Sepang squeezing the best (and worst) out of new look F1

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I would rather not wade into the storm that Red Bull Racing are stirring with the FIA at the moment over fuel flow sensors that caught them off guard in the Australian Grand Prix, aside from the added complexity of the new regulations that led to Seb Vettel retiring.

To sum up it seems as if the Bull boys weren’t particularly prepared for having to tackle the increased performance differentiators this year rather than just dominate with Adrian ‘his aeroness’ Newey. If you want to go more into detail about that head over to Auto Motor und Sport’s website who go explore this in detail along with the other specialized publications that cover F1.

I would much rather talk about how a track like Sepang seems to be playing up these performance differentiators to brilliant effect by the looks of the pecking order in the two opening practice sessions.

Vettel seems to have bounced back and is looking strong around the Sepang International Circuit where his RB10 seems as strong as previous Red Bull Racing machines were in medium and high speed corners. It allowed him to set a time in second practice that was less than a tenth of a second slower than Nico Rosberg’s fastest time despite the German’s Mercedes being the car to beat in terms of grunt and overall driveability of its power unit.

Updates for Kimi Raikkonen by Ferrari suited to his set up requirements and his own natural driving ability shining through on a track with a lot of corners (of all kinds) led to the Finn posting the second fastest time in both sessions with teammate Alonso looking not too shabby in terms of race pace.

Mercedes have not yet stopped looking over their shoulder and are wary of the rear tyre degradation issue that hit them hard last year. It was hidden a fair bit due to low temperatures in Australia along with a track that is not very hard on tyres.

Should the expected thunderstorm stay away from the circuit on raceday it could be a factor. However, at the moment, with the race scheduled to start at 4pm local time the rain is expected to start pouring about an hour into the race.

The 2009 race had to be stopped prematurely of course due to a massive downpour when the race started at 5pm. As it was the first Grand Prix event I had been to (had attended a test session prior to that) the change in start time to cater to the needs of the European TV audience annoyed me a fair bit, but let’s not dwell on that now.

Although there is still a chance of  something similar happening this year, I personally would be hoping for a dry race in order to see just how competitive Williams are and if they have a chance of beating McLaren outright and establish themselves as the second best team on the grid.

Unfortunately this damn issue with Red Bull and the FIA fuel flow sensors looks like it will turn out to be a talking point yet again.

The really puzzling thing about it all is that other teams who were warned about exceeding the fuel flow rate – including Mercedes and the car of Rosberg – complied with the FIA despite their own readings not matching the data being logged by the governing body.

It sounds like it would be a non-issue, one of teams trying (as they always do) to push the envelope while the governing body tries to curb their enthusiasm.

Red Bull, however, emboldened by their current status in F1 – one that seems to include being the de facto promoters for the championship in association with the real promoter, Bernie Ecclestone – and probably due to being spooked as they have more to lose than anybody seem to be taking on the FIA and challenging the accuracy of their fuel flow measuring sensors.

One will recall a similar incident following the 1999 Malaysian GP when the Ferraris of Eddie Irvine and Michael Schumacher were found to have illegal turning vanes (aka bargeboards) and disqualified but then were reinstated when the FIA admitted that there was an error with their own measuring equipment.

April 14 is the date when this will all come to a head in the International Court of Appeals. Fingers crossed that it doesn’t get messy.

About Vinayak Pande

Motorsport journalist.
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