Every year, when the Formula 1 circus comes to town for the Malaysian GP, participating manufacturers will hold events to drum up publicity and reap the branding rewards from their major investment in the sport. No company joins F1 just for fun, everyone tries to win on Sunday then sell on Monday! But there are fewer events this year with the departure of BMW, Honda and Toyota. Renault could have joined them, but thankfully chose to stay in the sport by selling off a big stake to investors.

Which means another “meet the drivers” event to attend. But this invite was special, as the media got to race with the Renault F1 drivers at Sepang’s go-kart circuit! It was earlier this morning when Vitaly Petrov and third driver Ho-Pin Tung made the short drive from SIC to the kart track, got into their overalls and shared a track with yours truly and his counterparts. As expected, Robert Kubica wasn’t in sight as the No.1 driver normally gets exempted from media obligations such as this.

Divided into groups, we had a total of two timed laps for the qualifying session. I wasn’t expecting to do well as this is my first time on the reversed layout of this track, besides having limited experience of the two-stroke 100 cc karts used today (karting is expensive!). It turned out that they behaved much differently from the four-stroke “fun karts” commonly used in media events.

They’re much faster, of course, but instead of simply going full throttle and leaning on the available grip as one would in the slower fun karts, cornering depended greatly on throttle manipulation, and the kart simply won’t turn if you don’t have enough speed. They’re less forgiving too, which is why I spun more than once on the damp surface and didn’t make it to the top-ten shootout. Good fun nonetheless, and karting is the best way to develop race craft and understand balance.

Vitaly and Ho-Pin looked like they were having a good time too; the best of us journos couldn’t get near their exhaust smoke, which allowed them room to fool around a bit, nudging and tailing each other for fun. Petrov, Russia’s first F1 driver, has yet to finish a race so far, but will be hoping to do so this Sunday. He’s familar with Sepang after racing here in the GP2 Asia Series back in 2008. Last year saw the 26-year old finish second in GP2’s overall standings. Racing with us mere mortals doesn’t count as practise though!

Gallery after the jump!

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