The Ben Evans column: Malaysia’s winners and losers

Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa, Sepang, 2007We’re two Grands Prix into 2007 and already a fantastic four way battle for supremacy is shaping up. However, this is yet to translate itself into a decent race.

Unlike Melbourne the Sepang race was highly watchable, but aside from the opening exchanges between Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton it was hardly exciting. The bulk of the wheel to wheel action was confined to leaders lapping backmarkers.

McLaren’s performance was ominous. Fernando Alonso was simply stunning powering off into the sunset never to be headed. Lewis Hamilton was indeed superb – withstanding the Ferraris’ pressure for the entire race is no mean feat – but Alonso was awesome.

The Woking team are for the first time in many years in possession of two top-line drivers who can both contribute to the development of a car – and it shows.

Sunday also showed us how to beat Ferrari – overtake them into the first corner, and then they will give up.

Watching the race, it was hard to believe that Ferrari could have been so shaken by Hamilton’s start and without Michael Schumacher on the track and Ross Brawn in the pits they could not recover.

Massa reassured the doubters by making the kind of mistakes we know and love him for. Being both quicker than Hamilton and being able to run up the inside of him into turn four and yet put it in the gravel was inexcusable.

Meanwhile until the final few laps Raikkonen seemed disinterested and didn’t exert the pressure expected of him.

BMW once again looked strong but, as in Australia, they struggled to run two competitive cars. Nick Heidfeld was imperious and is now showing the form that made him so dominant in Formula 3000.

Robert Kubica was hampered by having no traction control and trying too hard to work around this. But make no mistake – BMW can win races this year.

Giancarlo Fisichella, Renault, Sepang, 2007It was also fantastic to see Williamses running somewhere near the front again and Nico Rosberg was unlucky to be robbed of a handful of points at the end. However Williams have always gone well in Sepang, so whether this outing proves to be the highlight of the year remains to be seen.

Toyota once again did their anonymous act, amazing really that after all the investment into the team and car that they’re still finishing exactly where they were when they entered F1. To my mind the impact of firing test drivers extraordinaire Mika Salo and Allan McNish a year too soon in 2002 is still being felt.

Renault have just discovered that that Alonso bloke was a bit handy behind the wheel. Sure, some points were bagged, but they look unlike to win a race this year, never mind a championship.

Heikki Kovalainen did a better job than in Oz while Fisichella continues to show he’s the luckiest man alive by his continued employment in F1. Whether the package is poor or the drivers are not exerting the maximum remains to be seen – however past experience should teach Flavio Briatore to know better. The post-Schumacher Benetton team of 1996-7 springs to mind.

Elsewhere on the pitlane there were fewer smiling faces. The new Honda may extol the virtues of a green lifestyle, but the drivers would be better served by a Civic Hybrid on the track.

Rubens Barrichello, Honda, Sepang, 2007, 2More concerning for the Honda hierarchy is that both Barrichello and to a lesser extent Button had more or less given up mid-race at Sepang – at least the pit to car radio chivvying made for entertaining viewing.

Which is more than can be said for the Red Bull four who quite possibly stayed at home and ate chocolate on Sunday for all we saw of them.

While Coulthard and Webber plugged away like the professionals they are, it is becoming increasingly clear that neither Tonio Liuzzi nor Scott Speed are the people to drag the Toro Rosso up the order. I predict mid-season driver firings. (Robert Doornbos just finished second in his first Champ Car race – ed.)

Of the other ‘customer’ cars the Super Aguris had a quieter weekend than in Melbourne but both Sato and Davidson gave their factory brothers a run for their money so all told as good a weekend as could be expected.

Unlike Spyker who are rapidly becoming the lame ducks of the F1 field. Both cars were out on Sunday within minutes of the start and with a tiny testing budget improvement seems unlikely. What price on them finishing the season?

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2 comments on The Ben Evans column: Malaysia’s winners and losers

  1. Spyker appear to be the new Super Aguri.

    Currently Super Aguri seem to run alongside Honda well, like Williams they embarrass their counterpart.

    The failure of Red Bull is indicative that there is much more to building a successful car than mechanical parts, but then again, I know this from watching the oversubsidized stuff they run in North America, where all cars are pretty much identical.

    That means that with consistant failure, we have to question the skill of the drivers and teams.

  2. It’s all relative though, isn’t it? The difference between the fastest and the slowest cars in F1 is a matter of two or three seconds a lap. All the cars are marvels of design and engineering, it’s just that some are slightly ahead of others in their understanding of what makes a car a few thousandths of a second faster. Spyker are taking the hard road in designing their own car but, if they have sufficient funding to survive for a year or two, they will be in a better position than those who are taking the customer car route. Building the car will make them much more aware of what works and what doesn’t – they will be in charge of their own destiny, in other words.

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