Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
18°C Air 37°C Track
No sooner had the drivers finished surviving the off season of brutal legal battles and epic haircuts then their season began with a brutal smack across the face. Before the parade lap started the field was already down to 18 with Manor being h’ors de combat on the software side. In addition, Bottas was out, but just not out of the cockpit as his bad back kept him from passing the mandatory FIA evacuation test and crippled Williams bid to claim P2 in the Constructors in one fell swoop.
Hard on the heels of that disaster, the smoking McHonda of Kevin “Heidfeld” Magnussen riveted viewers gloriously displaying its full on self destruct mode and tempting Aussie onlookers to cover the smoking chassis with shrimp carcasses. And the cascade continued as replays of the brutal disaster were suddenly interrupted by the shrieks of delighted commentators as the Red Bull of Danii Kvyat ground to a halt and phone lines lit up from Russia to Milton Keynes with disgruntled sponsors.
So as the field rolled around to take their positions they were just 15 cars for the off and the unthinkable was suddenly possible, McLaren scoring actual points before porcine quadrupeds hurtled through the air.
As in Abu Dhabi, the race start featured Hamilton unhappy with his clutch and still making a brilliant get away, clearly ahead in T1 which is one of the more difficult as it puts the pole sitter on the outside of T1. And not to disappoint there was immediate carnage, with Maldonado being the biggest loser and Raikkonen right behind him, having been dinged first by Vettel and then by Nasr from behind. This gave Mercedes the chance to show off the shiny new Safety Car, as the incident was deemed beyond the capacity of the virtual safety car.
Once the dismembered chassis of Maldonado’s Lotus was removed the racing got going for real, now with just 14 cars. Except for Grosjean, who quietly joined his teammate in the pits a lap later, retired with general malaise. And in an ominous sign there was very little progress outside of the restart and pit stops. Sauber massively overperformed, or rather Nasr did defending the P5 he stole away from Sainz when the SC retired.
Likewise it was Vettel, after tapping his teammate in T1, hanging tough with the Williams of Massa, but ultimately making the pass for P3 in the pits in the classic F1 way that will have one cursing the decision to crawl out of bed at the sort of ungodly hours normally frequented by small and dangerous animals.
Verstappen’s strategy of starting on Mediums appeared to be paying dividends until his late pit stop, subsequent to which his engine began billowing smoke and he was forced to retire, dropping the finishers to 12. The bloodbath concluded with Raikkonen exiting the pits sans Left Rear wheel beign properly attached. In fact, his release was so quick that he had left the pits before the mechanic even got his arm up into the air. That’ll be an unsafe release 10 second stop and go for his next race at the minimum and it brought his race to a most unseemly end as well as dropping to 11 the total number of cars that would finish the race.
Oddly it was the Ferrari of Vettel and the Honda of Button who provided the biggest show as Ferrari proved to have real pace in the car and the 4 timer managed once again to regain the podium for 3rd place. Button fought a multi lap battle with Perez that actually provided the most entertainment of any battle on track, though eventually Jenson tired of the fun and simply drove into Perez and damaged the Force India’s floor, a simple but effective way of keeping them from getting past. Still by the end of the race it was all for nought as Button managed to claim the single non-points paying position on offer, though not for lack of trying.
Nasr was the other shining light, dragging the Sauber through the pack and pulling off a seemingly miraculous P5. Williams looked slightly disappointing compared to their expectations and the threat from Ferrari is very real with them, Massa’s P4 notwithstanding. And Ricciardo, though he gave it a go, was just nowhere in the Red Bull which has managed to lose rather a lot of ground over the winter break. With luck, as Renault implement some upgrades they will be better able to take the fight to Williams and Ferrari, but right now they are firmly 4th and looking over their shoulder at Toro Rosso and Sauber, not at all where they wanted to be.
Naturally, Mercedes did win and it was basically a wire to wire victory for Hamilton, who would occasionally let Rosberg get close and then drag it back out. It was every bit the spectacle of brutally oppressive dominance that was predicted, with the duo lapping all the up to Ricciardo in P6, and frankly, had they felt like it, Nasr in P5 would have been possible. Still, it was Hamilton at the checkers and Button with the participation medal at the end of the day. Mercedes had over 30 seconds on P3 and it has to be said that if the real highlight of the race is Arnold Schwartzenegger giving the podium interviews, then possibly your sport is in some difficulty.
