthard - 1 (For fastest lap)

1. Williams - 15
2. Spyker - 7
3. RBR - 3
4. Super Aguri - 2

Overall Drivers
1. Nico Rosberg - 22
2. Alex Wurz - 15
3. Mark Webber - 13
4. Takuma Sato - 10
5. Anthony Davidson - 7
6. Vitantonio Liuzzi - 5
7. Christian Albers - 4
= Andre Sutil - 4
8. David Coulthard - 1

Overall Teams
1. Williams - 37
2. Super Aguri - 17
3. RBR - 14
4. Spyker - 8
5. Toro Rosso - 5

Wag The Dog Award - for independent drivers / teams who beat their respective factory teams

1. Nico Rosberg - 4 (1 for qualy, 1 for race, 2 for fastest lap)
=. Alex Wurz - 4 (1 for qualy, 1 for race, 2 for fastest lap)
3. Anthony Davidson - 3 (2 for qualy, 1 for fastest lap)
4. Mark Webber - 1 (for qualy)
=. David Coulthard - 1 (for fastest lap)
=. Takuma Sato - 1 (for fastest lap)

1. Williams - 8
2. Super Aguri - 4
3. RBR - 2

Overall Drivers
1. Nico Rosberg - 12
2. Takuma Sato - 7
=. Alex Wurz - 7
4. Mark Webber - 6
=. Anthony Davidson - 6
6. David Coulthard - 1

Overall Teams
1. Williams - 19
2. Super Aguri - 13
3. RBR - 7

Post Script

The Wag The Dog points for Bahrain has been a fair reflection of the season so far. The independents are strong during qualifying and have good race pace but are no match for the factory teams over a race distance.

The Indy Awards - Round 2

Here are the results for the Independent Team awards after the Malaysian Grand Prix. For more information regarding the scoring system please consult this post.

Colin Chapman Award - For Best independent drivers / teams

1. Alex Wurz (Williams)- 9
2. Mark Webber (RBR) - 6
3. Takuma Sato (Super Aguri) - 4
4. Anthony Davidson - 3
= Nico Rosberg - 3 (1 for fastest qualifier + 1 for fastest lap + 1 for race finish)
5. Vitantonio Liuzzi - 2

1. Williams - 12
2. Super Aguri - 7
3. RBR - 6
4. Toro Rosso - 2

Overall Drivers
1. Nico Rosberg - 13
2. Mark Webber - 11
3. Takuma Sato - 10
4. Alex Wurz - 9
5. Anthony Davidson - 5
= Vitantonio Liuzzi - 5

Overall Teams
1. Williams - 22
2. Super Aguri - 15
3. RBR - 11
4. Toro Rosso - 5
5. Spyker - 1

Wag The Dog Award - for independent drivers / teams who beat their respective factory teams

1. Nico Rosberg - 4 (2 for qualy, 2 for fastest lap)
2. Mark Webber - 3 (2 for qualy, 1 for fastest lap)
= Alex Wurz - 3 (1 for race, 2 for fastest lap)
= Takuma Sato - 3 (2 for qualy, 1 for fastest lap)
5. Anthony Davidson 1 (for qualy)

1. Williams - 7
2. Super Aguri - 4
3. RBR - 3

Overall Drivers
1. Nico Rosberg - 8
2. Takuma Sato - 6
3. Mark Webber - 5
4. Alex Wurz - 3
= Anthony Davidson - 3

Overall Teams
1. Williams - 11
2. Super Aguri - 9
3. RBR - 5

The Indy Awards - Round 1

Here are the results for the Independent Team awards after the Australian Grand Prix. For more information regarding the scoring system please consult this post.

Colin Chapman Award

1. Nico Rosberg (Williams) - 9 + 1 (Fastest Lap)
2. Takuma Sato (Super Aguri) - 6
3. Mark Webber (RBR) - 4 + 1 (fastest qualifier)
4. Vitantonio Liuzzi (Toro Rosso) - 3
5. Anthony Davidson (Super Aguri) - 2
6. Andre Sutil (Spyker) - 1

1. Williams - 10
2. Super Aguri - 8
3. RBR - 5
4. Toro Rosso - 3
5. Spyker - 1

Wag The Dog Award

1. Nico Rosberg - 4 (2 for race + 2 for fastest lap)
2. Takuma Sato - 3 (2 for qualifying + 1 for race)
3= Mark Webber - 2 (1 for qualifying + 1 for fastest lap)
Anthony Davidson - 2 (for qualifying)

