Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
The start of the Malaysian GP held more questions than answers. Tire degradation for the Mercedes pair, true pace of the Red Bull and Ferrrari’s electrics issues all remained to be answered under the brutally chaotic weather typical of Kuala Lumpur. With the ever present fuel saga a vicious undercurrent in the paddock and the always likely spectacle of a Renault flambé the first GP to be run on a proper track promised a bit of sport for all viewers.
Yesterday’s qualifying demonstrated the true extent to which the drivers have their hands full as only Nico Rosberg was able to improve his last run and viewers were treated to frequent and spine tingling examples of full oppo as drivers slid their way around the circuit in search of the fastest way round for themselves.
Australia demonstrated that in the dry Mercedes have the pace but in the wet Red Bull can take the fight to them. Reliability issues robbed us of the full spectacle as both Hamilton and Vettel fell by the wayside in the opening laps, but with two weeks to address the concerns the teams will be looking to solve a different magnitude of problems, namely how to keep the drivers from running each other off the track looking for an advantage.
Even before the race started there was trouble for Force India as the brutal heat, 55C track temp and 33C ambient claimed Sergio Perez as theirs, as he was unable to even exit the pit lane for the reconnaissance lap. When he did get out, immediately he was on the radio complaining of lack of power. The team brought him in and he was done for the day with an overheating engine. With the rest of the cars back to the grid a moment of silence was observed for the victims of Flight MH370.
Due to the wet qualifying, all the runners were on fresh options, and as they completed the formation lap the excitement in the air was palpable with all the front runners sporting healthy cars. Or maybe it was adrenal fatigue from lack of sleep. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.
The turn 1-3 complex at Sepang eat overeager pilots for breakfast and as the grid waits for the light to go out, already Red Bull is reporting that Ricciardo’s FFM has failed and they are using the back-up method, with the crucial difference that it is with FIA approval. The start saw Hamilton and Rosberg get away cleanly and Ricciardo actually move ahead of his team mate, setting the stage for a race full of intra-team rivalry. Out of turn 3 Rosberg almost gave the game away as under heavy acceleration he completely lost the rear and though he made a magnificent recovery the damage to his rears would see him watch his team mate speed off into the distance. However, in the short term he would have his hands full fending off Ricciardo and Vettel. Back up the field Bianchi, having suffered a flat, would slide into Maldonado taking him out.
Lap 1 and 2 saw continued action as the Williams began to make rapid movement through the field, looking like they very much had the pace to challenge the McLarens, despite their poor qualifying.Ricciardo continued to lead Vettel in trying to chase down Rosberg while Magnussen, making a poorly judged attempt to get inside Raikkonen flatted Raikkonen’s tire and destroyed his own front wing in the process.
Lap 3 saw Button overtake his team mate as Raikkonen limped back to the pits and as Bottas climbed into P10 the battle between Hulkenberg and Alonso began to hot up considerably. Lap 4 saw Vettel overtake his team mate as Hamilton began to extend his lead on Rosberg. Despite falling behind Hamilton and Rosberg began trading fast laps as the pair began to distance the field. Massa then hit the radio hard, complaining that his team mate had touched him in attempting an overtake as they were both hot on the trail of Button. When told to not be aggressive towards Massa, Bottas replied phlegmatically that he had the pace.
Lap 7 saw Maldonado retire to protect his engine while Rosberg was running basically .6 seconds a lap faster than Vettel. As Magnussen chose to pit early to replace his damaged front wing, just as he exited the pits the unwelcome news came from the race stewards that he would be assessed a 5 second penalty (the first one) for causing a collision. Not the way he wanted to get into the history books, no doubt, but certainly offset by his podium in Melbourne. As everyone on track maintained position, it has to be said that the broadcast sound was certainly better than in Melbourne.
Lap 11 saw the fast laps stop as the leaders eyed each other warily waiting for this first one to pit. Lewis extended his lead over Rosberg, but Nico was unable to snap the thread with Vettel. Vettel is told “Default Map 1-3” which probably is in no way related to “Multi 2-1”. Except for the whole car numbers matching thing of course. Kvyat into the pits asVergne has driven backwards from the start of the race, seemingly down on power. Hamilton told his pit window starts Lap 14 as Alonso pits and emerges backonto the optiontyre.
