On Sunday, April 4, 2010, in Malaysia, the third round of the Formula 1 World Championship will take place. The Malaysian Grand Prix will see McLaren, Mercedes, and Red Bull sharpening their weapons to close the gap with Alonso and Massa's Ferrari. Jenson Button, the reigning World Champion, remains cautious about the upcoming Grand Prix despite the triumph in Australia:
"Sepang does not suit the characteristics of our car. The victory in Melbourne, our first of the season, was a wonderful result. It was a confidence boost, but now we go to Sepang aware that the track characteristics may not favor us. However, I am confident; we will fight at the top, and at worst, we will be close to the best".
Button cannot yet determine the true balance of power in the newly started championship:
"It's too early to establish hierarchies. We've only had two races, and I think development will soon start influencing performance. The extent of progress will determine the outcome of the top battle, and I trust my team blindly".
After the incidents in Melbourne, with the police stop, a modest sixth place, controversies about the strategy, and foul language, the other McLaren driver, Lewis Hamilton, also speaks out:
"Sepang features some of the best high-speed corners on the entire calendar. Our car will adapt to the track better than it did a year ago, so I hope to achieve a positive result. We race on a fast track that requires a balanced setup with good aerodynamic load. In some ways, it resembles the Barcelona track where we conducted a series of tests before the start of the championship. I think we will be competitive, although we may face some challenges in official practice".
Red Bull will also seek redemption in Sepang without fearing sanctions:
"There is no investigation".
assured a spokesperson for the International Automobile Federation, referring to the alleged irregular suspensions of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber's cars. On the eve of the Malaysian Grand Prix, all eyes are on Ferrari, leading the Constructors' World Championship thanks to the excellent performances of Alonso and Massa, first and second in the drivers' standings. Surprisingly, it is Schumacher who snubs the red pair:
"If you ask me who stands out so far, I say Sebastian Vettel. Considering his car and how he's driving, he is destined to become the main threat for the title, even though he has been unlucky so far. People say I've lost the magic touch? That's not what I see; everyone sees what they want".
Fernando Alonso also fears Red Bull:
"McLaren, Red Bull, and Mercedes are our main opponents. It's too early to understand which of the eight drivers will truly be in the running for the championship. Red Bull is probably the fastest, and it has two drivers to keep an eye on right now, despite not having had a perfect weekend yet. Melbourne? That was a fantastic show, enjoyable even from inside the cockpit. The fourth place was a good reward for the team, and I'm extremely happy about it".
While suspicions of irregularities in Formula 1 persist, from McLaren's wing to Red Bull's suspensions, Ferrari is immune to this witch-hunt atmosphere:
"Suspicions don't bother us much inside the team; it's the media pressure that wears us down. All these problems the other teams are facing can only benefit us. We, on our part, are calm: we believe that everything on our car is legal, and if there were suspicions, we would clarify them soon with the Federation".
Meanwhile, Felipe Massa promises a battle, secretly hoping to spoil Alonso's celebration, eager to arrive in Barcelona as the leader:
"I like Sepang, and I hope to be faster than Red Bull and the other cars. It will be tough because the circuit is physically demanding; it has some nice fast corners, though, and I like it a lot".
Felipe is also satisfied with the car, although there is still something to fine-tune:
"The car is good; so far, we have worked a lot on reliability, but there is room for improvement in performance. Living with Alonso? If you're at Ferrari, you expect a strong teammate. I've been here for the fifth year, and I've learned a lot from Schumacher and Raikkonen, but I've also personally done a great job working with the team".
