Sidepodcast - All for F1 and F1 for all

Pick and mix - Busy schedules in Sepang - Mercedes get to work as the stewards show their colours

Published by Christine

The Malaysian Grand Prix weekend was filled with thoughts of rain and delayed sessions, team orders and their place in the sport, plus the continuing dominance of the German works team. However, here are a handful of the things that I spotted over the Sepang weekend.

1. Hard work for the Mercedes crew

Pedal power drives Mercedes F1
Credit: Mercedes AMG Petronas

It took me a while to realise that the Malaysian race was something of a “home” race for the Mercedes team. That term gets bandied about all too often these days, but with title sponsor Petronas a Malaysian company, the team had some important people to impress over the course of the weekend.

When I finally made the connection, it explained why both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg had been putting quite so much effort into their pre-race promotional activities.

A street race demo kicked off proceedings, and was followed up with visits to art students, and a trip through the streets on rather fetching pink bicycles. The duo participated in several meet and greet conferences for professional partners as well as plenty of fan appearances. There was a trip to the aquarium, some remote control car racing, and Hamilton even changed the colour of his hat.

It’s not unusual for drivers to have busy schedules in the days building up to a Grand Prix, but in the heat and humidity of Sepang, and in such a crucial part of the learning phase for this year’s cars, it’s a wonder Nico and Lewis weren’t totally worn out before they even stepped foot in the circuit.

2. Penalty points galore

When the FIA revealed there would be a new penalty points system, in which drivers amassed points based on their on-track transgressions and eventually could find themselves with a race ban, I thought it was a good idea. A way to dish out penalties that are slightly less harsh during a specific race, and a great way to highlight those drivers that are making a habit of breaking the rules.

I was surprised to see that drivers who received grid drop penalties or mid-race drive throughs also found themselves with points on their licence as well. It seems as though it’s doubling up on the punishment, rather than used as an alternative. In which case, I have to reconsider my thoughts on the idea.

In just one race weekend in Malaysia, we saw the following stewards decisions.

Valtteri BottasImpeding in qualifyingThree place grid penalty plus two penalty points
Jules BianchiCausing a collisionFive second time penalty plus two penalty points
Kevin MagnussenCausing a collisionFive second time penalty plus two penalty points
Daniel RicciardoUnsafe pit releaseTen second stop/go penalty plus ten place grid drop for next race

Daniel Ricciardo’s penalty seems harsh on paper, but it shows just how serious the stewards are about clamping down on pit lane problems. It’s not Daniel’s fault that the team let him go too soon, and he suffered plenty in Malaysia even before the grid drop in Bahrain. But it will make the team think very carefully about their pit stop procedure. Maybe taking an extra second in the pit lane is worth it in the long run.

3. Brand new fuel graphics

During the race, the world feed showed a brand new graphic with the relative amounts of fuel consumed by the top ten drivers. Shown in percentage terms, it was a clear view of how the drivers were using their fuel compared to their teammates and compared to other outfits. The Williams pair seemed consistently light on fuel, whilst Red Bull were running higher than the rest of the top ten. Nobody looked like they were about to run out, however.

It was interesting to see a tweet from Will Buxton, revealing the reaction from Lewis Hamilton upon realising this new graphic was available to all.

Funny chat with @LewisHamilton. Asked him how much he'd held back given how good his fuel rate was."WHAT? You guys can see that? Oh man"

willbuxton willbuxton

I’m not sure the amount of fuel is something Hamilton would want to keep from fans, but perhaps it isn’t something they want the rest of the teams knowing about. Displaying exactly how much has been consumed at a given point in the race does take away some of the mystery about it.

Then again, it’s like when car weights were published following qualifying to establish just who had been fast due to being light on fuel, and who hadn’t. On the one hand, it offers up plenty more information for the needy fans but of course on the other, Red Bull may prefer to keep quiet about their engine being a touch thirstier than the rest.

At least this is real-time information. Unlike post-session published figures, we’re getting percentages that are updating before our very eyes, to several decimal places. It is incredible, really.

4. Weighing nearly nothing

Max Chilton and Jules Bianchi in pitlane
Credit: Marussia F1 Team

Something of a furore was kicked up this weekend when Martin Brundle inadvisably mentioned in passing that a driver had fainted during a PR event. Whilst respecting the privacy of the person involved, the vague nature of the comment wasn’t particularly helpful to the conversation, except that it has raised awareness once again of the weight limits being unhealthy to the drivers involved.

It’s been mentioned before, seeing just how gaunt drivers like Mark Webber have looked. It was touched upon when Nico Hülkenberg was overlooked for a top team race seat. Now it has hit the headlines full force, and quite rightly.

You have to be fit to be the best, no one would argue against that. The levels some of these drivers reach are incredible. Mile after mile run, kilometre after kilometre cycled, meal after meal stripped bare. It comes to something when Lewis Hamilton is counting down the laps of the season so he can finally have some sweets.

Recently, when Suzie Wolff posed for a magazine feature, it raised questions about what kind of impact photoshop retouching might have on those keen to follow in her footsteps. I say, regardless of sex, that seeing drivers literally wasting away in front of your eyes is worse. Much worse. The people are denying themselves any kind of treat for nine months of the year, training every hour of the day, and all in search of a tenth of a second of pace.

You can’t photoshop away the sight of those overalls getting baggier each week.

5. A genuinely smart fan

Benedict Cumberbatch had a lot of first experiences this past week, with an invitation to present at the Laureus World Sports Awards followed up by a visit to the F1 garages during the race, and then the huge task of interviewing the drivers on the podium for their post-race interviews. Thankfully, all the drivers up there were pretty happy, because it would be pretty tough to send up a rookie F1 interviewer to ask questions of the moody faces we sometimes see.

I was in two minds about Cumberbatch doing the interviews, until the point where he proved he had clearly been paying attention and knew what he was talking about. His excellent questions helped guide the conversation, with such gems as:

  • Well Lewis, congratulations, your first win this year and you got the hat trick - pole position, the best lap time, on lap 54 I think, and now you’re here. How does it feel?
  • You’re covered in Champagne now rather than sweat but as one wily commentator pointed out to me on the grid earlier it’s incredibly hot here. It’s in the mid-50s in terms of humidity and we hit 35 degrees Celsius on the track. What do you have to consider when you’re driving?
  • That was a fantastically exciting moment just there [at the start]. Did you feel Sebastian on your shoulder? Because you took such a hard line on the right, you were like less than a foot away from the side.

He also talked eloquently to the BBC about the new sounds.

From being unsure about the Sherlock star being invited just because he's famous, I'm now convinced he should do the interviews every race. What a find!

All content in the series Malaysia 2014