Friday, 30 March 2012

Driver of the Day: Malaysia

In a new feature for the site for 2012, after every race I will be making nominations for driver of the day, before then deciding the winner of the award.

He got Driver of the Day in Melbourne for an astonishing drive, and it's going to be tough for the accolade to go to anyone else here in Malaysia. Alonso had an absolutely sensational weekend, and the drive itself on Sunday was on another planet. Yet again he managed to drag the dire Ferrari into places beyond its wildest dreams. It wasn’t just the fact that he won that made this drive so impressive. The fact that he made absolutely no mistakes all race, didn’t crack under the pressure from Perez, and of course his overtake for the lead. Very possibly the move of the race, he went around the outside of the Sauber to take the lead of the race. An absolutely phenomenal drive from Alonso, it was surely one of his best ever. He may be a masive outsider for the championship, but he proved on Sunday that that's because of the car, not the driver. A world class performance from a world class driver.
Perez was an incredibly strong candidate to be the driver of the day in Australia, and he continued that form, but bettered it. His podium finish wouldn't have even been considered before the race, and even when he was leading the race, few would have expected him to have stayed anywhere close to the lead. No disrespect whatsoever to Sauber as they did a brilliant job at the weekend, but there is no way it should be on the podium, let alone challenging for the win. And Perez proved that he can cut it with the big boys. His pace when chasing down Fernando Alonso was phenomenal, and even though there was always the idea that Alonso would be extremely difficult to pass, it was a very strong possibility for Perez to take the lead. The error which cost him a shot at race victory was disappointing, but it doesn't even come close to detracting from everything else he did that race. He took that Sauber car well into a different galaxy to what it usually is fighting for with a magnificent drive. His first podium, and certainly not his last.
He was on top form in Australia, and this continued in Sepang. The Finn had qualified fifth but a five-place penalty for a gearbox change meant that he started tenth. His overtaking was as good as ever and he drove a completely error free race to continue the very impressive start to his comeback season. Raikkonen said of the race "It’s good to get more points on the board and obviously P5 is an improvement on qualifying after the penalty, but I think with more knowledge of the wet tyres we could have been further up. Once we switched to the slicks the pace was very good, so under different conditions today had the potential to be a very strong race for us."
The Williams car this season looks so much better than the 2011 car, and on the evidence of his performance in Malaysia, he is on course for a very good season. Senna was brilliant, finishing sixth for Williams while his team mate spent most of the race at the lower end of the points. The Brazilian passed Massa and Di Resta on his way, and his idea of switching to wets early paid off handsomely. Senna said of his second race for Williams: "Having a good result takes some of the weight off your shoulders. There will always be critics and you are never going to please everybody. But for sure, having a strong result will take some wind out of the critics’ sails. Hopefully I can make sure I keep having strong results to show I deserve my place here."
I tipped this young Frenchman to be the surprise star of the season, and a brilliant performance in just his second race certainly helps this prediction. Vergne made a great pass on Felipe Massa in the DRS Zone, using the Toro Rosso's strong straightline speed to his advantage. Vergne made an incredibly brave call and somehow stayed on the intermediates until the red-flag. This brilliant wet weather driving is mainly what earned him four points. The Frenchman was pleased with his day's work: "To go from 18th on the grid to eighth and in the points at the end is great. I stayed out for a long time on the intermediates after the start and then the red flag came along to help me so I was able to switch to extreme wets on the grid. If I'd had to resume behind the safety car on the intermediates it would have been very hard to stay on track! I am happy to settle for this eighth place and I plan to keep improving step-by-step. After these two opening races, the overall performance has been quite good and I feel we can make progress in China starting from this good base line."
It may seem strange to see a HRT in the Driver of the Day nominations, but Karthikeyan had a very good race. Like his team mate, he started on the wet tyres, and this was an inspired decision. So much so that he managed to keep a good pace, and on the thirteenth lap was in ninth, the highest a HRT driver has ever been. Later in the race he was involved in collisions with Button and Vettel. He was blamed for the latter but Vettel should have exercised more caution. The Indian said: "It was a very interesting race in really wet conditions. We were running in 10th at one point, which I think is the best position we’ve ever been in but unfortunately the rain stopped and the track dried out and it was impossible to keep ahead of the rest. I made a mistake, locking up the front, and went off on turn 9 but apart from that it all went pretty well. We finished the race, did some mileage and made up two positions from 23rd so that’s something to smile about. Everyone did a great job and we’re all really happy with the result, now we have to go on from here and try to progress in China”.



After every Grand Prix this season I will be awarding a driver of the day, with the winner this time Sauber's Sergio Perez.

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