A serious form of psychosis now torments the nights of Michael Schumacher, his Mercedes, and all German fans. A red psychosis that, in addition to sweats, insecurities, and all other symptoms, even produces collective hallucinations. Recently, two German journalists - quite reputable in the F1 panorama - all worried, went to a Ferrari representative and asked for confirmation of an unverified news circulating in Mercedes for days and rapidly spreading from Stuttgart headquarters to the pits. Given the objective moment of difficulty - according to the information in the hands of the Germans - Ferrari is about to exacerbate the situation with a television commercial for the Fiat 500. This ad tells the story of an elderly Michael Schumacher (a look-alike, artificially aged by the perfidious Italian makeup), aboard a red Mercedes (on the color, to be honest, the two colleagues were a bit uncertain) struggling to restart after a stop at a traffic light. The symbolic significance of this scene alone would enrage all of Stuttgart. But the plot devised in Turin - according to the two Germans - is even nastier: suddenly, behind Schumacher, a Fiat 500 (certainly flaming red), with an equally young and flaming Fernando Alonso on board, accelerates. First, second, and the German is passed. End of the nightmare. As far as is known, the two Germans were promptly reassured: Ferrari has nothing like that in mind (although it would be a nice turn of events: when Schumacher moved to Mercedes, the first thing he did was an inelegant spot on a fire-red car). Reassurances aside, however, it is now entirely evident that the situation at Mercedes is becoming more complicated. The list of symptoms afflicting Schumacher is starting to scare everyone: from a sort of bulimic obsession with spaghetti cooked in the Ferrari hospitality (which he sneaks into with embarrassing frequency) to the persecution complex towards Alonso (with hysterical scenes like the one on Saturday night in Melbourne), to performance anxiety exhibited two days ago when, in front of a stunned audience of local journalists, a struggling Schumacher (Petronas is the main sponsor of both him and Mercedes, and the Malaysian Grand Prix) raised his hands:
"I can't win, I'm sorry".
Norbert Haug, the boss of the Mercedes team, is desperate and is trying everything to lift the spirits of the team:
"I am certain that Schumacher still has the magic touch from when he won the seven titles".
But he didn't seem entirely convinced. On the eve of the free practice sessions, Fernando Alonso provokes Red Bull, and while he's at it, Schumacher too:
"Michael says Sebastian Vettel is the man to beat for the championship? I think he's right. Moreover, it's normal that it's like this; they have the fastest car of all, so when they don't finish first and second, it's always a disappointment for them".
Someone asks him what he thinks of the numerous controversies about the legality of the cars (so far, first McLaren for the human-activated wing, then Red Bull for a single speculated ground clearance adjustment system).
"I think the fact that Ferrari has not received any accusations of any kind can be an advantage, even if minimal".
According to the Spanish driver:
"Ferrari has the best car-driver-team package in the World Championship".
And Felipe Massa is also calm. Alonso said he would like to arrive in Barcelona as the leader of the World Championship; would you like to spoil his party?
"No, I would be satisfied with being the leader after Abu Dhabi".
On Friday, April 2, 2010, Lewis Hamilton dominated the free practice sessions of the Malaysian Grand Prix with strength. The desire for redemption was strong for the young McLaren driver after the setback from his teammate Button, who was the first to win a Grand Prix in this season. So, Hamilton really gave it his all to put everyone in line, both in the first and second sessions at the Sepang circuit. The times spoke clearly, and Hamilton left his pursuers behind by more than two-tenths of a second. But let's take it step by step. In the morning, Hamilton recorded a time of 1'34"921, ahead of Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg and his teammate and compatriot, Jenson Button. The fourth time was set by Michael Schumacher in the Mercedes, ahead of the increasingly surprising Renault of Robert Kubica. The two Ferraris were behind, with Fernando Alonso in eighth place and Felipe Massa in eleventh. Not so great were the performances of the two Red Bulls, with Mark Webber in sixth and Sebastian Vettel in ninth. Italian Jarno Trulli on Lotus was behind in nineteenth place, while his teammate, the Malaysian Fairuz Fauzy, making his debut on his home track as a reserve driver, could only manage the twenty-second position. Second to last was Bruno Senna with his Hispania Racing. In the afternoon, the Caribbean-born McLaren driver set the absolute best time, 1'34"175, ahead of Vettel's Red Bull and Rosberg's Mercedes. The fourth time was set by Jenson Button, who in turn preceded Michael Schumacher's Mercedes. The first of the two Ferraris was in seventh place, with Alonso behind Robert Kubica's Renault. The other Ferrari of Massa lagged behind in fifteenth. The Force India of Vitantonio Liuzzi had a good performance in twelfth place, while Trulli achieved the eighteenth best performance. Bruno Senna's Hispania Racing couldn't move from the bottom. However, the day made headlines for Fernando Alonso's statements:
"I am an old-fashioned man. A traditionalist, I realize it: it's something that doesn't really belong to my generation, but I cultivate and defend it as a value system connected to my past, my land, my family".
These are the words with which Fernando Alonso begins his conversation with GQ magazine. He is dealing with an adventure without a parachute. Not just Ferrari and Formula 1. He has to behave like an adult, like a leader; he has a great past (two world titles won in 2005 and 2006 with Renault) and the heaviest, most stressful racing family.
