55° track 32° air 57% humidity
Brutal heat, haze, clouds and threat of rain imminent. A typical day in the Sepang office, the humidity having jumped 15% in the 10 minutes prior to Q1. Early day saw the Mercedes out on the Medium tyres, letting all the world know that their tyre degradation was going to tip them towards the Hards in the race, which was similar to the strategy that Ferrari ran in Melbourne.
Farther down the field it was Sainz looking very good compared to Verstappen, but Wonder Boy Nasr really not looking so great. Merhi struggled mightily for Manor, as Stevens was sat in the garage with his car in tiny pieces, a fuel system issue leftover from the previous days practice.
By the time that the checkers approached it was no surprise to see Manor at the back, with Macca just in front. For most of the session it was Alonso ahead of Button, but when the clock had run out, it was Button with the better effort taking P17 away from Alonso. Merhi failed to make the 107% cut, but Stevens felt confident that he would make the race, as he was 0.5s clear of that bar in P2 yesterday, assuming they can get his car to go.
Nasr wound up being the unlucky one as his last effort featured a fairly big mistake that consigned him to the back end of the field, P16, as spectacular bolts of lightning flashed in the distance and threatened horrible things as the dust settled at the end of Q3.
And then it was the Norse God Thor stealing the show at Sepang, cutting Q2 short with a massive and brutal display of thunder and lightning, along with the ever present deluge and chaotic effect on the running order as the runners got only one run to show their stuff. It was Kimi catching the short end of the Swedish stick as having been bottled up behind Ericsson on his outlap, his only run was spoiled by Ericsson lingering in front. Hamilton, too was dinged by the Team Clean driver, but managed to sneak through to Q3 in P8, overtaking both Ericsson and Raikkonen into T1 after his first hot lap, before it became clear that there would be only one run and his time would see him through. He was not a happy camper, however, pointing out the obvious to his team on the radio, that they got him out a bit late, though that turned out to be due to trouble firing the engine. Entertainingly, Brundle picked up on Lewis’ tell on the radio, that being when Lewis uses the word “Man”, you know he is displeased. Aside from Raikkonen it was Maldonado, Hulkenberg, Perez and Sainz missing out in the weather lottery.
The drivers fought back in Q3, though, as after a 30 minute delay, the session restarted in the wet. Everyone was lined up and raring to go as the track went green, but it was Williams making the wrong call, pulling on the full Wets when most of the rest ran the Inters. After a tentative outlap, Bottas, who headed the field got the go ahead to put a proper lap in and it was on. Hamilton was at the opposite end of the field, having lagged rather far back to ensure himself plenty of clean air. AS the first times flashed across the screen it was Vettel, then Rosberg and finally Hamilton, who, apparently totally out of his mind, put in a 1:48.834 1.2s clear of Rosberg and 2 seconds clear of the rest.
IT was another trip round and then a set of race style pit stops to jump back out into the fray. As the clock ticked down below 1 minute, it was Hamilton, again on a flyer, who encountered his teammate ahead of him, possibly slowing his effort, though he firmly (though somewhat unconvincingly) denied that post race. It’s easy to be magnanimous, though, when your first lap was that good. With the checkers having fallen, everyone made it round for one last go and though Rosberg and Hamilton traded fast sectors, it was Vettel best able to take advantage of a drying track and at split the Mercedes, consigning Rosberg to P3. Nico did not seem to be having the best time in the wet, at one point asking for help finding the best lines through corners, to be politely rebuffed by his race engineer as such advice is now completely forbidden.
With the drama at the front for a change, it was easy to overlook a somewhat rejuvenated Ricciardo in P4 and Kvyat in P5, with baby brother Verstappen taking advantage of the track conditions to score P6. The Williams continued to disappoint, with Massa in P7 and Bottas P9, and one begins to wonder if perhaps they have wandered down the wrong path with regards to their chassis development, though the race tomorrow will be the truer test. Grosjean nabbed P8 and Ericsson P10 to round out the top 10. Tomorrow’s race is an early start, due to the new regulations and it promises a bit more fun, with an out of position Raikkonen and Vettel on the front row to spice things up.
Green Light: Roberto Merhi for Manor was first out on the Medium tyre, followed by Vettel on the Hard. At Melbourne, Ferrari used the least preferred tyre in Q1, if that holds true for this session then they must be doing very well with their tyre degradation. Alonso, Sainz, Perez all trundled though the pit exit on the softer compound, followed astonishingly enough by Mercedes on Mediums, almost unheard of in Q1 such has been their pace advantage. It may well be a hedge against the weather in addition to a preference for the harder tyre in the race, as the word ominous seems not quite strong enough for the gathering clouds in the distance.