Acting to cover the undercut, Ricciardo pits on lap 13 but emerges just after Alonso comes through. Some excellent wheel to wheel racing saw him released to chase down his team mate. Vettel was in on Lap 14, as was Button. Bottas stayed out as Rosberg came in to cover Vettel. Hamilton was told to push as he was good on fuel and Mercedes brought him in at the end of lap 15, well up the road from his rivals. Except Hulkenberg, who having stayed out longest, just managed to slip past as Lewis emerged from the pits. It only took Hamilton 4 or 5 corners to dispatch Hulkenberg and he was right back to extending his lead and enjoying his drive as Hulkenberg finally pitted on lap 17 as Raikkonnen, his race ruined by the earlier flat, threshed about in P19. Lap 18 saw Hamilton reclaim fast lap as the race began to settle out there was no doubt a great deal of joy in the Mercedes garage as everything was in its rightful place, namely the Mercs running 1-2 and putting distance between themselves and the rest of the field.
Apparently having not made themselves clear earlier, Red Bull instruct Ricciardo to drop back to 2 seconds behind Vettel to save “tyres” but Riccdiardo is having none of it, demanding to be part of the action should Seb be able to catch up Rosberg. Raikkonen pits on lap 19 as Hamilton is 9 seconds up on Rosberg. Lap 20 saw the retirement of Vergneas his team mate Kvyat moves into 9th. Vergne is decidedly unhappy after seeing his good quali go to waste. Lap 21 saw Bottas overtake Kvyat as Rosberg is told to increase the separation to Vettel so he can turn his engine down. Hamilton is now over 10 seconds up on his team mate and both he and Rosberg are instructed to turn their engine to setting 2, presumably a more efficient setting. The FIA now trot out their percentage fuel used bug, and it’s immediately apparent that Hamilton is by far the most efficient of the front runners, having used roughly 40% of his fuel as of lap 25. Rosberg is around 41% and the Red bulls are up around 43%. Of the top 10, only Bottas looks to be in better shape than Hamilton, a difference likely explained by less downforce on the Williams.
Making his 2nd pit stop, Magnussen serves the 5 second penalty prior to the tyre change, as permitted. He reemerges as his team mate comes in on lap 26, any hope of a repeat of Melbourne crushed by the penalty and collision. Alonso’s Ferrari has begun to drift back a little and Hulkenberg ups his pace, trying to reel him in.
Lap 26 sees Hamilton lap Raikkonen who has moved all the way up to P18 and who does not seem to be enjoying his time at the back of the field very much. Alonso and Massa both com in lap 28 and depart on different tyres, Massa on the option and Alonso on the prime.
Lap 30 saw the spectre of weather moving across the track, as Rosberg was warned by radio of impending unpleasantness. Down the field a good battle was being waged betweenGrosjean and Kobayashi, with the Caterham proving remarkably hard for the Lotus to pass, much to the entertainment of the audience as it created some good action on track.
Lap 32 brought Vettel into the pits as Hamilton was told to stretch the stint in case of rain. Grosjean versus Kobayashi continues to dominate the track with Rosberg forced to pit to cover Vettel, having never made the 5 second gap he wanted. Marbles are beginning to be reported off the racing line as Rosberg leaves pitlane just 1.2 seconds up on Vettel. Hamilton told to push and box at the end of lap 34 as Vettel turns a fastest lap in an attempt to track down Rosberg. Hulkenberg,slipping back, was complaining of losing the rears when Sutil parked his car just around turn 15 on the inside, bringing out the yellows and ruining the 2nd DRS zone. New rules for this year require all drivers to slow by .2 or .5 seconds, for single and double yellows respectively. Hamilton is warned to make good on a .5 second slow down through the sector by his team. Vettel reports some loss of fluid meanwhile from the back of Rosberg’s Merc, which baffles the Mercedes garage as their telemetry show no issues whatsoever.
