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     Volume 2 Issue 18| May 2, 2010|


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A Race to Remember

Mahmud Wahid

IT was the invention of wheels that took human race to greater heights, although all that could be thought of wheels in the beginning was to move loads and at optimally to be used behind domesticated animals for multiple purposes. Motorized cars and air-pressured trains came much later. Did people ever think of a wheel that would have a speed of 350kmh, a wheeled vehicle generating g-force up to 4, or riding a car for one and a half hours will drain body liquid to 2 kilograms and last but not the least heart rate on an average of 180-200 bpm? Yes, I am talking about Formula 1, which is regarded as the pinnacle of motor racing. The most prestigious, most exhilarating and most expensive motor racing in the planet - a sport that brings big brands as sponsors, bigger car manufacturers and the best technical people. It is a billion dollar industry. But the most vital part of the whole thing is that the innovations in technologies of formula1 are gradually being passed to the road cars.

Being a formula1 fan for the last thirteen years it has always been my dream to witness this spectacle with my own eyes. And finally it came true at the Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia, the Petronas Malaysian F1 Grand Prix on April 3-4, 2010. Malaysia had been organizing F1 races for a pretty long time and they are quite capable of handling such an event.

Organizing a sport of this magnitude is a big thing and more importantly it is also necessary to ensure there will be a good crowd. Only the wealthy nations are able to handle the challenge of promoting a multi million dollar event like this successfully. It is not only the race track that can ensure a nod from the FIA (the formula1 governing body) for a place in the race calendar, there are also other important things like quality of the track, the grandstands, pit lane, roads connecting to the circuit, hotels, catering, ability to handle the world media, proper facility for the celebrities who will pay a hefty 4,000 Euro/person for a race and so forth that must of international standard. Passing all these requirements needs a lot of funding from the circuit owners and many fail to do it.

I have been a Schumacher fan since 1997 and wished to witness his racing but it could not be realized as he retired in 2006 with an impeccable record of 7 World Drivers Championships and 91 race wins. Anyway, as I was booking my air ticket to Malaysia in November 2009, I never even imagined that this Ferrari racing legend would make a shock return (announced in late December) to this sport for Mercedes GP Petronas; an ex-Brawn GP which was actually an ex-Honda team.

This was enough to make my adrenaline go high and plan for a neat F1 outing. I scanned through all the possible places of the Sepang Circuit and even used the Seat-viewers (available on Sepang circuit's official website) to imagine how it will be from the Main grandstands. Firstly, I thought of taking the K1 seats which are located at the first corner, where most of the actions take place after the start-finish straight. But considering closer snap-taking opportunities I took the main grandstands where all the cars will line up.

For general understanding, formula1 series includes two championships, one is 'Drivers' Championship' and the other is 'Constructor's Championship'. There are very detailed technical regulations and specification on each and every part and machine of the car. All the teams are bound to build their cars on basis of the technical and design guideline and when the cars are ready they await the FIA's approval. One may think if all the cars are built on the same specification, how they can get advantage or why bigger teams have more speed and reliability? Well, all the engines are of the same grade, same horsepower and same revs. But the main differences come through aerodynamics efficiency.

Currently there are four engine suppliers; Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault and Cosworth. All the teams are supposed to take engines from the approved engine manufacturers. And the engine manufacturers may or may not have their own F1 teams. There are currently 19 F1 circuits in 2010 calendar.

The qualifying session was very dramatic as the top teams like Ferrari and Mclaren couldn't get into Q2 due to wrong decision from their garages. They thought the rain will abate in a few minutes and they will do their hot laps in dry tires which will make good timings but Mother Nature denied stopping pouring. My racing icon Michael Schumacher was my center of attention. In a silver Mercedes he drove quite good to take a P8 after 3 years of retirement. But according to the Anti-Schumacher group, 'He has lost it'. Well, I remain optimistic; he will show his pace again.

On the Race day, the day after it was a different atmosphere all together. People generally do not attend a qualifying session unless it is very easy to reach the circuit or if s/he is a die-hard fan like me. The race was a big surprise, there were people from everywhere and many were Europeans. It is their sport, they promoted it, and they got to come! The race started at 4 pm again. Before that we witnessed an air show by the Royal Malaysian Air Force with minimum of six MIG29s. All together it became an event of extreme machines. The MIGs flew very low over the main stand where I was sitting and I found these jets quite big. They were making vertical climbs and coming down upside down twisting and some few jaw-dropping maneuvers. The jets were using quite a bit of thrust and I could easily see the glowing orange exhausts. Someone told me afterwards that the after burners were so powerful that they set off the security alarms of the parked cars.

It was around 3:30 pm and the team mechanics and engineers were heading towards the starting grid with their complicated machineries, tires and tire warmers and stationed it at their drivers' grid positions. All the drivers have their separate team engineers and mechanics and they work as a team. It requires a very high performing aligned team with proper coordination to get the job done. A good driver, a good car, an efficient team and team engineers with split-second decision making capability are the prerequisites for a winning team.

The drivers started from their pit garages and brought the cars to their respective places in the grid. It was 3 minutes to the race start and the cars started their warm-up laps and having finished it they stopped at their places again. All the mechanics and machineries were gone to their pit garage by that time.

It was 4:00 pm and the five lights in the grid started to illuminate one after another and when they went out it was 'GO' for the Malaysian F1 grand prix. The Mclarens and the Ferraris tried to work their way up the order and they could but in the front Red Bull Racing had pace of their own. Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber gradually extended the lead and Mercedes' Nico Rosberg kept on following from third position. My racing icon Michael Schumacher gained two positions and was racing at sixth but unfortunately he had a left rear wheel problem which forced him to retirement at lap 30. I had to be content with the incident and witnessed him riding back to his garage on a scooter; this is motor racing and this sort of things happens. While the three front runners stayed unchallenged but their were lot of action in the rest of the field. Mclaren's Lewis Hamilton fighting with Vitaly Petrov of Renault was quite remarkable. It was quite a show to see two drivers making overtaking and defensive attempts at 300 plus km/h on the start-finish straight. Though it was a let down from Schumacher (he's not to blame) garage but his countryman and teammate Nico Rosberg secured the first podium finish for Mercedes GP in 2010 behind Red Bull Racing. It seemed Red Bull is the team to beat as they are showing phenomenal pace in all the three outings of the season and securing all the three pole positions.

In motor racing a 1-2 finish for a team is the best possible result a team can ever expect and today Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel (GER) and Mark Webber (AUS) remained almost unchallenged. The Ferraris and Mclarens have to get their acts together for the races to come and it's going to be a long season.

All together it was my debut grand prix to watch with so much action all around. The Malaysian authority did a spectacular job to accommodate fans coming from all around the world and I found it quite neat. All though the down trip to KL from circuit was a time consuming due to huge traffic but it was bearable considering the quality of the vehicles and support arrangements.

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