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Perez’s coming of age

Sergio Perez faced stern criticism at the end of the Chinese Grand Prix from journalists, fans and his team bosses for his lack of “fight” when dicing with other drivers for position.

The young Mexican yielded position to several drivers with ease, and something that is unbefitting for a Mclaren driver to do. Quickly after the race was complete, Martin Whitmarsh took Sergio aside and told him to “toughen up”, the Team Principal said: “I think he’s been very polite so far this year; I think he needs to toughen up, I think he’s been generous in allowing people to get past him.”

In Bahrain the 23 year old Mexican talent repayed his boss handsomely with a storming drive from 12th on the grid to finish well above his team mate in 6th come race day. His duel with Jenson Button was controversial, despite earning plaudits from press and public alike. The two touched cars no more than five times during Sunday’s race, with Perez eventually blasting past his more experienced team mate.

Button battles Perez

Button battles Perez

Later in the race, Sergio came to battle with two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso, after making it past the Spaniard he remained ahead by placing his Mclaren on the racing line at Turn 4 and ruthlessly forcing Alonso wide off the circuit warranting a call of distress from Fernando to his team. On the final lap ‘Checo’ also made it past Red Bulls Mark Webber to claim 6th position.

If ever there was a time to respond, Sergio Perez mastered it perfectly stepping up to the plate come the race. He not only robustly held off drivers from overtaking him, but he went wheel-to-wheel with two megatrons of Formula One, the two adversaries he needed to overtake to prove is worth to the world, his World Champion team mate and the most fruitful and wisest driver Fernando Alonso.

He will now have to keep up this top form not just for the next race in Spain, but for the rest of his Mclaren career to prove his many doubters wrong and to assert his worthiness of a seat for the Woking based team.

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Lack of in-race punishments

Have you noticed the lack of punishments for drivers who make mistakes during the race in 2013? Most cases are now investigated after the race and dealt with that way. It has come about after secret meetings between Jean Todt of the FIA, Charlie Whiting and all the F1 drivers.

They have all decided that every small touch or small incident in the race, should be investigated afterwards. This is for two reasons, one is so it does not upset the race itself, it does not ruin the outcome of perhaps a great battle on track and the other reason is to promote extra overtaking. Drivers were beginning to feel that if they get punished each time they touch a car, there is no longer the need to take the risk, they may as well sit back and wait for either the car in front to make an error, or collect the points they are currently earning from their position, instead of risking a drive through penalty for any calamitous manoeuvre.

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The race organisers and stewards have implemented the new provisions in the first four races consistently. There have been few drive-through penalties and the grid displacements that we saw at Bahrain were due to aggressive driving. Especially in the case of Esteban Gutierrez who completely destroyed Adrian Sutil’s race. So the main punishments are now being handed down from the FIA because they are preventable collisions.

In Bahrain we saw an incident at Turn 2 with Webber and Rosberg, to which only a warning was handed down from the FIA to Webber and also between Sergio Perez and Alonso at the exit of Turn 4. The FIA took the view that Perez was in front and inclined to take the racing line, it was Fernando’s fault for trying to overtake around the outside of the corner. Sky F1’s Martin Brundle also agreed, “He [Alonso] went on the racing line. Why should he make room for Alonso on the left side when Fernando tried it anyway, he has to stop to take into account that it is bumpy on the sand next to the track.”

Button and Perez battle it out

Button and Perez battle it out

The FIA also took a similar approach towards Perez with his incident with Kimi Raikkonen, the Finn complaining that Perez was moving in the braking zone, but the FIA took the view that he was ahead and therefore could take whichever line he suited.

It now means that drivers will be able to fight and go into combat with much more risk in 2013.

Alonso on top in FP3

Fernando Alonso led the time sheets after Free Practice 3 in Bahrain.

Sebastian Vettel came home in 2nd place ahead of Webber, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Grosjean, Sutil, Di Resta, Rosberg, Hulkenburg who rounded out the top 10.

The only significant incident of the session was when Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari spun on the exit of Turn 2 and 3 after failing to control an oversteery moment. Toward the end of the session, Vettel had a small tiff with Charles Pic into the last corner.

When the session was complete, Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes appeared to suffer a left rear suspension/track rod failure.

Raikkonen completes Free Practice 2 on top

Kimi Räikkönen completed Fridays action at the top of the time sheets.

The Lotus driver set a time of 1m34.154 beating the Red Bull pair of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel. Fernando Alonso finished 4th ahead of Scot Paul di Resta and team mate Felipe Massa.

Romain Grosjean, Nico Rosberg, Adrian Sutil and Lewis Hamilton rounded off the top 10.

Button completed the day as the fastest Mclaren driver in 11th. Vergne was 12th followed by Perez, Ricciardo and Hulkenburg. Williams completed a disappointing day down in 16th and 17th. Van der Garde finished the day at the bottom of the time sheets.

The session got underway with plenty of cars heading out to complete early lap times.

With 40 minutes of the session to go, teams began their longer runs on both sets of tyres and heavier fuel loads yielding no further improvements in lap times.