"What does it mean to have guts? Taking responsibility when it's your turn. When you deal with many people who have worked so hard to put you in the best possible conditions. Then you get in the car and say to yourself, well, no excuses, a perfect lap is needed. This situation often happens in life. It happened when I was young and had a family that sacrificed itself to give me a chance. That's why when I say I'm careful about traditions, I mean giving real weight to important words like honor, sense of duty, respect. I don't have a personal plane. Or a boat, like many colleagues. I don't think about it. I took my first plane at eighteen. I know what a privilege or a sacrifice means. Money has weight, I recognize it. It's better to keep in mind a range of usual, normal, more solid values".
About Zapatero, Alonso explains that he is:
"A man I esteem and respect. He tries to do difficult things while giving grades is very easy. I am amazed by the media. With the Internet, then, it's a disaster. I prefer to abstain".
More than one person at Ferrari says: it's as if he has been with us for years.
"It's true. I don't know why, but it's true. We were talking about affections, the difficulty of expressing them. Well, something happened here that doesn't have a reason. I work with people who make me feel part of it, make me feel good. Warm. As it happened in a short time? I don't know. They are strange chemical phenomena, and it's nice that they happen".
The question that many will ask: are you ready to team up with Valentino Rossi at Ferrari?
"Of course, why not? He's talented, a great champion. Although it's unlikely that such a thing will happen".
Meanwhile, after McLaren's human-activated wing, after accusing Red Bull of managing the car's ride height illegally, now it's the turn of the rearview mirrors. This time, the accusation of illegality concerns not a presumed competitive advantage (at least on paper) but only safety. And in the crosshairs, in addition to the usual Red Bull, this time there is also Ferrari. The first chapter of this story was written by Rubens Barrichello in Australia when he announced that some teams, in his opinion, should change the position of the rearview mirrors on their cars.
"Where they are now, to respond to aerodynamic needs, they are subject to too much vibration, and this makes them practically useless, you can't see anything. If we arrive in these conditions in Monaco, we risk a disaster".
The consequence was immediate, and the FIA decided to impose a modification on the teams by the Chinese Grand Prix. The move was unpalatable to the recipients (in addition to the two top teams, Williams, Force India, Sauber, and HRT), as Sebastian Vettel explains to the journalists:
"If we put them there, there must be a reason. I'm very worried".
On Friday morning, in addition to the German, Fernando Alonso also defines the FIA's choice as incomprehensible both for the times, too tight, and for the ways. Perhaps also due to these complaints, a small about-face was decided in the evening: the teams involved will still have to rethink the positioning of the mirrors on their car, but they will have more time to do so - not by the Chinese Grand Prix but by the Spanish one - trying to limit the aerodynamic damage of this change as much as possible. One eye on the sky, the other on the thermometer. More than the speed of the Red Bull, more than the tricks of McLaren, more than the whims of the strange Rosberg-Schumacher duo, the mundane climatic factors torment the eve of Ferrari. Because on Saturday and Sunday, it will undoubtedly be scorching hot, and almost certainly, it will rain. These two elements, combined, produce such profound instability that someone now, referring to qualifying, openly talks about a lottery. Stefano Domenicali, Ferrari's team principal, explains:
"Since we've been here in Malaysia, it starts raining every day, punctually at four".
And there's no good reason why this shouldn't happen on Sunday either. When it rains during a race, the cards are shuffled but then return to their place according to a new order, usually somewhat logical. When it rains during qualifying, anything can really happen. So, it's important to make as few mistakes as possible, but it's even more important to have a lot of luck. And perhaps it's also considering this that Ferrari, in the free practice sessions, didn't focus so much on the fast lap, the qualifying, but on the race pace (with good results as well). Fernando Alonso commented on a somewhat insignificant seventh-place finish at the end of the day:
"The car is fine like this, I like it. We are exactly where we were in Bahrain and Australia. After all, only four days have passed since the last race, there is no reason in the world why we should be worse. Before qualifying, we will empty the tanks and see where we stand".
Both he and Felipe Massa have tried to downplay the data, which is decidedly flattering, shown by the main competitors. In particular, McLaren seems to have now closed the gap that separated it not so much from Red Bull in the first race but from Ferrari itself.
"Am I worried about the English? Honestly, no. Just as I'm not concerned about Red Bull, nor am I relieved that they've had an engine failure. We don't have to focus so much on others but rather try to do the best we can".
This sentiment is fully embraced by Massa:
"McLaren and Red Bull have posted good times, but we are calm like this".
