Two races and two victories already for Sebastian Vettel. An ominous sign for Vettel’s rivals but with 17 races to go anything can happen.
Red Bull and Vettel have continued where they left off in 2010 and at this point it is difficult to see who will beat them.
But qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix on Saturday was much closer and it could so easily have been Lewis Hamilton on pole. However Seb put in a great lap when it mattered.
Qualifying proved McLaren are closer to Red Bull in pace and considering where they were in pre-season testing, McLaren have done a tremendous job in developing the car in a short amount of time.
There are encouraging signs coming out of McLaren and they will be hoping to close the gap further between themselves and Red Bull at China.
Here are the winners and losers of the weekend at Malaysia in my opinion.
Sebastian Vettel: You can only run out of superlatives to describe the 2010 World Champion. Vettel has been in sensational form so far this year and there are those who have feared already that 2011 could turn out to be a year of total domination for Vettel and Red Bull.
The 23 year-old yet again led from the front and never looked troubled. Sebastian is without doubt the man to beat and when he is on form no one can stop him. On Saturday when under pressure, Seb produced a scintillating lap to take pole off Lewis Hamilton in qualifying. However Vettel is beatable and I’m sure the likes of McLaren and Ferrari will win races this year to put pressure on Red Bull.
Jenson Button: In Australia, it was Lewis Hamilton who was the happier of the two McLaren drivers at the end of the weekend. But at the end of the Malaysian Grand Prix it was Jenson Button who got the better of his team-mate and the 2009 World Champion finished Sunday’s race in second. Jenson drove a great race and he kept Vettel honest throughout the race.
After a disappointing race Down Under, Button had a much better race in Malaysia and he looked after his tyres very well. His result at Sepang was exactly what he needed after only finishing sixth in the season opener at Albert Park. The Frome star will be hoping to make it back to back victories in China and I would not back against it even though Vettel is in impressive form.
Nick Heidfeld: After a miserable Australian Grand Prix, Nick Heidfeld was back at his best and finished Sunday’s race in a superb third place. This was Renault’s second podium of the season and Heidfeld as well as his team-mate Vitaly Petrov got off to flyers in the race. More so ‘Quick Nick’ as the German climbed from sixth to second on the opening lap of the race.
Like Button, this was a result Heidfeld needed after his disappointing showing at Albert Park. But Nick bounced back in fine style and both Renault drivers could be in for a season where they can challenge Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari on a regular basis. Heidfeld has experience and his experience will no doubt prove crucial for Renault for the remainder of the season. Just wish Robert Kubica a full speedy recovery and hope we see him in Formula One soon.
Felipe Massa: Felipe has not had much luck on his side in recent years but perhaps Malaysia could be a turning point in his career. Yes he was only able to qualify seventh but it was a case of damage limitation for Ferrari since they were not expected to be close to Red Bull and McLaren. Both Fernando Alonso and Massa were expected to qualify between fifth and tenth.
But for Massa to beat his team-mate in the race will give the Brazilian confidence and it could be the kick start he needs. Alonso was given a 20 second penalty after what happened with Lewis Hamilton but Felipe had a solid weekend in my view.
Kamui Kobayashi: Kamui is one driver who will guarantee you entertainment and he is turning out to be a favourite amongst Formula One fans. The Japanese star made it into Q3 for the second time this season and he had a long duel with Mark Webber in the race. Kobayashi finished the race in eighth but was promoted to seventh after Hamilton was given a 20 second penalty.
Finishing in the points will have been satisfying for Kamui and the team after what happened in Australia. Disqualification from the Australian Grand Prix spoilt what was a great weekend for Sauber after both of their drivers finished in the points. Kobayashi is a star for the future and I would not be surprised if he is driving for one of the big teams in the near future.
Paul di Resta: Sebastian Vettel may have gained the headlines in winning the opening two races of the 2011 season. But Paul di Resta has also made it two out of two after scoring points in Australia and Malaysia. Last years DTM Champion has made a solid start to his first season in Formula One and finishing in the points in two consecutive races is not a bad way to get your Formula One career underway.
Paul is certainly giving his experienced team-mate Adrian Sutil a run for his money. The Scotsman has out qualified Adrian on both occasions and this will give him plenty of confidence. Di Resta will have been disappointed not to have held onto ninth in the closing stages of the race but to finish tenth was by no means a catastrophe.
Lewis Hamilton: Lewis Hamilton was the big loser at the Malaysian Grand Prix and things were going well for the Brit until his final stint of the race. He was struggling with his tyres and ended up being under severe pressure from the likes of Nick Heidfeld and Fernando Alonso. And Hamilton’s body language in his post-race interview with BBC Sport’s Lee McKenzie summed it all up as to how he was feeling.
Alonso lost part of his front wing after trying to overtake his former team-mate and both drivers were given 20 second penalties (Hamilton was not given the penalty due to the incident). The penalties for both drivers were harsh in my view and it capped off a weekend Lewis will want to forget. But the 2008 World Champion can take heart from his performance in qualifying and all is not lost.
Mercedes: Things just seem to be getting from bad to worse for Mercedes at the moment. Nico Rosberg finished outside the points and Michael Schumacher was only able to finish ninth and pick up two points. It has been a dreadful start for Mercedes and results must improve drastically.
Rosberg will have been hoping to score some big points in Malaysia after finishing last years race in third. But after making a poor start to the race, the former Williams driver never recovered and could only finish outside the top ten. Schumacher has qualified 11th twice this year and this is something he needs to change quickly. Schumi will be wanting to make it into Q3 on a regular basis.
Williams: It was another disappointing weekend for Williams with Rubens Barrichello and Pastor Maldonado retiring from the race. Maldonado was eliminated from Q1 and Barrichello just about made it into Q2 after posting the 17th quickest time.
The race was not much better for the team either as both Williams drivers retired from the race and they have been unable to transfer their promising pre-season form into race results. I have yet to be convinced by Maldonado and I still feel releasing Nico Hulkenburg was the wrong decision. But nowadays money does the talking.