15 minutes: Red Bull, amongst the last in the garage, finally roll out in tandem, looking for a banker themselves as the weather is moving in fast.
14 minutes: The agonizing wait for the first lap times continued, giving one ample opportunity to review one’s life choices, asssuming the coffee had kicked in. Verstappen amongst the first across the line, with a 1:41.5, reasonable in the circumstances, whilst Merhi demonstrated how up against it he was with a time in the 1:47’s. Alonso came through with a 1:41.7, already looking dubious for McLaren.
12 minutes: The big boys were finally getting around to business and it was Rosberg to the top first, no surprise really with a 1:39.374, and then in an equally unsurprising fashion it was Hamilton surpassing his teammate with a 1:39.269. Modestly close but truly looking like the starch had been taken out of Rosberg for the moment. Sainz schooled his teammate with a time in the 1:40’s whilst off in the distance, lightning and thunder confirmed that the meteorologists might have been having a good day when they predicted rain.
11 minutes: Bottas on the Hards sets a time good enough for P3, but on replay his line on the last corner looked somewhat dubious, if being nice was one’s aim. Worryingly for Merhi, the 107% time had dropped into the 1:46’s which unfortunately he was not troubling. His teammate Stevens, although sat in the garage with his car in pieces, had at least set a P2 time well inside the cut off for qualifying, which is the usual standard the stewards apply when considering cars that don’t run in Quali.
10 minutes: At last, a proper glimpse of competition, Vettel in his Ferrari on the Hards breaks into the 1:39’s with a 1:39.814, 0.5s off the pace with the slower tyre. Raikkonen a bit slower in 1:40.415, still good for P5 as Merhi goes straight through a turn with understeer worthy of a Front Wheel drive Vauxhall.
9 minutes: Massa puts in a time good enough to hop into P7, but not really what Williams would be expecting with the bad weather looming. Alonso continues to piddle around in the 1:41s, but managing to climb up into P15 due to his Samurai effort. While he was about that, Button, deciding the crowd were bored, decided to make his life difficult by locking his rears rather spectacularly, and consigning himself to P17 with that particular mistake.
8 minutes: Grosjean in the somewhat mysterious Lotus was on it with the Hard tyres, P10 was his result. Meanwhile Kvyat’s early time had tumbled him into the drop zone and both he and Ricciardo in P12 headed back onto track to improve their times.
7 minutes: A brief lull in the action as outlaps for Red Bull and inlaps for the rest allow Sky to beat their listeners over the head with masses of Swedish statistics, given that there is once again an actual Swede in competition
6 minutes: Into the pits for most of the field, time for tyre changes and exiting drop zone for those that can. Last minute chats with race engineers and still no time set for Stevens, with Merhi still on the the wrong side of 107%.
5 minutes: Alonso spied the camera surveilling the garage and gives it what can only be described as “a look” as he reviews the utter hopelessness of his current situation before heading out to certain failure.
4 minutes: Kvyat completes his lap and moves rather handily up to P6 before Ricciardo handily takes it away from him.
3 minutes: Lightning in the distance is inescapable as Merhi gives it one last effort to better 107%. With time running out, aside from the Manor drivers, it was Button, Alonso and Perez on the outs with Maldonado, Grosjean and Ericsson all in danger
2 minutes: Sainz seized P4 with his high quality effort. Looking massively bad, Perez launched his lap from P16. Track temps were dropping fast as were times, big understeer as Sergio wrestled the beast into P12. Maldonado was still in the bottom 5, but very much but on it, with Nasr in the pits suddenly coming into play as the Lotus’ pair improved.
Checkers: Last chance for redemption and it was Ericsson seizing hold with both hands. Alonso then comes through, with P17 being the new P5 for the Spaniard. Not for long though, as Button says “think I’ll have that for meself” banishing Alonso to the despair of P18. Maldonado, Ericsson trade P6 like a hot potato as Grosjean eventually takes possession of the spot. The announcers call of “Nasr in the drop zone” made your humble scribe look up thinking something had gone horribly wrong with Williams, only to realize it was the star of Melbourne being put out to pasture by the Lotus boys.
On the outs at the end of the session, Stevens, Merhi, Alonso, Button and Nasr, with Manor being forced to throw themselves on the tender mercies of the FIA for permission to race.