The problem, if any, lies with the engine, which suffers a bit too much from the heat. In Bahrain, the mechanics of the Maranello team were forced to change both engines (thus eliminating one of the eight available to each driver) because after the qualifying session, they showed abnormal values. In Australia, the issue was managed by changing them again (though this time without using two others). In Malaysia, it will be crucial to avoid further anomalies, and therefore, a perfect race management will be necessary. Meanwhile, a piece of good news comes from the political front: the FIA, which had ordered Ferrari and Red Bull to move their rearview mirrors by the Chinese Grand Prix (a decision incomprehensible to Alonso), has decided to grant an extension until the subsequent Spanish Grand Prix. To maximize the car's aerodynamics, the mirrors were placed in a location where they vibrate too much and are effectively useless. Moving them is not a particularly significant problem, but it is important to do it as painlessly as possible. On Saturday, April 3, 2010, the qualifying sessions are affected, as expected, by rain. In Q1, surprisingly, both Ferraris and Lewis Hamilton's McLaren exit. They do not go on the track in the initial minutes of the session and thus fail to set a valid time for qualification due to the increased rain in the final minutes of Q1.
Jenson Button, who would make it to Q2, goes off the track and gets stuck, unable to participate in the other qualifying sessions. Heikki Kovalainen and Timo Glock, the first drivers of the new teams to succeed in the feat, make it to the next round. In Q2, the rain is intermittent: Sebastien Buemi, Jaime Alguersuari, Pedro de la Rosa, Vitalij Petrov, Heikki Kovalainen, Timo Glock, and Jenson Button do not qualify. Michael Schumacher records a time useful to enter Q3 only in the last seconds. In Q3, the rain becomes so persistent that the red flag is displayed. The session is interrupted for about twenty minutes. Mark Webber takes the pole thanks to the gamble of using intermediate tires in the last attempt, rather than full wet ones. It's the second pole for the Australian after the one in the 2009 German Grand Prix. Webber sets a time of 1'49"327, ahead of Nico Rosberg's Mercedes. In the second row, two other Germans follow: Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull and Adrian Sutil's Force India. The fourth row and the eighth time for the Mercedes of German Michael Schumacher. Bitter qualifications for Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes. The weekend for the Maranello team complicates due to one hesitation too many. At the beginning of the first session, the rain arrives. The Ferrari team waits for an improvement that does not come. Others go on the track and get a useful time to move on. The F10s, on the other hand, have to search for performance on a track that is wet in some sections and practically flooded in others. Result: Alonso is in P19 and will start next to the McLaren-Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, another excellent eliminated. It goes worse for Felipe Massa, who will start from P21. The Brazilian thought he would have to duel with some big names, but instead, he finds himself near the Hispania of Indian Karun Chandhok. Slightly better is Jenson Button's situation: the World Champion, as mentioned, passes the first selection but does not participate in the second due to the damage suffered by his McLaren-Mercedes in an off-track excursion. He will start from P17. Fernando Alonso doesn't seek excuses:
"We made a mistake, but we can't spend the afternoon banging our heads against the wall. It would have been better to start in front, but with these weather conditions, anything can happen. When we went out, the track was too wet, and we stayed out, but I'm not very worried. In Australia, I was behind, and I finished fourth. Who can say we won't podium here? We have to try because weather conditions are variable".
Felipe Massa is also very angry:
"I'm sorry, we waited, and it started raining hard again, and this fooled us. It was a real shame. The race? I prefer those where we have a chance to fight; it won't be easy here. But we must be able to race in any condition".
And now a perfect race is needed. From everyone, Alonso, Massa, and also from good luck, which in Malaysia takes on the natural aspect of downpours. Only in this way can Ferrari think of limiting the damage caused by the incredible mistake made in qualifying and, in the end, pay an acceptable bill. The Spaniard is optimistic:
"Points are awarded on Sunday, not Saturday. Many times in the past, I found myself crying after qualifying and laughing on Sunday evening".
Felipe Massa is perfectly in tune:
"Fernando said it's 70% his fault? The same goes for me. Anyway, the choice was collective, and if it was a mistake, it was everyone's mistake".
Stefano Domenicali, Ferrari's team principal, concludes:
"We are very sorry. Also because from the signals we had, the car is good, and we would have had the chance to do really well. We made a mistake trusting the weather too much. Tomorrow we will try to bring home as many points as possible".
