Friday, March 29, 2013

Malaysian Grand Prix - March 23-24, 2013

I saw my first Formula 1 race in Malaysia back in 2010, and even posted a few tips about it. Since then, I’ve attended two races in Singapore, one in Japan, and seen dozens of other races on TV, so I’m no longer an ignorant newbie. The more I’ve learned, the more I enjoy this fiendishly complex sport, which doesn’t get much coverage in the USA, where NASCAR dominates the racing scene.

Asia holds 8 of the 19 races this year and the first of these is the Malaysian Grand Prix, which is the 2nd race of the season (after the Australian GP in Melbourne). Malaysia is probably the cheapest F1 race as well, with earlybird tickets bought before December 31, 2012 half-price, an unbelievable bargain. With the circuit next to the airport, it makes sense to fly from Singapore and spend the weekend there. In fact, the combined price of the flight, hotel, and Turn 1 ticket is still half the price of a Turn 1 ticket in Singapore.

I bought my tickets back in November and secured a great spot at the top of the K1 Grandstand, which looks down the pit straightaway. Turns out these are probably the best seats on the track as you can see the cars racing down the straight as well as the maneuvering in the first two turns. That is the start below, there was still water on the track from an earlier storm which hampers the view of those starting back on the grid.

Qualifying was held on Saturday and the race followed on Sunday. No need to recap the events, although the race was quite controversial as Sebastian Vettel ignored team orders and passed Mark Webber to take the chequered flag, causing a significant bit of friction between the two drivers. Incidentally, I have seen five Grands Prix and Vettel (below) has won every one of them. That's Webber in the second shot below. You'll notice that the cars are identical except for the drivers number (Webber's 2 is barely visible) and the colours on the cameras atop the air box (black in Vettel's car, fluorescent yellow in Webber's). The top driver in the team gets the black camera, and the second driver  gets the yellow; this is probably the easiest way to recognize the cars from afar.

There was an incident at the start of the second lap when Fernando Alonso lost control after damaging his front wing and drove straight into the gravel in front of us. That's his car below on the flatbed.

As usual, the F1 was an excellent experience but there were two occurrences that made the race slightly less enjoyable. The first was that the diamond screen (which shows the live TV feed) in front of our section was off for most of the race, only becoming operational with about 12 laps of the 56 total left to be driven. When at a big track like this, you want to see what is happening at other areas, along with replays. Not having this functionality was very disappointing.

The other problem was that the race commentary was in both English and Malay, meaning that some key points were not communicated to those at the track. The locals should have their own frequency and the full race should be broadcast in English; when combined with no screen it meant that we missed some very important developments.

Of course, the most important aspect was the fact that Vettel went ahead and won the race despite having been told to stay back. We did not know this sitting in our seats and didn’t find out until much later. It could be one of the most significant events of the F1 season and shows how the sport is more for the constructors rather than the individual drivers. Lewis Hamilton finished third and his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg was furious for being told to stay back in fourth. At least Rosberg followed orders, while Vettel is now public enemy #1 in Australia.

These are just two of the storylines that promise to make this an interesting season in Formula 1 this year so if you haven’t followed it before, now would be a good time to start.



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