A few drivers ran off the circuit with the most notable incident coming from Esteban Gutierrez who over steered his Sauber into the front end of Charles Pics Caterham, puncturing the Mexicans front left tyre.

Massa leads Free Practice 1

Felipe Massa started the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend in good form by going fastest after Free Practice 1, beating team mate Fernando Alonso, who was second, by a little under a tenth of a second.

Nico Rosberg finished 3rd ahead of Sebastian Vettel, Paul di Resta, Jenson Button and Mark Webber. Sutil in 8th, Räikkönen in 9th and Grosjean in 10th rounded out the top 10.

Perez finished the day in 11th ahead of Bottas, Hamilton, the Toro Rosso’s of Vergne and Ricciardo finished 14th and 15th respectively, Maldonado, Hulkenburg, Gutierrez finished 16th, 17th and 18th. Charles Pic managed to outpace returnee Heikki Kovalainen at the bottom of the field, whilst Gonzalez finished last in the Marussia after suffering with a gearbox issue.

There were no obviously incidents throughout the session, with just a few minor lock ups and excursions off the track.

Right Race, Right Place

Formula One completed a race in Bahrain yesterday, after coming under international condemnation.

Since the Arab Spring in February last year, Bahrain has had to overcome mass protests from the Shia minority. The race, which had to pulled from the calendar in 2011, came under scrutiny from human rights campaigners.

Before this weekend’s proceedings Formula One was criticised for holding such an event, given as so many people have been injured and killed by the ruling regime in the country. On Saturday a protestor was killed after filming a protest.

Ed Miliband made a statement on Friday night saying that the race should not go ahead.

“Given the violence we have seen in Bahrain, given the human rights abuses, I don’t believe the Grand Prix should go ahead and I hope that the government will make its view clear and say the same.”

The Labour leaders calls were met with anger from the F1 paddock, as they believed the calls were too late. “Politicians in the UK were saying we should withdraw once we’d got here,” Mercedes GP Team Principal Ross Brawn said. “Why didn’t they say something beforehand?”

The McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh added: “I don’t think it’s helpful to wake up and hear we shouldn’t be here when we’re already here.”

Some have argued that the race was used by the Bahrain government as a propaganda tool to show the country in a good light around the world, as it aims to create a positive image of the country. This is further backed up by the country endorsing the F1 brand in the race slogan, ‘UniF1ed’.

Smoke outside the track during the race

The race did however go off without a hitch.

Pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel went on to win the race after overcoming a challenge for victory with Kimi Raikkonen, fellow Lotus driver Romain Grosjean rounded off the podium with 3rd place. Scottish driver Paul Di Resta had an impressive race to finish in 6th. It was a poor race from the Mclaren duo of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. Hamilton had several poor pit stops and finished the race in a lowly 8th place, whilst Button was forced to retire from the race two laps before the end with a differential failure.

After the race it was announced that a number of Channel 4 journalists are to be deported on Monday after being arrested for entering and working in Bahrain on just a tourist visa.

Record Breaker in Bahrain

The Bahrain Grand Prix was a record breaker. No fewer than four cars stopped on the in-lap as soon as they had passed the chequered flag.

Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa all pulled up after they finished the race, instead of making it back round to the pits. The standard procedure directly after crossing the finish line is to travel around slowly trying to conserve fuel (more fuel means added ballast) and add debris-such as discarded rubber to the tyres (more discarded rubber means added ballast), then make it to the pit lane and Parc Ferme, where the driver can get out and celebrate (if he deems it necessary) and then get weighed. The cars will then be scrutinised to make sure they have not been breaking the rules throughout the race.

Vettel runs back to the pits after stopping in Bahrain

Of late however, many teams have asked their drivers to pull up and stop on the side of the track immediately. The possible reason for this is for reliability purposes, but the most likely explanation is due to the fact a team is running low on fuel, and thus, will not have enough fuel/weight in the car to pass the scrutineering, if it completes the ‘slow down lap’.

There is no rule in the FIA’s Sporting or Technical Regualtions for this whole procedure, but perhaps it is time there was. It has now become clear that teams will start the race lower on fuel, to gain an advantage throughout the race and then recoup their loses by pulling over as soon as the race is done.

A similar incident happened in Qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix in 2010. Lewis Hamilton took Pole Position and then stopped his car half way back round to the pits, to save fuel, which they needed for regulation checks. The FIA promptly decided that stopping on a Qualifying in-lap was illegal and it has now been outlawed.

Hamilton pushes his car in Canada 2010

Is it correct for one driver or one team to run the race lighter in the knowledge they can just pull off straight after the chequered flag, whilst everyone else abides by the sporting ethics of the regulations? Should the FIA go one step further and punish those for not making it one extra lap at the end of the race, whilst everyone else seems to manage?

F1 2012 is incredibly close and highly competitive. All the teams should be on a level playing field. It would not be correct to have a rule for one whilst the rest abide by the code.

Links of Interest

FIA Sporting and Technical Regulations: http://www.fia.com/sport/Regulations/f1regs.html