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Class of the Field
Adam Barton

A Formula One fan since he was six, back while Häkkinen and Schumacher were having many an epic battle, Adam has seen a great deal. From German domination (twice), to British determination (once) and a Spanish invasion. A near compulsive fan who one day hopes to write about the sport for a living, outside of F1 Adam also authors his own blog One Guy's Opinion.

Grosjean gets his revenge // Smaller names shine as the big boys take the headlines for the wrong reasons

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Wow! While there were occasional lulls in the action in Malaysia, it has more than made up for it with the political hurricane it has brought on Red Bull. Even the top dogs at Red Bull were happily calling out Sebastian Vettel, although you still have to admire his ‘win at all costs’ mentality, for disobeying team orders and overtaking Mark Webber (Helmut Marko even said, through gritted teeth, that Vettel was wrong) and breaking trust with the team that will likely never fully recover.

Red Bull must take action to make Sebastian take notice and money simply won’t cut it. I would not be surprised either, if Webber walked away from Red Bull in the fallout from this and left Jean-Éric Vergne with a seat in Red Bull at the Chinese Grand Prix - you heard it here first. And oh yeah, there was an action packed Grand Prix at the weekend.

Grosjean provides a much needed result

Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix was exactly the result that Romain Grosjean. His performance was exactly the kind of drive he needed last year when the critics were piling on: a consistent drive to strong points. He never really made that drive in 2012, not without being well off the pace of teammate Kimi Räikkönen anyway.

Romain Grosjean cools down in the Lotus garage
Credit: Andrew Ferraro/Lotus F1

With the naysayers still hounding the young Frenchman, he came up with the critical drive, and in fact did a little more, in beating Räikkönen by over ten seconds over the race distance. It may well have been as an oblivious drive, or even a disappointment, following the team’s performance a week earlier, but Grosjean needed this drive to silence the critics.

His pace has never been in question, after blistering drives last season, what Grosjean needed to prove was that he could drive a consistent race, when there were good points, but not a podium on offer. Having qualified eleventh, he didn’t get the usual advantage of tyre choice due to the wet qualifying (and then a wet start) and struggled for pace on the intermediates, a point proven as Vettel could keep with him on slicks on the wet parts of the track and then drove around him as the track dried out.

This put him back in the midfield pack for much of his second stint, stuck in a battle behind Nico Hülkenberg’s Sauber. Pitting earlier than the German allowed him to use the undercut and move into the clear air ahead. From there, it was a fairly lonely race as he managed the gap to the fast and out-of-position Felipe Massa ahead, and ensured that he didn’t become embroiled in the intense battle with Nico Hülkenberg behind.

It may have been a quiet under the radar race for the Frenchman, but it will go a long way to reducing the pressure on his shoulders.

Brilliant Button drive goes unrewarded

There were a number of reasons that McLaren were back fighting for major points this weekend and for the first time in a while, Jenson Button may have outperformed a struggling car. Okay, it may not have been solely down to improved race pace but nonetheless, Jenson Button was in with a great chance of winning the Malaysian Grand Prix, right up until it all went catastrophically wrong on lap 35 when the right front gunman simply couldn’t get the nut on and secure the wheel.

It is now a serious issue for McLaren and others with sub-2.5 second pitstops, in order for the pit time not to be double, the man in charge of release is expecting everything to go right and has to be told very early that there is an issue, in order to allow time for it to be fixed. So quick are the stops that the gunman now has to choose, make it clear there is an issue early or try and fix it quickly. The gun was on the wheel for less than two seconds, when did he have a chance to make everyone aware of the problem?

His exit in all likelihood caused all of the team orders issue for the rival teams

Button had pitted from second, for what was going to be his final stop, in the knowledge that the Red Bulls and Mercedes’ would have to stop once more, and even then their tyres would be on the limit. Ironically, his exit in all likelihood caused all of the team orders issue for the rival teams. If Jenson Button was in fifth or third, chasing down either of the sets of teammates, they’d have been unable to apply team orders as they would have to keep engine settings high. Had he been second or fourth (i.e. in between either set of teammates) obviously they couldn’t use team orders with a rival in between their two drivers.

In summation, had Jenson had a faultless stop, I think he would have easily finished second or third, and may have won depending on the state of the Red Bull’s tyres. And had that happened, the whole of the podium would have been a much rosier place.

Bottas comes up just short

As expected after Valtteri Bottas’ impressive speed last year in Friday practice, he is taking the battle to his more experienced, race-winning teammate. While Pastor Maldonado is busy bemoaning the lack of pace in this year’s Williams, Valtteri Bottas is simply getting on with his job and putting his more experienced teammate in the shade.

Having been eliminated in Q1 for a second time; conditions have not been kind to the Finn, but it is surprising that a driver like him, who has built up a big reputation from fast laps in practice sessions rather than for racecraft, is struggling to qualify the car well. He then ran wide at turn one fighting with Giedo van der Garde and got stuck in the fight with the Caterhams and Marussias, detaching him from the rest of the pack.

Valtteri Bottas in Malaysia
Credit: Glenn Dunbar/Williams F1

It took him ten laps to overcome the back markers, but after that, he set off in search of points. He managed to fight his way through, benefitting from a few retirements along the way and came up just a second and a half shy of a maiden F1 point, but Toro Rosso’s Jean-Éric Vergne, who himself had another excellent drive, held firm under considerable pressure. Bottas set his fastest lap with two laps to go, which was faster than Kimi Räikkönen’s best efforts. The Finn continues to put Maldonado and another notable rookie, Esteban Gutiérrez in the shade.

Kimi and Nico provide thrills

Kimi Räikkönen may have been outshone by his teammate in Malaysia, but he did come out on top in one of the great battles F1 has ever seen. Räikkönen and the Sauber of Nico Hülkenberg spent the best part of 40 laps dicing for lower points on Sunday. While Räikkönen sulked over a bit of contact between the two, the racing was largely fair, and kept everyone excited right until the very end.

Hülkenberg held the former world champion behind him for a large amount of the race, but finally relented at the final round of stops, holding onto the faster Lotus after to finish four seconds behind. It reminded me of a few battles the two had in 2012, not least in Austin with great, fair overtaking and defending between the two. Long may it continue in 2013.