Happy days for Seb and Ferrari, as well as Nasr, but ominously enough the overtaking was not as good as last year and it appeared the new noses may have exacerbated the aero issues involved in passing. The chickens appear to be coming home to roost rather rapidly for MR E.s happy circus and it remains to be seen how much longer the financial chicanery can keep the whole thing afloat. Aside from that it can only be hoped that the longer straights in Malaysia will improve overtaking, though probably not to Renault’s liking. And for those who crawled out of bed only to have Arnold Schwartzenegger be the highlight of the morning, well, hopefully with more of the midfield on offer there will be better racing in the future. Results:
|6||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||1 LAP||1|
|7||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India||1 LAP||2|
|9||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber||1 LAP||3|
|9||Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso||1 LAP||1|
|10||Sergio Perez||Force India||1 LAP||1|
|11||Jenson Button||McLaren||2 LAP||1|
|13||Max Verstappen||Toro Rosso||RETIRED||1|
|Daniil Kvyat||Red Bull||RETIRED|
Lights out and it’s immediately Hamilton all the way into T1 followed by Rosberg and Massa. Vettel made a hash out of the inside of the corner and tapped his teammate, but the real damage was done by Nasr, braking late and catching the rear of the Iceman’s car, the end result of which is that the remarkably blameless Maldonado shunted heavily into the tyre barrier, thoroughly breaking his suspension and summoning the ever popular safety car. Whilst the cleanup commenced it was a good start from Button on replay and Ericsson took advantage to switch tyre. Grosjean came in the same lap but unlike the finely coiffed Swede, did not return to the track, meaning that Lotus were done for the day, after looking rather good at the start.
Lap 4 saw the SC back in and the race was already so boring that both Sainz and Rosberg were caught out texting their SO’s and taking selfies. Not such a problem for Nico, but Ricciardo gave it the beans and took Sainz down and before he figured out what happened, Nasr blew past him as well.
Going the other direction was Perez, who mis-timed his start and was forced to give the place back. Unfortunately for him it was Ericsson, who was already 2 places back. Rosberg’s senior moment saw to it that Hamilton’s lead was 2.5 seconds while Vettel began reeling in Massa, displaying the fearsome race pace that his long runs in P2 heralded. Raikkonen, having recovered from the brutal assault upon him at the beginning of the race was reeling in Sainz Jr., who appeared to have forgotten which foot made the car go fast. Despite being down to 13 cars, the battle for P5 through P8 looked promising with gaps of less than a second between all runners.
Lap 8 saw Perez have an off and the see saw between Hamilton and Rosberg continued, without the fulcrum moving too far in either direction. Verstappen began hanging back of Sainz, though Max was on the Medium tyre and looking to go long so not making much effort to pass. Vettel continued to pace Massa in the Williams, but the closer he got the less likely a pass looked, which seemed to be true up and down the field.
As lap 10 came and went Rosberg began doing some damage and got down to a gap of 1.3s, but no sooner did he do that than Lewis began snatching time back. Further back, Raikkonen, clearly faster than Ricciardo, struggled to get past as the Red Bull man had use of DRS, making it impossible for Kimi to capitalise on the power advantage of the Ferrari PU, which was much improved over last year. By lap 12 the Mercedes pair were 8s up the road from Massa, and 17s up the road from Nasr in P5. At this point, all that could be hoped for were some decent midfield battles and a mistake that might let Rosberg inside Hamilton’s guard, unlikely as that would be.
Instead, lo and behold, it was Perez and Button providing the fireworks at the very back end of the field, with Jenson using an ever widening McLaren to hold the Force India at bay, in the only protracted duel of the entire race. A sudden spin by Perez on closer inspection proved to be a slightly inept closing of the door by Button, damaging Sergio’s car but not enough to make a significant difference. In the short term, however, it put Jenson out of danger and if the stewards had anything to say about it, the kept it to themselves. Having turned up with a rolling disaster of a car and having watched one of their two entries expire in flames, Macca felt compelled to point out to the fiesty Button that with a car like his, finishing was a good strategy, much to everyone’s entertainment.
Some driving around in circles and then Ferrari decided to pit Kimi lap 17, whose race was being utterly destroyed by Ricciardo, to get him some clean air. And since the Finn enjoys a challenge, Ferrari lengthened his pit stop to 8.7s, due to a stickly Left Rear wheelnut. The lengthy stop notwithstanding, Raikkonen rejoined in P11 on the Soft tyres and with some visible damage to the right front wing cascades due to his earlier escapades.
More driving about and the Sky boys try to make it interesting by ginning up controversy about Rosberg scraping the wall. Doesn’t work though, as the Rosberg Hamilton show continues to trade fast laps with neither side getting too far without the other responding.
By lap 21 Kimi was taking full advantage of his soft tyres turning fast laps and it was looking like Mercedes could do 0 stops if it was permitted by the regs. The race director, realising that Mercedes needing some TV time to placate their sponsors, duly obliged by showing some onboards from Hamilton, who duly obliged by cocking up the last turn and having a bit of a moment to entertain the viewers.