1. Super Aguri - 5
2. Williams - 4
3. RBR - 2

The Indy Awards - Introduction

Looking at how some of the independent teams like Williams and Super Aguri have performed relative to their respective factory teams Toyota and Honda, I have decided to create a couple of purely hypothetical and hopefully fun awards for independent teams. Its sort of a fantasy grand prix challenge. Some of the reasons for doing this include:

1. I pay too much attention to the front runners and therefore creating this award focuses some of my attention to the midfield battle and the relative performances of the teams.
2. Its fun watching the independents beat their respective factory teams.
3. Its for my own amusement.
4. All the other blogs have all sorts of charts and statistics so I want a gimmick too ;)

So with that I shall go on to define an independent team. First, no we will not be following the FIA definitions of independent teams as stated in the Sporting Regulations. If this were the criteria, Ferrari would be an independent team rather than a manufacturer. So that's rubbish.

Second, an independent is a team that I deem to be independent. Yes, yes, shades of Max Mosley there but I have my reasons. The following teams are eligible for the awards:

1. Red Bull - Yes, they are well financed by Herr Mateschitz. But in spirit they are an independent team. And certainly they act like a free spirited racing team than corporate stiffs like Honda and Toyota. I fully expect Renault to give them engines equal to the works cars and its then an interesting battle of ingenuity between their respective chassis design teams.

2. Williams - A sad choice this one. Once upon a time, I would have classified this as the BMW factory team. With all the championships it has won in the past, it really ought to be compared to the frontrunners but Formula 1 like natural evolution favours the strong and Williams are anything but that these days. Still, they must be considered the favourites to take the awards.

3. Super Aguri - As far as I'm concerned these guys are heroes this season, in the mould of Minardi in seasons long gone. They are taken care by Honda but of course you wouldn't expect Honda to be too pleased about the customers beating the works machines. No reason to wonder why Aguri Suzuki is racing in Formula 1, he is simply a racer. As far as I'm concerned they are the closest thing these days to "Minardi Cool"-ness.

4. Toro Rosso - Their cars are designed by Adrian Newey just like the Red Bulls. However, one wonders if the budget is anywhere close to that of the Bulls. On top of that, they are using a Ferrari engine. And of all the engine suppliers, I'd imagine Ferrari are the worse. Nevertheless, this is the former Minardi team and I wish them all the best.

5. Spyker - Now by right the Squadron is a car manufacturer albeit a maker of very small volume, expensive cars. The fact of the matter is, these guys are not going to do a Super Aguri anytime soon, despite Mubadala money. And with their performances to date I'd say that in spirit they are an independent team. So they're eligible.

Some may argue that McLaren, whose shares are majority owned by private organisations should really be classified as an independent. But in actual fact, in spirit they are the Mercedes factory team. Also, Mercedes doesn't have any customers. Even if they did, McLaren would still be the works team and therefore doesn't qualify.

So what awards are on offer? These are:

1. The Colin Chapman Award for best independent team.
2. The Wag the Dog Award for the independent team that most often beats its respective factory team over the course of the season.

And now on to the rules.

Colin Chapman Award

Points will be given to eligible teams based on their finishing order. I've always preferred the old 9-6-4-3-2-1 points system. Therefore, the top independent finisher for each grand prix will be awarded 9 points. The second independent finisher will be awarded 6 points and so on. Points are awarded to drivers and the score of each driver is added to the team total.

A bonus point will be awarded for qualifying performance. Now, I'm no fan of the current Formula 1 qualifying formats, so I'll adopt the old one. The independent driver who gets the fastest time in all of qualifying (first, second or third session) will be awarded an additional bonus point. His/her point will be added to the team total as well.

A bonus point will be awarded for fastest lap during a race. The independent driver who drives the fastest lap of all independent teams will be awarded a bonus point. And his/her point will be added to the team total.

Simple right?

Wag The Dog Award

Here's where its a little more complicated. One point will be awarded to the independent driver for each respective factory team car that he or she beats during the course of the grand prix. Points will be awarded for performances during qualifying, the race finishing order and for race fastest laps.


In this case, the official FIA F1 qualifying result will be used. A point is awarded to a driver and his/her team for each respective factory team car that he/she beats in qualifying.


