MARCH 30, 2012
Analysis: Did Sauber try to win Malaysia?
BY TONY DODGINS
Maurice Hamilton's column (see separate article) articulates what most of the F1 paddock was thinking on Sunday night in Malaysia.
It wasn't just Sergio Perez's small 'off,' which gave Fernando Alonso some well-timed breathing space that had the conspiracy theorists shifting into overdrive.
First, there was 'that' radio message: "Checo, be careful, we need this position." It's easy to appreciate how many would interpret that as a coded instruction to Perez to stay put.
More likely though, knowing how financially stretched some of F1's mid to lower order teams are, constructors' championship positions are vital when it comes to sharing out the substantial FOM prize fund. You can be sure that Peter Sauber and his CEO Monisha Kaltenborn would have signed on the dotted line for a sure 18 points rather than a glory attempt at 25 that could have ended in zero.
It is likely that the team was getting across to its driver whatever you do, don't go and stick it in the wall because we need these points. And remember, team orders are not illegal anymore, so why the need for a coded message?
Also, while I'm not suggesting that a Perez victory would have resulted in a big hole behind his shoulders where the engine should be in Shanghai, it could have made things a tad sensitive with Maranello given Ferrari's current woes. Not to mention making things a bit tougher if the Italian media's speculation about talks to replace Massa with Perez have any foundation.
Second, there was the one lap delay in bringing Perez into the pits for slicks when Alonso stopped and Daniel Ricciardo was already turning the timing monitors purple (with fastest sector times) with treadless rubber on his Toro Rosso. That certainly helped Alonso and is a little more suspicious.
Third, there was a slow getaway by Perez from the pits, which was put down to an issue with a grabbing clutch.
Fourth, there was the 'off' itself. I find it hard to believe that Perez did that deliberately. If he knew he wasn't supposed to win, why did he bother reeling in Alonso in the first place? Possibly, he only understood via the radio message when he was on the Ferrari's gearbox.
Let's say that was the case. What would you do? Would you deliberately make an error or would you drive around right behind Alonso and say there was no opportunity to get by. You'd probably do the latter. So, in all likelihood, Perez's mistake was just that, as he attempted to stay within DRS range of the Ferrari.
For the record, this is what Kaltenborn said when Grandprix.com spoke to her straight after the race:
How hard were the last laps?
Very hard! For me it's still a very new experience and you get nervous and tense because you never know what might go wrong and you think the wildest things and just wish those laps would get over as soon as possible.
What did you think when Sergio had his little 'off'?
You are close to a heart attack at that minute.
What about the message 'Checo, be careful, we need this position?'
What we meant was, get the car home, it's important for us to score the result. There was nothing else to it.
It wasn't a coded instruction?
It was no instruction, maybe just our poor English that we didn't put it across properly. But nothing else.
And what about leaving Sergio out another lap longer than Alonso when Ricciardo was turning the monitors purple on slicks? A mistake?
I think we have to now look at all the data and see where we could have done things. Then you always know it better but I think the team and the race engineers did an excellent job, and so did our head of track engineering.
So is it delight at second place, or disappointment?
No disappointment at all. I think we should be happy and grateful at what we achieved because it's a tremendous boost to the team and builds up confidence in the team that we are heading in the right direction. At the same time we really have to be careful and focus on or development because the gaps are very small. Today it might be like this but you don't know where you are at the next race and you have to keep this momentum of development going.