The other face of Formula 1 is a thirteen-year-old boy who, without shoes and bare hands, cleans toilets for ten hours a day in exchange for a ridiculous wage. His name is Mong, and he comes from Bangladesh. This is the strangest job he has had since he started working for the agency. He spends his days in one of the most exclusive, inaccessible, and wealthy places in international sports: the Formula 1 paddock, the beating heart of motorsport. Everyone passes by him just a few centimeters away, Bernie Ecclestone, the big boss of F1 and his men, Alonso, Schumacher, and the other drivers with their managers and vast entourages, models hunting for billionaires, executives of oil companies and sponsors, journalists, photographers, engineers, mechanics. All people who come from Europe or America, places where Mong's story would be classified as child labor exploitation and not as normality, as it happens in Malaysia. He watches all these people, without smiling, with the face of someone who considers a whole and not a multitude. Then he tells his story. A short story because he doesn't speak English.
"My name is Mong, I come from Bangladesh, I am thirteen years old, I work here in the bathrooms from morning till evening, and they pay me fifteen ringgit a day".
Fifteen ringgit is less than three euros. Around his neck, he wears the green pass that all employees carry, on his head, a blue cap with "Cleaning Service" written under the Sepang International Circuit's flamboyant red logo, a slightly worn blue shirt, and on his face, a too serious expression. His unpleasant workplace is a few meters away from the welcoming hospitality area of Scuderia Toro Rosso, all steel and shining glass, just behind the pits. It's 2:00 p.m. on Friday, and the second free practice session of the Malaysian Grand Prix, the third race of the season, has just started when Buemi's car accelerates. The roar is so loud that everyone is forced to plug their ears. Mong uses his fingers because the agency didn't provide him with earplugs, and suddenly he smiles, says something in his language, then, as soon as Buemi moves away, continues in English:
"There are many of us from Bangladesh here, and we all work for the same agency in Kuala Lumpur; it's the one that sends us around to work".
He looks around with some caution, giving the impression that he's afraid someone might see him talking to strangers. And indeed, a few seconds later, from somewhere, a girl appears. She's maybe twenty years old, dressed the same way as Mong but with a radio at her waist. She is the boss. The boy sees her and disappears, leaving the feeling that he is not the only child recruited by Formula 1. And indeed, just by taking a walk around the paddock and trying to look these workers in blue shirts and circuit caps in the face, you'll discover that, like Mong, there are at least another ten children. They are almost all assigned to cleaning the bathrooms (except for the one reserved for the press, which is guarded by two older ladies) or the small dump that serves the paddock, a small army of human ghosts, ignored all the time by the much more polished paddock regulars. Reading one of the latest reports from Amnesty International reveals that the phenomenon of child laborers in these parts is quite widespread, and here and there, there are accounts of some child workers brought to Malaysia as adolescents. A fifteen-year-old girl recounts:
"We entered the country with the help of a recruitment agency that provided us with fake documents. In my case, my passport said I was twenty-two".
The suspicion that the stories of these kids in blue shirts are similar to the one told by Amnesty grows when, away from the girl with the radio, Kazi, a chubby boy, Mong's colleague, says:
"We came here from Bangladesh, there were about ten of us, and the agency sent us to work right away".
Then, in response to the most important question, how old are you? He pauses for a moment.
Then he bursts into laughter. On Sunday, April 4, 2010, before the race, Pedro de la Rosa's engine fails as the cars make their way from the pit lane to their grid positions, and so he does not even take the formation lap. At the start of the Malaysian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel, starting from third, gets past Nico Rosberg immediately on the straight, and at the first corner comes up the inside of polesitter and teammate Mark Webber to take the lead. Webber challenges in the next corner, but Vettel holds firm. Robert Kubica and Michael Schumacher also gain two places and are fourth and sixth, respectively. Rubens Barrichello, who starts seventh, stalls on the grid and is last at the end of the first lap. Both McLarens and both Ferraris charge up the field from their lowly grid positions after failing to properly read the conditions in qualifying. Lewis Hamilton gets up from 20th to 13th, Felipe Massa from 21st to 14th, Jenson Button from 17th to 15th, and Fernando Alonso from 19th to 16th. At the end of lap 1, the top 10 are: Vettel, Webber, Rosberg, Kubica, Adrian Sutil, Schumacher, Nico Hülkenberg, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Vitaly Petrov, and Kamui Kobayashi. Timo Glock retires on lap three after a collision with Jarno Trulli. Hamilton is on a charge and soon is up to 10th within 4 laps, passing a car a lap. The Ferraris and Button cannot get past Sébastien Buemi's Toro Rosso and are stuck with Massa 14th, Alonso 15th (having passed Button), and Button 16th. On the fifth lap, Hamilton passes Vitaly Petrov for ninth at the final turn, but Petrov comes back at him at the back straight and regains the position. Two laps later, Hamilton once again passes Petrov at the final corner, however, then weaves four times from side to side along the start-finish straight in an effort to break the tow. He fails to do so as Petrov follows tightly behind and makes an attempt to pass back at the first corner which does not succeed. Hamilton's maneuver of crossing from side to side four times courts controversy, dividing race pundits and drivers alike as to whether it is in breach of the regulations regarding the blocking of an overtake.