The next laps saw the pit stop lottery start with Massa, trying to avoid the undercut from Vettel. Sadly, Williams couldn’t protect Felipe, now on Mediums, from falling behind Ricciardo on exit, who then held him up just enough to ensure Sebastian could get ahead when he exited the pits 2 laps later.
Hulkenberg followed Felipe through and emerged in P11 also on the Mediums as one stopping was the order of the day and most runners (or at least those who didn’t break themselves or blow up on the way to the start) elected to begin the race on Softs. Danny boy came in Lap 24 and made it back out in P10, having successfully wrecked both Raikkonen’s and Massa’s race.
Hamilton was next in the rotisserie coming back in P2 for half a lap till Rosberg came in, crushing any hope that some mutant strategy might give cause for some actual wheel to wheel racing at the end of the Grand Prix. Nasr pitted as well and was back out in P8, looking strong for Sauber and making the choice a fairly straightforward one from a performance standpoint.
Lap 27 featured an actual overtake as Raikkonen caught up to and hastily devoured young Verstappen with his fresh Softs, while Ericsson served his second time through the pits emerging P12. The next lap featured a delightful rerun of the Button Perez show, but it came to an untimely end as Button came in at the end of the lap. Ericsson caught Perez, and passed him into T1 as Button emerged P13. Raikkonen continued to run fast laps and by the halfway point it was increasingly clear that Ferrari had not just been up to glory runs to keep the sponsors happy and that a podium was very much in the offing.
AS if to confirm Ferrari’s turn of fortune, Kimi’s radio lit up with the possibility that Massa was still a possibility, despite the boffed pit stop. Lap 34 brought an end to the stops as Verstappen finally turned in his shredded Mediums for some fresh Softs and all eagerly awaited the use to which he would put them. Which sadly turned out to be parking in the grass next to pit entry the following lap as his engine began belching blue smoke.
Being interviewed at the time on Sky, Horner confirmed that it was all the same hardware and software for both teams. Lap 36 featured another whole overtake, this time Sainz Jr., getting by Perez for P10. The Lewis-Nico show continued as anticipated whilst Ricciardo was given the green light to go after Nasr. By lap 40 Ericsson was up to 9th and Rosberg had a moment complaining about his tyres. Yes really, that was about it.
2 laps later, though, Kimi came in for his final stop and he exited the pits on fresh softs to track down Massa and light a fire under this race. Sadly, he left before the mechanics had properly reattached the balky left rear wheel, and he was told to pull over and had to abandon, with the consolation of knowing that at least he would likely have a 10 second stop and go waiting for him in Malaysia.
As that drama played out, no doubt to the relief of Williams, the Mercedes had already caught up to Hulkenberg in P7 and were lapping him, while Perez stuck a fork in Button and took P10 away from him for good. Ericsson decided to go gravel surfing and was told to report to the pits immediately, where he was rewarded for his silliness with brand new Softs and given the OK to go hunting on them.
Lap 46 was the last stop for Hulkenberg and the race as he strapped on a pair of Softs for the last stint. Hamilton threw a few purples to see if anyone was paying attention, but again there was nothing in it. By lap 49 it was apparent that Ericsson was going to catch Sainz Jr., for P8. Button complained of downshift issues and was told to hang in and finish if at all possible.
Lap 52 saw Ericsson catch Sainz and gradually, over the next three laps, reel him in and dispatch him, with the only blot on his copybook being a rather large bobble through the last turn that delayed the inevitable till lap 56 heading into T1. At that point the only drama left was whether Mercedes would lap Red Bull in P6, which they did on the next to last lap and very nearly caught Nasr as well in 5th, which should tell you all you need to know about how competitive the rest of the field is.
Nothing doing at the checkers as it was Hamilton claiming the first victory of the year, followed by Rosberg and Vettel rounding out the podium. A forgettable fourth for Felipe as Williams will be thanking their lucky stars that Kimi’s wheel fell off as otherwise they would be deep in the hole already in the Constructors.
Also cursing their luck no doubt was Lotus, with two decent cars points were definitely there, but sadly neither of their cars were at the end of the race. Nasr and Ericsson scored well for Sauber, and Nasr in particular, was a revelation. Even the execrable Force India scored points, leaving the participation medal for Button. Still, he couldn’t feel too bad, as that was the longest uninterrupted run the car had ever had. It all happens again in Malaysia, so join us March 27-29 tp see what new debacle will be cooked up. In the meantime, if this wasn’t enough, have a listen to the podcast where we will no doubt discuss in greater detail all the events of the race weekend.
World Drivers Championship:
Constructors World Championship: