Team Meritus' teenage standout coasts to controversial victory
Melanie Ho in Kuala Lumpur
Team Meritus's 14-year-old whizz kid Jazeman Jaafar won his fourth race of the season yesterday, albeit under contentious circumstances. Pressure and race tactics from the very start of round seven of Formula BMW Asia left him cruising to victory with a lead of more than 13 seconds over teammate James Grunwell at the Sepang Circuit.
Jaafar, who finished the 10-lap race in 22 minutes and 17.081 seconds, and Grunwell started first and second on the grid and Grunwell pulled alongside after Jaafar missed a gear. However, on the very first corner, Jaafar eased into the lead, while Grunwell engaged in a battle with another Meritus teammate, China's David Zhu.
Grunwell did not think Jaafar's approach was entirely above board.
'I think everyone saw it,' Grunwell said. 'Jazeman clearly tried to take me out because he knows if I don't finish again, I can't win the championship. It's the third time he's done it to me so it's not a mistake.'
The results from three of the four races at Sepang mean that Jaafar, with 293 points, has a 59-point lead over Grunwell, with 234 points. There are 15 races to go in the season, including today's final race at Sepang.
But at the winner's press conference, where Jaafar and Grunwell sat alongside third-place finisher, Kyle Mitchell, Grunwell graciously left open the possibility of a mistake.
'Maybe he locked a wheel that pulled him to the left or something,' Grunwell said.
Jaafar's response followed the same theme. 'I was quite aggressive in the beginning but I saw a space there,' he said. 'But I didn't expect I would lock up my brakes.'
Much has been made of the young Malaysian, who had to receive special permission to race in Formula BMW Asia because of his age. He has a commanding lead in the series and in May, he received an invitation to test the Williams F1 simulator in Oxford, where his lap time on the Sepang circuit came within two tenths of Nico Rosberg's Malaysian Grand Prix time.
Still, it was apparent that Grunwell was not impressed with Jaafar's race tactics. Grunwell's second-place finish was further complicated by a few factors: the battle with Zhu; contact from behind from Zahir Ali; and oil that leaked on the track.
'It was the middle of the race and it was terrible,' Jaafar said. 'I almost went off the track and so did James and Kyle.'
Round seven was certainly more dramatic than round six, which was also run yesterday, and which saw Grunwell and Jaafar reverse places and Hong Kong's Ross Jamison finish third. For Jamison, who finished second in Friday's race at Sepang, round seven got off to a disappointing start from which he could not recover. He dropped to ninth early on and finished seventh out of 11 drivers.
'It was a bit of a mess really,' said Jamison, who is third overall with 209 points and leads the rookie cup by nine points.