The race stewards investigate the incident and issue Hamilton with a warning. Kobayashi, Schumacher, and Liuzzi retire in quick succession on laps 8, 9, and 12 with engine, loose wheel nut, and throttle failures, respectively. This leaves the top 10 as: Vettel, Webber, Rosberg, Kubica, Sutil, Hülkenberg, Hamilton, Jaime Alguersuari, Massa, and Alonso. Button has passed Alonso on lap 9 but then immediately pits to change to the harder tires. He is the first man to pit. He resumes on a clear track and immediately sets the fastest lap of the race, with a 1'41"044. Hülkenberg soon pits, releasing Hamilton, who immediately runs under 1'41"0, setting a 1'40"9 on lap 16. He has improved that to a 1'40"4 by lap 20, when Rosberg, Kubica, and Sutil all pit. The Red Bulls stay out until laps 24 and 25, with Vettel coming in first. He rejoins side by side with Hamilton but gets ahead taking the inside line on Turn 1. Webber's pit stop is not as smooth, with a problem on his wheel nut costing him 2 seconds, and he rejoins 4 seconds behind teammate Vettel, with Hamilton in between. Vettel immediately gets into the 1'39"0 with a lap of 1'39"854. Webber responds by going two-tenths quicker on the next lap. The top 10 at the end of lap 26 are: Vettel, Hamilton, Webber, Rosberg, Kubica, Massa, Alonso, Sutil, Button, and Hülkenberg. The three drivers who started on hard tires - Hamilton, Massa, and Alonso - are the only top drivers who have not pitted. Massa pits on lap 27 from sixth and rejoins ninth, just ahead of Hülkenberg. Massa, on the softs, and with a clear track, immediately goes over a second quicker than anyone else. On lap 28, he sets a 1'38"002, a second and a half faster than the previous fastest lap. Hamilton follows suit, pitting on lap 31 from second. He rejoins seventh, just ahead of teammate Button. He immediately closes in on Sutil like a rocket, setting a new fastest lap of 1'37"745.
By lap 34, he is right behind Sutil. Massa similarly is closing in on Button. Alonso is the last of the frontrunners to pit, on lap 37. He rejoins in ninth, behind Massa. He does what Massa and Hamilton did before, on the new softs, setting a string of fastest laps, the last being a 1'37"231 on lap 41, half a second quicker than anyone else, allowing him to close a gap of over 10 seconds to Massa and Button in five laps. Massa passes Button on lap 46 at the first corner, taking seventh place. He sets about closing in on Hamilton, who is unable to pass Sutil. His lap times decrease by a second, but his tires are 20 laps old, and he does not go as quickly as he had before. Alonso has been battling a gearbox problem for the entire race, and this affects his ability to pass Button. He makes an attempt on lap 48, and then on the penultimate lap of the race, tries at Turn 1 and goes wide. Alonso's engine then blows up, and he is out of the race from ninth. Also, on lap 53, Webber sets a new fastest lap, 1'37"054. Vettel takes the chequered flag ahead of Webber, leading a Red Bull one-two, with Rosberg completing the podium in third. Kubica is fourth, Sutil holds off Hamilton for fifth, and Massa and Button get seventh and eighth after gritty drives from the back. Alguersuari and Hülkenberg round out the point-scoring finishes, both scoring their first points in Formula One. Alguersuari's points make him the second youngest points scorer in Formula One history. Further back, Virgin gets their first-ever finish with Lucas di Grassi 14th and HRT gets both their cars to the finish line for the first time, with Karun Chandhok 15th and Bruno Senna 16th. Jarno Trulli is last of the 17 classified finishers, having suffered hydraulic problems, although his teammate Heikki Kovalainen is still running at the end. He has pitted during the race with hydraulic issues and resumed nine laps adrift of the leader. He circulates six laps behind his nearest rival and does not complete enough laps to be classified as a finisher, ultimately taking the chequered flag ten laps down. Solitary ride for Red Bull: today, no one was able to keep up with the devilish pace of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, who literally dominated the entire Malaysian Grand Prix with a barrage of fast laps.