Qualifying order Mark Webber (RBR), Giancarlo Fisichella (Renault), David Coulthard (RBR), Heikki Kovalainen (Renault).

Mark Webber - 2 points for beating 2 works Renaults.
David Coulthard - 1 point for beating 1 works Renault.
RBR Team Total - 3 points

Qualifying order Mark Webber (RBR), David Coulthard (RBR), Fisichella, Kovalainen.

Mark Webber - 2 points for beating 2 works Renaults.
David Coulthard - 2 points for beating 2 works Renaults.
RBR Team total - 4 points

Qualifying order Mark Webber (RBR), Fisichella, Kovalainen, Coulthard(RBR)

Mark Webber - 2 points for beating 2 works Renaults.
David Coulthard - 0 points for qualifying behind both works Renaults.
RBR Team toal - 2 points.


The FIA F1 official results will be used for classification purposes. Similar to qualifying, except that it now applies to the race. A point is awarded to the independent driver and his team for each respective factory car that he/she beats during the race. See the qualifying points above for examples. However, for race points the driver must have finished the race and be classified according to the official FIA results.

Fastest Lap

As in qualifying and race results above, a point is awarded to the independent driver and his / her team for achieving a fastest lap during the race that is quicker than each respective factory car's fastest race lap.

The Wag The Dog points for each grand prix will be the sum of qualifying, race and fastest lap points.

I'm not sure if this is all clear but if you follow the points after each race, it should all become clearer.

I'm not a lawyer obviously and I can't define this is perfect legal terms so hopefully it'll be clearer to you (if you're still following this) after you see the points after each race. Points are awarded for all races in the FIA F1 calendar.

First results coming up in the next post.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Reaction To Singapore

Stories about a Singapore Grand Prix have been out for the last couple of years. Surely the Malaysian government would have known this but its only now that they have expressed official concern over the event.

Bernie as usual is excited about the whole affair and with the money he earns from all these Eastern governments, why shouldn't he be? Bernie has said that a Singapore race could be featured as a night race around the streets of the island city state. And also that the Singaporean Grand Prix would be held at the end of the year whilst Malaysia could maintain its slot near the beginning of the season.

Speaking to a number of my friends and colleagues here in Malaysia, there seems to be some consensus among many Malaysians regarding these reports in the press.

First and foremost, no one I've met have any objections at all to a race in Singapore. In fact, if one was held most people I know would head South to watch it. Especially if it were held at night. Most Westerners may love to lounge in the sun but here in the East we try to avoid it as best as we can. In fact, a lot of motorsports events are held at night in Malaysia. Its a lot more comfortable to watch in the cool evening and more people would turn up. In fact, I think it would be absolutely fantastic if the Malaysian Grand Prix were a night event as well.

The drivers might not agree but I suppose Indycars have proven that night events are possible. All very well unless a monsoon hits at night (which happens a lot here) and maybe some floodlights go out in the process (as they are wont to do) and then the drivers will surely be up in arms.

But more than a question of night and day, the prospect of watching these grand prix cars racing in the streets is one that is welcomed by most people that I have spoken to over here. And the fact that it happens in Singapore is also welcomed for it promises a nice away weekend for all of us as well. So the Malaysian government might fret but I think the Malaysian people would relish it.

Speaking of the government, it is somewhat of a surprise to some Malaysians that they are fretting over this issue. The former PM might have been a motorsport enthusiast but the current one doesn't seem to quite share the enthusiasm. Neither does the current Sports minister who prefers her Taekwando and gymnastics and to a lot of racing folk over here, couldn't give bugger all about motor racing. Whatever their inclinations, a lot of folks here expected the government to simply give up the grand prix once 2009 comes around.

Whatever the government has in mind, I think a lot of people here are under the impression that its a fifty-fifty chance that the race will not survive once Singapore gets its race underway. Would we lamenting if that should come to pass? Well, yes, frankly. I've never been much of a fan of the Sepang Circuit but having a grand prix to watch (or at least the chance of it) in our backyard has always been a comforting thought. And after last weekend's qualy session, I am reminded again that these cars are thrill to watch live no matter where they are.

A lot of enthusiasts go over to the Sepang circuit on weekends for trackdays and other events. Perhaps we are all so used to it that we simply don't notice. But what on Earth is Bernie on about when he talks about rubbish all over the place at Sepang? During a grand prix weekend, of course you would expect that. Most people in the crowd will just leave their food wrappings on the spot. And I cannot imagine it to be worse than say Sao Paulo during a grand prix.

