2009 flashback: Storms cut Malaysia race short

Jenson Button, alongside Nick Heidfeld and Timo Glock

Jenson Button, alongside Nick Heidfeld and Timo Glock

In a new series, before each race, I will look back on the race in 2009, and look forward to 2010. This time round it is the Malaysian Grand Prix.

2009

In the days after the Australian Grand Prix, Brawn GP were already looking forward to win the Malaysian Grand Prix. When Jenson Button took pole position, it seemed as if it could be two in a row. Jarno Trulli joined him on the front row, which gave more evidence towards Toyota’s pace this year.

But neither led at the first corner. Nico Rosberg, who started from fourth, mugged both of them into the first corner, and took the lead. Jenson was struggling to heat his tyres, and lost further places to Trulli and Alonso as well. Fernando had made perfect use of his KERS at the start. He started ninth on a heavy fuel load, but was third by the first corner. But, once Button had his tyres sorted out, he took third back at Turn 13 on the first lap.

Rosberg steals the lead from Button at the first corner

Rosberg steals the lead from Button at the first corner

For the second race in a row, Heikki Kovalainen was out on the first lap. He was struggling for grip, and lost control on the difficult Turn 5, and spun into the gravel trap. He was travelling beside his team-mate Hamilton. Robert Kubica was also in trouble, with problems getting off the line, and an engine failure soon after.

There was soon a train of cars behind Alonso, as his KERS wasn’t enough to keep his third position. Button got past first, and by the time Barrichello had got through, Jenson was 6.5 seconds up the road. On Lap 10, Kimi Raikkonen got through, followed by Mark Webber two laps later. Timo Glock tried to get through, but failed because of damage to his front wing after previous contact with Webber. Sebastian Vettel was behind Glock, followed by Lewis Hamilton and Nick Heidfeld.

Rosberg pitted from the lead on Lap 15, and Trulli followed him two laps later. This gave Button clean air to push, and after a few blistering laps, he pitted on Lap 19, and emerged in the lead. By now, everybody knew the rain was going to fall, as there were dark clouds everywhere, but it was just a matter of when. The common knowledge in the paddock is “when it rains in Malaysia, it pours”. Even though the rain wasn’t falling yet on Lap 18, Ferrari decided to pre-empt the weather by sending Kimi Raikkonen out on extreme wet tyres, even though the track was still dry. Kimi was running well, so this was a huge gamble.

The rain unnerves the teams as the pit stops approach

The rain unnerves the teams as the pit stops approach

The rain eventually fell on Lap 21, but nowhere near as heavy as people thought. It wasn’t the downpour that was expected, but it was still enough to change tyres. Fernando Alonso was caught out, and nearly spun out into the gravel. More than half the field pitted for extreme wete on Lap 22, but Timo Glock went risky and took on intermidiates. Since the rain fell slowly at first, this was a huge advantage at first for the Toyota driver. While the others had to nurse their tyres until the rain got heavier, Glock sailed past most of the field.

Once the teams realised intermidiates were the way to go, they all changed tyres again, and Glock was in the lead. He was nearly 30 seconds behind Button before his strategy, and was 5-10 seconds a lap faster. Jenson didn’t react quickly enough, and lost the lead when he stopped for intermidiates on Lap 29. Button emerged from the pits just behind Glock, but just then the rain got heavier, making conditions even harder to read.

The next lap, Button made his move to retake the lead, but as he did, Timo pitted again for extreme wets, again outthinking the rest of the field. Sure enough, the rain turned torrential that very lap, cathing out Giancarlo Fisichella, Sebastian Vettel, Sebastien Buemi, and several others. Immidiately the rest of the field pitted for extreme wets, as the safety car was deployed on Lap 32 for dangerous conditions.

Button attempts to sail an F1 car across the Pacific Ocean

Button attempts to sail an F1 car across the Pacific Ocean

As the safety car pounded around the track, there was a problem – the F1 cars couldn’t keep up. The wooden blocks under the cars, used to stop the cars bottoming out in dry conditions, were turning the cars into giant rudders. The leaders, Button, Glock and Heidfeld, all struggled around the track at incredibly slow speeds. By this time, the track resembled a swimming pool, and the race was red-flagged at the right time.

While the other drivers worry about a restart, Kimi feasts on ice-cream and Coke...

While the other drivers worry about a restart, Kimi feasts on ice-cream and Coke...

The cars all lined up on the start finish straight to wait for the race to be resumed. Some waited in the cars, some stood under umbrellas, while a certain someone decided to head off and have an ice-cream. Kimi’s early stop for extreme wets did not pay off, as by the time the rain arrived, his tyres were completely destroyed, and he fell to near the back of the grid. When the race was red-flagged, he had an electrical probelm that meant he wouldn’t be able to restart the race. He changed into a t-shirt and shorts, got an ice-cream and Coke from the Ferrari vending machines (didn’t make that part up!) and hung around watching the drivers anticipate a restart. Good man Kimi, but mint Feasts are much better.

Meanwhile, while Kimi felt the need to cool down in storm rain conditions, the teams soon realised that the race wouldn’t restart. Even though the rain had stopped, the track was completely saturated, and sunlight was falling fast. FIA race director Charlie Whiting correctly decided to cancel the restart, end the Grand Prix after 32 laps, and award half points. This meant that Jenson Button was declared the winner, ahead of Nick Heidfeld and Timo Glock. These two had to swap positions after the race, after it emerged that Glock had overtaken Heidfeld on the lap before the race was abandoned, which is the lap that is left out of the race result.

For the first time n 18 years, a Formula 1 race hadn’t reached the 75% mark, so half points were awarded. However, this race will most likely be remembered for the fact that this ending could have been avoided. Bernie Ecclestone had requested a later start time for this race, so European viewers could get a better time to watch the race. However, he completely ignored the locals who knew perfectly well that a 5pm race start was right in the middle of a monsoon storm time area. Also, since the race was later, the race couldn’t resume, because it was too dark. Hopefully everyone has learned their lesson for this year.

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