It's enough to say that the two Red Bulls stayed in the lead from start to finish, even during the pit stop sequence. In short, this time poor Vettel wasn't betrayed by technical issues and easily clinched the victory. A victory, it must be said, achieved with force, as the German forcefully overtook his teammate Webber in the first corner, who certainly didn't expect such a fierce attack right after the start. But races are races, and there's no room for friendship. After the overtake, Vettel had no trouble widening the gap to everyone and crossing the finish line as the winner. For Webber, there was nothing to be done, especially because the mechanics in the pit stop made a bit of a mess, costing him those crucial two seconds. Among the winners, three other drivers can be mentioned: Rosberg in third, Kubica in fourth, and yes, Schumacher himself, bombarded by everyone as if he had suddenly become incompetent. Of course, Schumacher retired early in the race due to a problem with a wheel nut, but until then, he had a good start with a series of overtakes on the outside and was firmly in sixth place. For the first time, we saw a bit of the old Schumacher, and someone like him certainly deserves trust. As for Rosberg and Kubica, no comments are needed since they managed to place their cars behind the monstrous Red Bulls. A great race, in any case, also for Hamilton and the two Ferrari drivers, all three of them making impressive comebacks (they started from the back due to mistakes in qualifying). Unfortunately, Alonso's engine exploded on the last lap while he was attacking Button. That said, the Grand Prix goes into the books with the demonstration that Red Bulls are the cars to beat today (it was already known that Ferrari and McLaren were strong), that Mercedes can enter the podium fight, and that even Renault, initially considered almost dead in the championship, is not doing so badly. Now, let's talk about the championship: with his seventh-place finish, Felipe Massa overtakes his teammate Fernando Alonso, who retired on the penultimate lap, and leads the Drivers' World Championship with 39 points. Tied at 37 points are Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel. At 35 points, we find the pair of Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button. In short, it's really hard to imagine something better for the show. Fernando Alonso has the strength to joke about the problem with his Ferrari that stranded him on the penultimate lap.
"Am I angry? No, it was a difficult weekend, and the race was tough; I had to accelerate while braking to shift gears".
The Spanish driver explains the decision to delay the pit stop:
"I was waiting for the rain, but it didn't come. It was worth staying out. When you start from behind, sometimes you have to take risks. Here, we made a little gift, especially in qualifying. In China, we're going for the win".
Is Red Bull a concern for the future?
"No, not much. They showed superiority because we weren't with them. If we had a normal qualifying in dry conditions, we would have put them in difficulty".
Having finished qualifying in 21st position, Felipe Massa finds himself leading the Formula 1 World Championship after not even 24 hours.
"To be leading the World Championship definitely counts. I can't say we did an incredible job in these first three races, but a good job to be in the lead. It's always positive to see that we are ahead in the standings. It's also true that we have sixteen races ahead of us, and we have to work to improve the car".
Massa then talks about the overtaking of Jenson Button that allowed him to secure the seventh position and the sole leadership of the standings.
"When I was behind Button, he had a higher speed on the straight; he was pulling away, overtaking him was very, very difficult. He made a little mistake at the last corner, and I had the chance to come out ahead of him. I believe I'll be able to fight until the end; we always have to keep our feet on the ground and know that every race will be difficult".
Stefano Domenicali, the team principal of Ferrari, has a different opinion and expresses great regret for Fernando Alonso's retirement just a few corners from the end.
"After a comeback race, this problem hurts a bit. Massa seventh? He had a great race, a clean race; it's a shame about that problem at the end. Certainly, the race was conditioned by the mistakes made in yesterday's qualifying. However, we must see the positive side because our drivers are leading the World Championship; Ferrari is still in the lead. In such a tight fight, being in front is always positive. We certainly come home with a lot to do, but this is part of our job, with a weekend certainly more difficult than the previous two seen before. Qualifying obviously had a fundamental impact on the race; the other issue is that of the engine and gearbox for Alonso. On the other hand, we must see the glass half full because our drivers are leading the World Championship".
