It shouldn’t surprise anyone who has been watching F1 over the past decade that Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel are tough as nails.
Controversial characters of course who have had their share of foot in mouth moments and have not been particularly fair towards their teammates at times. Heck, the Spaniard profited from his teammate allegedly crashing on purpose during the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.
But these two have been involved in two genuinely thrilling championship showdowns in 2010 and 2012. The odd numbered years since the former have seen Vettel fly off into the distance with a clear car advantage while Alonso struggled.
This year, both have new teammates. And both have been sidelined in the VERY early stages of the 2014 season by the dominance of the Mercedes AMG team.
Alonso has the tougher task of the two, of course, with a former world champion in the Ferrari pits who has a habit of driving pretty damn fast. And based on reports of Ferrari’s overweight power unit that is not yet up to the mark of Mercedes in terms of driveability, there’s a serious technical challenge ahead too.
Kimi Raikkonen (the aforementioned teammate of Alonso) has shown that there is pace to be unlocked from the Ferrari package as he hovered in the top three over the course of the three practice sessions prior to qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Although it must have been worrying for Ferrari that on a relatively greener track in FP3 (due to heavy rain on Friday) and with the Silver Arrows getting ready to use full power for qualifying his best effort was around a second slower than Rosberg and Hamilton’s best efforts.
Coming back to Vettel and Alonso, however, the two managed to beat the odds to look pretty rapid in wet qualifying that would have negated some of the grunt advantage of the Mercedes power unit.
Wet qualifying sessions are quite often a lottery especially when – like at Sepang – the rain eases up and picks up intermittently.
Through it all though, Vettel was just 0.055 seconds off Hamilton’s pole time and Alonso was just 0.125 seconds slower than Rosberg’s third placed effort.
There’s a one lap advantage for Mercedes for sure as of now but they would do well to be wary of the rear tyre wear problem from last year that led to so many pole positions leading to a disappointing points haul.
Rain is expected on raceday and that could present an opportunity for Vettel and Alonso to apply some pressure.
It’s a bit of a letdown that the weekend was not completely dry as the 5.543 kilometer circuit is a venue that gives one a far better idea of what the F1 pecking order is than Albert Park in Melbourne.
With, as yet, unfamiliar power delivery characteristics visibly – much to the delight of those watching on TV and, I am sure, in person – putting off many drivers, races have been fun to watch in the dry too. And dry weather is more likely to expose any tyre wear issues that Mercedes may have.
Either way, there is potential for a fantastic race. Provided, of course, that we are not forced into a red flagged event due to rain further truncated by failing light. As is a high possibility at this time of year in Malaysia.
Having lived there – many moons ago when I was too young to remember many details but was told of the weather in late March and early April – and attended the 2009 event I keep wondering what the point of making the TV broadcast palatable to European viewers is if there is no racing for them to see!
A 3 pm local time start would give them a greater chance of seeing Vettel and Alonso strut their stuff against pretty stiff odds, right?