Five hours after a thrilling race in Sepang, and the general consensus in a rapidly emptying media centre is that there’s definitely something in this new race format that includes a nice tea break in the middle.
The torrential downpour leads to intermission format option was first trialled at the 2009 Malaysian Grand Prix but went slightly wrong when the race was abandoned, leading to a sudden and unexpected mountain of work to get through as the entire press room desperately fired up Google and Wikipedia to find out exactly when was the last time a race was rained off. Not good.
Clearly, the system needed tweaking, but after two years of intense research it was tried again at last year’s Canadian Grand Prix. This time it was a huge success and there was a full two hours in mid-race during which we could locate sandwiches, catch up on the football results, mix warming beverages and take to loved ones on Skype, all the while searching for more sandwiches. Oh and there was a genuine edge-of-the-seat finish at the end of it all to boot. Well done F1!
It was the same this time in Malaysia: a few laps in the pouring rain to get us all interested then a nice long, leisurely intermission, followed by, possibly, an even better finish than in Canada, with sophomore year Sauber driver Sergio Perez hounding double world champion Fernando Alonso almost to the chequered flag.
It was cruel then that the Mexican made a tiny error when he was just three tenths of a second off the back of Alonso’s Ferrari. A momentary lapse and Perez had put a wheel on a wet kerb. He lost control, straight-lined a quick left-hander and arrowed on into the run-off area. The slip cost him over four seconds to Fernando and while he closed up to the Spaniard’s F2012 he didn’t again get a chance to make a move for the lead.
As it was, Perez became the first Mexican in 41 years to take a podium place at a grand prix. The last of his countrymen to do so was Pedro Rodriguez, who finished second in a Yardley-BRM at the Dutch Grand Prix in 1971.
According to legend, Pedro, the older of a pair of talented racing siblings, was something of a character. Perenially in search of the fieriness of his home cuisine he always carried a bottle of Tabasco sauce with him. He also developed a fondness for deerstalker hats and would frequently wear one to racing events. How good would it be if ‘Checo’ emulated his illustrious predecessor.
The other notable appearance at yesterday’s race was not that of Hollywood star Owen ‘Lightning McQueen’ Wilson but the gazebos teams erected over their cars when the race was suspended.
Only in Formula One would the events of Canada last year have resulted in, presumably, a whole department being charged with the development of a telescopic tent affair for rapid deployment in the event that it’s raining cats and dogs and the drivers, being sensitive sorts, don’t want to get too damp.
With Red Bull Racing, McLaren, Ferrari and Sauber, among others, throwing up rain covers the grid soon looked like the world’s most expensive car boot sale. At any moment we expected Sebastian Vettel to unload a suitcase full of used CDs and try to punt on the inevitable horde of unwanted Dire Straits and Phil Collins albums. We thought we saw Mark trying to offload a couple of novelty wall clocks.
The Malaysian Grand Prix is now done and dusted, however, and we have a three-week gap before we convene again in Shanghai. Most people assume that this is downtime for F1 types, an opportunity to shirk any kind of gainful employment and instead order consignments of novelty wall clocks to pick up in China and then flog at the following race. This is not true.
Instead, we’ll schlep back to Europe tomorrow and set about the business of trying to crowbar a visa out of sundry Chinese embassies, while all the while continuing to prevaricate and pontificate about Bahrain. Then we’ll all just turn the blind eye the sport customarily displays to the dubious human rights records of certain countries and get on board the next plane. There might be thrilling new formats in F1 but elsewhere it seems the same old tropes apply.