Stefano Domenicali, by his own admission, sees the positive side at the end of the Malaysian Grand Prix, the third race of a World Championship that sees Ferrari leading both the Constructors' Championship (10 points ahead of McLaren) and the Drivers' Championship (Massa ahead of Alonso and Vettel).
"We start from this positive aspect even emotionally to face the next Grand Prix in China".
Domenicali knows well that there is much work to be done for the next race, starting with the verification and resolution of the new problems related to the engine that betrayed Fernando Alonso just when things were getting interesting, forcing him to retire two laps from the end.
"We certainly come home with a lot to do, but this is part of our job, with a weekend certainly more difficult than the previous two seen before. Qualifying has obviously had a fundamental impact on the race; the other issue is that of the engine and gearbox for Alonso. On the other hand, we must see the glass half full because our drivers are leading the World Championship".
Despite the difficulties, the two Ferrari drivers played a positive role in the race:
"Alonso had an excellent race, congratulations to him but also to Massa. He started 21st, finished 7th, and is leading the world championship. From this perspective, I can say that we have an extraordinary pair of drivers. The issues we need to manage are related to improving performance and reliability. We lost two points with Alonso, and we must not lose any more because those points will make a difference until the end of the championship".
Domenicali doesn't seem worried about Red Bull's performance, currently the best-performing car in action:
"They got three poles in three different Grands Prix, which is a stimulus for our engineers to never give up on development. It's hard for me to judge the race performance in Malaysia since we were on the other side of the grid, so we had other things to follow. It's a very competitive car; if it has also sorted out reliability issues, it's the car that has proven to be the best".
The team principal elaborates on the engine problem, as even those provided to Sauber had a failure:
"We need to understand well what happened with the Sauber engines before giving a definitive answer. We need to analyze the situation, and the same goes for Alonso's engine. There were no telemetry reports; it was an immediate breakdown in the middle of the corner while he was attacking Button. Now I feel like excluding that there are connected problems between the Sauber engines and Alonso's, so they are different, and we need to understand them well. If there are more problems in this regard, we will have to be very careful, no doubt. The critical area of the engines needs to be addressed immediately".
When all seems lost, when the shadow of the crisis is so clear that you can almost touch it, suddenly, from some artificial fog, from some smoke of a burnt engine, here he is, Felipe Massa, the man of miracles, someone who not even eight months ago was lying in a hospital bed in Budapest with a skull shattered by a spring, and today he is up there, at the top of the Formula 1 Drivers' World Championship. Like in a children's book.
"What a man of miracles, I'm just someone who managed to score some good points in Malaysia, that's all".
A statement more significant than it may seem. Because behind so much modesty, there is a method. Method and a story, years and years of hard work alongside a thousand leading ladies of the steering wheel, first Villeneuve, then Schumacher, then Raikkonen, and finally Alonso. People with whom it is very difficult to reckon. Perhaps that's why Felipe Massa can't make exultant statements like Fernando Alonso's, nor assume number one attitudes. He prefers something rational, calm. Even when the question (from a Spanish journalist) is a bit more uncomfortable.
"I'm leading the standings, yes, but I don't feel like the team leader or even the second. Alonso is great, but really you can't say that they put mediocre people in my career. In the end, the important thing is to adapt, understand that it can also be an advantage, a stimulus, but not only: also a golden opportunity to steal and learn and grow even more".
Up to the maximum limit that, for a driver, is the pinnacle of the world standings.
"For goodness' sake, it's nice. But it doesn't mean anything. The important thing is to be there after the last race. The one in Abu Dhabi. Now we just have to work and work, improve ourselves. Because if we have to talk about the standings, then we have to say that we are happy; if instead, we have to evaluate what we have done so far, then the conversation changes".
And quite a bit:
"We haven't done anything extraordinary. For goodness' sake, not even anything disastrous, but if we want to win, we have to push much, much harder than this".
Ferrari knows this well, especially after the Red Bull double with Vettel and Webber, and Ferrari's team principal, Stefano Domenicali, reassures his driver:
"We need to work on the car, both for reliability and in development".
From this point of view, the next move for the Maranello team is very clear. Install the F-duct system on the F10 as soon as possible, which is the manually operated wing system (it involves a hole in the cockpit; by blocking it, the driver can activate or deactivate the rear wing) devised by McLaren's engineers.
"We have seen that in fast circuits, this system gives a huge advantage, so we are studying it and hope to bring it to the track as soon as possible. However, it must be efficient and 100% reliable".
Until then, Ferrari's extra weapon will continue to be the drivers.