BMW Sauber solidified its early season placement near the top of the F1 pecking order with fine results at the Grand Prix of Malaysia.
Following Saturday qualifying, there was a bit of drama as McLaren drivers Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen were each handed a five-spot penalty for blocking the racing line on their slow-down lap. Though unintentional, the duo held up BMW’s Nick Heidfeld and the Renault of Fernando Alonso while they were on their flying laps, and the FIA stewards acted correctly. Heidfeld reckoned the obstructing McLarens cost him a few tenths.
For the start, then, it was a Ferrari front row, with Felipe Massa on pole and reigning World Champion Kimi Raikkonen alongside. Gone were the McLarens from the second row, replaced by the Toyota of Jarno Trulli and the BMW of Robert Kubica. Heidfeld gained two spots as well, which put him fifth on the grid, with Red Bull’s Mark Webber on the outside of the row. Alonso moved up to the seventh slot, and then the McLarens fell in. Everyone else came after…
Massa did an admiral job to squeeze his teammate at the start and won the battle for the first turn, but it was to be about the best thing he would do all day, as he would go on to lose the top spot to Raikkonen after the first round of pit stops, and then eventually beach his Ferrari in the gravel trying to push too hard to match the Finn’s pace. Poor, poor Felipe.
And Raikkonnen did have the pace. He was faultless on the day, and deserved his first-place result.
But the triumph of the afternoon must surely be in the BMW Sauber camp. Kubica himself drove a faultless race. His second-place finish marks the 23-year-old Pole’s best result since he came to the sport in 2006. Meanwhile, after getting into a mild tangle with Jarno Trulli at the first turn, Nick Heidfeld pressed on quickly and efficiently. That he set the race’s fastest lap with only two laps remaining shows that BMW Sauber most definitely has the pace to reach the top step of the podium this season. Yes, his tank was nearly empty, but pace is pace, and this is a realization that must surely have the insiders at McLaren scratching their collective head. The eleven point haul for BMW is the team’s best-ever F1 result.
The McLarens, by the way, finished third and fifth, with Kovalainen taking his second podium, and Hamilton left playing catch-up after a painfully long 19.5-second pitstop.
There’s a bit of time to breathe between now and April 6, when the cars take to the grid in Bahrain. But between now and then, you can bet that behind the scenes teams and drivers up and down the grid will be asking the tough questions.
Can Raikkonen repeat? Is the BMW pace for real? Can Williams Toyota return to the podium? Will Massa last even half the season?
So much yet to uncover…
DRIVER’S CHAMPIONSHIP TOP 6
CONSTRUCTOR’S CHAMPIONSHIP TOP 6
- BMW Sauber–19
- Williams Toyota–9
This article was brought to you by Stefan Lombard, Editor at SportsCarMarket.com