Having observed Bernie's constant sniping at Silverstone, I wonder if this isn't just an excuse to suck more money from the Malaysian people now that contract renewals are around the corner. Especially given the fact that in most people's eyes it just makes no sense to have two grand prix in such close geographical proximity to one another as Malaysia and Singapore are.

Then again, if Malaysia were to lose its race then I think it would definitely have some economic impact in terms of lost revenue. Just notice the number of Westerners in the stands, whether in the grandstands or in the cheap seats I sat at the last weekend. Not to mention the huge convoys of Singaporeans coming over from the South. But this mainly affects the tourism industry. The rest of us would feel a pinch.

We'd all be sad to see the Malaysian Grand Prix go but the silver lining to that cloud is that maybe the folks who manage Sepang would be more serious in developing motorsports in this country and be nicer to racers. Hopefully though this will not spell the end of the Sepang circuit itself because ever since some greedy twits decided to turn the old Batu Tiga Shah Alam circuit into a housing area its the only one we have in the Klang Valley area.

At the end of the day, if there is to be a Singaporean Grand Prix then bring it on. Its (almost) all good. The only bad thing is we'd have to face those pompous arrogant shites that are the Singapore customs and immigration.

Saturday Morning At Sakhir

How about that Super Aguri? Kimi Raikkonen may have topped the charts on Friday and today its Hamilton's turn but the surprise of free practise this Saturday must be Ant who managed 5th fastest time of 1m 32.900s. This was still some 0.357s behind Hamilton but still ahead of Filipe Massa who managed sixth fastest.

By contrast the two underachieving Hondas of Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello managed 16th and 18th respectively, split by Ant's teammate Takuma Sato. Jenson Button was a little more than a second away from Ant and about 1.2 seconds quicker than Sato.

And this was the man who was considered surplus to the works team? For sure, this is merely the practise session and it doesn't count but come on. The big boys in the paddock must surely open their eyes and notice this!

Of the rest, championship leader Fernando has been slower than Hamilton all weekend long and the same thing has happened before when they tested here in the winter. God I hope he's not going to keep doing this in qualy and the race. I'm quite sick of the British press and their Hamilton suckfest.

But happily, Filipe Massa has been outpaced by Raikkonen in all the sessions so far and that is something new this year. Personally I hope this trend continues on.

The Beemers have looked threatening all weekend and are always in the top 5. The times are quite close in this last practise session. Just a shade over 1 second covers the top ten in this free practise. It should be quite a good qualy coming up in about an hour and halfs time.

The customer teams are once again doing very well thank you very much against their respective works teams.

Mark Webber's Red Bull Renault is once again ahead of the works Renaults. Oh, I can imagine the pain Flav is going through right now. A little pain wouldn't hurt the man after his cockiness in the past two (Alonso) years. His cars are back in ninth and tenth. Now if only Webber can do this in the race.

Both Nico and Wurz are in the Williams Toyotas have been outpacing the works Toyotas for most of the weekend except for first practise yesterday. I just hope all these customer teams convert their practise performances into factory beating exploits.

One thing's for sure the Hondas are going nowhere and I would imagine there is a good chance that both the Super Aguris will be heading the works cars to the chequered flag.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Need For The Next Murray Walker

In my opinion, Murray Walker was a bit of a moron. I mean, people complain about James Allen being short of grey matter and they may be right. But he's a bloody genius by comparison to the old man. Murray however, had his uses.

I remember back in day, I used to switch to Eurosport to watch grand prix. Sure, John Watson's commentary may be a little dry but at least it was informed whereas Walker would always babble on and on and sometimes that got quite tiring. Especially when the subject he was babbling on and on was his pet favourites Hill and Mansell. One simply got tired of the babbling biasness. If it wasn't for James Hunt I wouldn't be watching the BBC coverage at all. Finally it was the appearance of Martin Brundle that attracted me back to the Beeb and eventually the ITV coverage.

But as I said, Murray Walker had his uses. For no one could rouse the viewer better than the old man. His commentary style could bring a certain excitement into an otherwise dull race. He was the English equivalent of excitable Japanese or South American commentators and despite his demonstrable incompetence from time to time, he could entertain. Coupled with an expert like Brundle, it was perhaps the perfect commentary team. Perhaps only American commentators do better but then again I hardly watch American sports.

The best thing Alan Gow ever did for the British Touring Car Championship back in the 90s was to secure Murray Walker's services for the BTCC telly coverage. Of course, the BTCC offered some of the best racing ever seen but Murray would add to the excitement. Murray had many fans and that added to the draw of the BTCC. The commentators these days can hardly compare. Take the A1GP for instance. Surely a budding young championship like this which offers some good racing would benefit more from Murray's presence to get more fans world wide. Perhaps if Murray was around, it wouldn't be seemingly fading away in only its second season.

Another championship that sorely needs the presence of a Murray Walker would be the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC). In the first place, the cars aren't as exciting to look at as the Super Tourers but my god, the commentators are just too efficient at putting one to sleep! What is it about Eurosport? Where do they find these guys anyway?

My point is, most people watch their racing on the telly. Live action offers the viewer a spectacle in terms of effect. The panoramic sights, the sounds, the smells and simply the feel of an event keeps crowds enthralled. But on the telly, its sanitized. In the absence of all the "special effects" a good commentator is an absolute requirement to add some spice to any championship television package. Its an attraction.

So who will be the next Murray Walker? Motor racing definitely could definitely use him or even her.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Now That's A Result!

It seems like ages but finally the boys from Woking have managed a win and in some style as well scoring a 1-2 result thats long overdue. As Fernando himself said in the post race interview, if Filipe had got ahead at the start, it surely would have been more difficult. But too bad he shot himself in the foot.

Oh how the British press will have an even bigger field day now what with their young pup Hamilton performing like he did. Well, its no surprise really after a season in the overtaking rich GP2 series last year. Moves like that which he pulled against Raikkonen and Massa at the start are common place in the junior formulae. And maybe its even easier in grand prix racing since these cars have traction control and electronic diffs. Well, at least at the start of the race anyway.

But you gotta love the way he defended himself against Filipe. The Brazilian attempted two moves against the Briton into turn 4. In the first move, he got on the inside of Hamilton, locked up and ran wide. Hamilton does a switchback and retakes second spot. Filipe was not to learn his lesson however for a lap later the same thing happens. But this time, Hamilton stuck in the middle of the road taking Massa completely offline and quite possibly into the a dirty piece of tarmac for it seemed that under braking Filipe had no traction at all. Hamilton too locked up but I should think that was some premeditated intimidation tactics on his part. Reminds me of kart racing actually. Filipe (to my utter delight, I must confess) ran off the road and lost places to both Kimi and Heidfeld.

Fernando however, ran a majestic race in front. The McLarens are closer now but again here as in Australia, we won't really know how close they are until the faster of the two Ferraris, that of Filipe actually gets into a proper fighting position. But surely the McLarens have improved since Australia. May it carry on season long. Fernando is not one of those drivers that wastes opportunities and he took this one eyes closed. People may be tipping Massa for the title but I think Fernando is really the one to watch out for. It must be a relief for the Spaniard as well seeing how McLaren performed last year but he's landed in the team at just the right time.

For someone of Kimi's reputation I felt he was running a numbers game out there. Certainly he kept his head better than his teammate and if he ends up in the season ahead of Filipe or even wins the world championship then it definitely would be because of performances like today. I am however disappointed that he doesn't seem to be able to assert himself fully just yet. But also remember that there were quite a number of days when Filipe was quicker than Michael himself last season. And surely the Brazilian has improved even more now.

Lest we forget Hamilton was sublimely quick in his second stint setting a 1m 36.701s fastest lap and closing the gap on Alonso. Whats even more impressive was that after the second stops he basically left Kimi for dead. Even in clear air the Ferraris of Kimi and Filipe could not match the pace of the McLarens. Always they were a couple of tenths at least off the pace. And that has to be encouraging. The testing last week must have taught them a lot about the Bridgestones. And maybe the ban on flexi floors must have helped too. And just maybe not having Ross Brawn on the Ferrari pit wall and Michael in the car is hurting their main opposition. But whatever.

Niki, Alain, Ayrton, Mika and now Fernando continues a long line of great McLaren drivers ever since Ron Dennis took charge. Joined by promising young Hamilton no wonder both Ron Dennis and Norbert Haug look well pleased. Hopefully they won't let their drivers down as they did in the recent past. I'd like to see Woking take it this year frankly speaking.