To make it more interesting Raikkonen reports rain around turn 9 and Gutierrez pulls it into the pits and officially calls it a day, making a double retirement for Sauber. Lap 38 fuel comparison showed that Hamilton had used 64% of his, compared to 67% for Rosberg and 68% for Vettel. Rosberg instructed to use 2nd gear out of turns 1, 2 and 9 to help pull a gap on Vettel. Magnussen and Ricciardo both pit on lap 41, but it’s Red Bull who have done, unusually for them, a spot on imitation of a McLaren 2012 pit stop releasing Ricciardo with his left front wheel not properly attached. He realized it and stopped before exting pit lane, but the Red Bull mechanics all got a good and unexpected dose of cardio running after him to push him back and reattach the wheel. The damage to his race is permanent as he pitted in 4th and finally makes it back out in 14th, a lap down on Hamilton. Dark Days for Red Bull as they are hit with a penalty for unsafe release and have cost themselves some real Constructors points in the process.
Alonso makes his last stop in lap 42. Grosjean persists in 11th, in what must be a frustrating drive for the Frenchman compared to last year. And just like that Ricciardo’s wing is damaged and cuts his front tyre and his had went from bad to worse to pass the whisky just like that. To make it better, Red Bull were also assessed a 10 second stop and go for the unsafe release which gets served as well. Hamilton pulls fast lap again on lap 45 with Vettel trying to stay out as long as possible to minimize time on the prime tyre.
Lap 46 and Massa and Bottas are still trying to catch Button who hangs tantalizingly just out of reach. The battle between Alonso and Hulkenberg for 4th looks to be set for the last few laps as Alonso’s switch to the options for a final stint was a good one.
Lap 48 saw Hamilton 14 seconds up the road on Rosberg, with Rosberg being 8 seconds clear of Vettel, painting as clear a picture of Mercedes’ dominance and Red Bull’s resurgence as anyone could ask. With the rain that everyone waited on looking less and less likely to come the last round of pit stops began. Vettel and Rosberg both pitted on lap 51 and Hamilton followed on lap 52. At that point, with just 4 laps to go, he had used just 85% of his fuel. Raikkonen had moved up to 12th and Ricciardo called it a day since he was going to finish out of the points in any event.
Alonso had caught Hulkenberg and just when all seemed to be set, Williams radioed Massa “Felipe, Valtteri is faster than you”. Apparently having decided that Bottas, on newer tyres and arguably faster, had the best shot at Button they wished Massa to get out of the way so Bottas could have a go. A more tone deaf moment would be hard to imagine but to Felipe’s credit he simple ignored them and drove faster and that is how they ended, in 7th and 8th respectively. But the rivalry between the two absolutely gave Jenson a get out of jail free card which he used to cruise across the line in 6th. After a brief, but joust through turns 1-3 Alonso made it stick and crossed the line in 4th, followed by Hulkenberg in 5th.
Hamilton, Rosberg and Vettel finished 1st 2nd and 3rd and for Lewis it was also his 100th points finish and his 23rd win. It was also his first win at Sepang, and he seemed genuinely emotional as he greeted the team and they seemed to embrace him equally. 9-12th was Magnussen, Kvyat Grosjean and Raikkonen all with some form of damage to their cars during the race. Caterham finished 13th and 14th, Kobayashi and Ericcson, with Chilton just .1 second behind at the end of the race.
Mercedes engines occupied 7 of the top 10 spots, and post-race Red Bull’s woes continued as they were handed a 10 spot grid penalty for the next Grand Prix for that unsafe release.
*** Steward’s Corner***
Ricciardo’s stop was worse than you thought…
N° / Driver 3 – Daniel Ricciardio
Competitor Infiniti Red Bull Racing
Facts Releasing a car in an unsafe condition during the Race.
Offence Breach of Article 23.12 c) of the FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations
Decision 10 Second Stop and Go Penalty and drop of 10 grid positions at the driver’s next
Reason Car 3 was released in an unsafe condition
N° / Driver 3 – Daniel Ricciardo
Competitor Infiniti Red Bull Racing
Facts A member of team personnel did not wear head protection during a pit stop.
Offence Breach of Article 23.11 of the FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations
Decision Reprimand (competitor)
Reason A member of team personnel did not follow the direction of Article 23.11 of the
FIA Formula One Sporting regulations.
Very un-Red Bull-like it must be said
World Driver Championship Standings
World Constructor Championship Standings