A1 Grand Prix’s Sprint race at the Sepang circuit produced a nail-biting climax after 15 laps of wheel-to-wheel racing. Although this was the seventh win of the season for A1 Team France, this weekend’s driver Alexandre Premat worked from the start to the chequered flag and it was only on the final lap that he was able to take the lead.
France first had to pass Great Britain with Robbie Kerr getting a better start and on lap one slotting into second place behind A1 Team Switzerland, with the French car in third. A1 Team Switzerland was given some breathing space as France and Great Britain battled in the early laps. It was a slight mistake while under breaking into the hairpin on lap four that allowed France to gain the advantage into the following corner and so pass Robbie Kerr. At the end of lap five, Switzerland led France by 1.7 seconds but lap by lap, the gap came down and it was highly likely that France would manage the overtaking manoeuvre it had tried on several occasions when a gap at the start of the final lap was 0.170 seconds. Switzerland’s Neel Jani didn’t make it easy for France but after swapping positions it was finally in turn four where he had to accept the runner-up position. A1 Team France eventually won by 1.2 seconds.
Commenting on his win, Alexandre Premat said: ‘I used my PowerBoost button to try and get past Robbie Kerr and in my mind was thinking everyone can make a mistake and hoped that those in front would do. Neel and I had a few corners very close and it was very hard. I hope to get a good start in the next race and get a good gap for the championship. That will be enough.’
When asked if he thought he was going to win the race Neel Jani commented: ‘No not really. Even at the start I felt a lot of oversteer and I knew that once Alex got past Robbie it would be very difficult. On the last lap I couldn’t hold him any more and had to let him past. I hope we can change the set up for the next race, the team are trying to get the car ready’.
A1 Team Great Britain, who take third place on the Feature race grid said: ‘The start was good, I went up the inside and pulled up alongside Neel Jani, but he closed the door and I had to pull back. I had to keep my head down and keep concentrating but eventually I had problems with the brakes and ran wide. The brakes had no feel and I had understeer into the corners.’
While the focus was on the leaders, there was tough competition all the way down the field particularly between Portugal and USA and India and Germany with the youngest driver in the Series, 16 year old Armaan Ebrahim driving with skill beyond his years and giving his team their best finish to date with eleventh.
Twenty of the 24 teams completed the race with Australia pitting twice, first after losing bodywork in a clash on the first lap and then with a front left puncture after completing just four laps. Both Lebanon and Indonesia retired with mechanical problems although Ananda Mikola had to pit at the end of lap one after damaging his front wing in the scrabble to the first corner.
The home driver, Fairuz Fauzy had double cause for celebration, setting a personal best finishing eighth for A1 Team Malaysia and also announcing his engagement.
A1GP Malaysia, sprintrace results
1 France Alexandre Premat 29.21.541
2 Switzerland Neel Jani 29.22.772
3 Great Britain Robbie Kerr 29.26.606
4 Brazil Nelson Piquet Jr 29.28.334
5 Netherlands Jos Verstappen 29.29.514
6 New Zealand Matt Halliday 29.34703
7 Ireland Ralph Firman 29.35.423
8 Malaysia Fairuz Fauzy 29.37.323
9 Portugal Alvaro Parente 29.41.932
10 USA Bryan Herta 29.42.386
11 India Armaan Ebrahim 29.42.935
12 Germany Timo Scheider 29.44.648
13 Pakistan Adam Khan 29.46.755
14 Japan Hayanari Shimoda 29.47.788
15 Canada Sean McIntosh 29.48.949
16 Czech Republic Tomas Enge 29.51.551
17 Italy Enrico Toccacelo 29.52.712
18 Austria Mathias Lauda 29.53.179
19 Mexico Luis Diaz 29.55.912
20 China Tengyi Jiang 29.58.622
21 South Africa Stephen Simpson 9 laps
22 Lebanon Khalil Beschir 9 laps
23 Indonesia Ananda Mikola 5 laps
24 Australia Will Davison 4 laps