High Compression

Since 2001, in every other year I somehow find myself attending the Malaysian Grand Prix. Nothing will ever beat being in paddock in 2005 but nevertheless, I was persuaded to watch qualifying yesterday in the cheap seats. Cheap, hot and dirty it may be but sometimes, the best vantage points are from these less than glamorous locations.

So we ended up watching from the very highest spot in Sepang that is at the top of the hill at Turn 11. Its not my first time at this spot but the last time I was here we placed ourselves in between Turns 9 and 10 which in hindsight is not the best of spots. Sitting yourself so that the entry to Turn 11 is directly in front of you gives you a great view. You get to watch the action all the way from under braking for Turn 9 all the way to Turn 14 and a little bit of the back straight.

I hadn't planned on going to Sepang but at the last minute I thought what the heck. After all, I've never heard the scream of the latest V8s nor have I seen these new cars in action. I'm glad I did for every single time you see these cars in action, it just takes your breath away. I believe anyone who's ever had any time behind the wheel of any car on the track will have an even greater appreciation of it, particularly if you've driven the track that you're currently watching.

Turn 11 is not my favourite turn at Sepang. Its slowish in nature, the road seems to fall away from you and in a front wheel drive car, it feels like the car just wants to slide wide into the gravel. I've seen one chap who uses his left foot to tighten the line but all in all it just sucks. You really want to finish your braking and downshifts before turning in, so to see these grand prix drivers braking, shifting down and turning inside the corner is just simply amazing. The sheer grip these cars have is simply mind blowing.

All the while, I'm treated to that phenomenon I just absolutely love, the amazing sound effects. I just love the way those engines pops and bangs on the overrun under braking. Pop, pop, pop. It sounds like someone turned up the bass on the sound of 9mm gunshots. And of course once the cars are on the rumble strips on the exit of Turn 11 the traction control comes on and the engines goes into machine gun mode as the ignition is turned on and off by the electronics. Down the hill and as the drivers shift up and and once again, you truly appreciate how incredibly high the compression ratios are in these engines.

The amazement doesn't stop for whilst the rest of us will lift or brake before the fast turn 12, these guys keep the throttle constant and simply turn in. Whilst even the Porsche Carrera cup racers are sliding wide on the exit of this turn, the grand prix cars simply stick. Then they're hard on the throttle confident as you like through thirteen and poised for the trickiest turn in Sepang, Turn 14.

Everyone needs to turn and brake into this one because Turn 13 blends into 14 without any straight bits. Its sometimes downright dangerous during track sessions. A lot of people don't make it and end up ploughing straight into the gravel. Rear wheel driver cars get into a habit of spinning here. Added to that apex of Turn 14 is blind as you come up to it, so picking your turning and braking points are damned difficult.

Myself, I always brake either way too early and just way too late into this corner. The problem as I said is that you're coming up fast and flat through 13 and way too much on the inside. Probably not the best line but unfortunately normal cars just slide too wide out of 12 that you have very little choice. And at the same time as keeping the wheels turned, you need to find a good braking point through a blind apex. And the whole action unsettles the car and more than once I've felt the tail really move. Its scary but really you ought not to be too afraid because the run off is quite big.

But of course if you have a car with a couple of tonnes of downforce pushing it down things get a little bit easier. But as a spectator you cannot help but feel the awe as these guys simply attack 13 and 14 with abandon. From my vantage point you can tell they're flat through 13 and the cars then visibly slowing down and of course turning in, braking and downshfting at the same time. I wonder if these guys could still do that if they weren't using paddle shifters and semi auto gearboxes.

Quickest at this section? Felipe Massa for sure because he's quite smooth through Turn 11. His teammate Kimi by comparison is a little more aggressive and you can hear that he's on the traction control for longer on the exit of the corner. Mark Webber is aggressive as well, consistently kicking out the tail of his Red Bull in the turn. And so do the Toyotas. What surprises me though is just how similar the McLaren boys perform through the turn. If there's any difference at all between Alonso and Hamilton, well I can't really tell. Whatever it is, they seem quite smooth and quick.

At the end of the day, I'm quite glad that I went. Today I shall be watching from the comfort of home. Whilst I shall not be enjoying the live special effects but nevertheless, I shall be more aware of whats going on in the race. And of course there's instant replay. But getting a dose of live action reminds me again of what its all about and just why these guys and their cars are the world's best.