Green Light: All the cars were queued up and ready to go for a change, waiting for the torrential assault of tropical rain. Vettel led the way as the track opened, trailed by Ricciardo and Rosberg. Ericsson inserted himself in front of Raikkonen and Hamilton, an important detail with the rain having already started and looking more and more likely that the first lap would be the fast one. As the field began winding uphill the light visibly changed, taking on the tell tale eerie bottle green of a fast approaching and vicious storm.
13 minutes: Vettel broke timing and scoring with it becoming ever more obvious that there would be only one bite at this particular apple. Both Hamilton and Raikkonen found themselves bottled by the slower Swede, who defended against Raikkonen’s somewhat half-hearted attempts at overtaking down the back straight and into the final turn. Hamilton, meanwhile must have backed off just enough as Raikkonen’s flailing dropped him to P11, while Lewis managed to eke out a P8 with Ericsson himself snagging P10. Lewis kept his foot in it however and in the increasing rain, passed both Ericsson and Raikkonen into T1 and his astonished teammate between T2 and T3. Once it became apparent that the times were not going to change he backed off and led the field back to the pits in the ever worsening deluge.
10 minutes: With everyone safely back to the pits, rain hammered the pavement and spectators scrambled up the grassy banks to safety. Rsberg, Vettel, Bottas, Ricciardo, Grosjean, Massa, Verstappen, Hamilton, Kvyat, and Ericsson got it right enough to move on. Notably Raikkonen and Sainz did not, with Kimi’s miss at least having the promise of enlivening tomorrow’s proceedings a bit.
9 minutes: Another look at Hamilton’s overtake shows he was not kidding. Had his time not been P10 or better it looks for all the world like it would have been the wall or Q3. He was not taking prisoners.
8 minutes: Hamilton informs the entire world via radio that his team did not get him out in a good position. The team replies they were hung up getting his engine to fire.
5 minutes: Torrential is the word that is supposed to be used for this type of rain, but biblical springs to mind as well. Small rivers have formed on the track.
Checkers: Ultimately, Raikkonen, Maldonado, Hulkenberg, Perez and Sainz are the losers in this remarkably short session. Meanwhile, enough water had collected on the track at the end of the session for fish and waterfowl to move in.
Mercedes began the process of changing brake drums over due to the dropping temps, a move soon imitated as the amount of rain heralded a delayed Q3.
Track26° Air 23° Humidity 87%
After a 15 minute delay the Safety Car was dutifully sent out to check the track and almost immediately another 15 minute delay was announced.
As the second delay drew to a close, action began hotting up in the pits. The cars again queued early. Vettel sported Inters and it became apparent that they were the compound of choice. Only Williams and the Lotus swam against the tide on this one.
Green Light: Bottas, Massa, Ericsson (again up near the front of the queue), Vettel, Ricciardo, Grosjean, Kvyat, Rosberg, Verstappen and Hamilton, in that order, Lewis this time trailing way off the back, since the drying track would offer improving times. Meanwhile Vettel had a mini battle trying to overtake Ericsson on their outlap. Ericsson was not playing, however and refused to let the Ferrari past.
9 minutes: Bottas kicked it off after getting the all clear from his race engineer. The Inters were immediately faster and off they go: Vettel, Ericsson, first in with good times, then Rosberg to the top and finally Hamilton came round with an astonishing 1:49.834, 1.2s clear of Rosberg and 2s clear of the rest. Verstappen, Vettel, Kvyat, Ericsson, Ricciardo, Bottas, Grosjean and Massa finished off the top ten at the end of the first round of laps.
6 minutes: With the track improving and a dry race predicted, the call for fresh Inters was a plaintive one, heard up and down the pit wall as the drivers kept the throttle down. Vettel improved to P3 with his 2nd effort still 2s off Lewis’ astonishing time
4 minutes: Rosberg and Hamilton into the pits, stacked and race style stops, no leisurely wandering about the garage this time. Bottas in and out as well, changing to the better Inters; every driver trying to maximise track time to hopefully find that one moment where the track would be at its optimum.
Vettel and Massa amongst the last to strap on fresh boots, looking for advantage wherever it might be found.
3 minutes: Hamilton dawdling round the back on his outlap again, looking for space to drive into for his hot lap
1 minute: And he fails to find it as Rosberg, off the pace, compromises his entry to to T7. Though Hamilton later denies this affected him, it looked to do so at the time. To top it off, FOM then played the radio of Rosberg asking for the lines of “the driver in position 1” (the driver formerly known as Hamilton) in the wet. This information is now forbidden to the drivers and Nico’s engineer can gently be heard telling him that he can no longer divulge that sort of information. It’s worth noting that those calls are run on a delayed basis, so in all likelihood it was made well before Lewis caught up to Nico. Still, Rosberg has seemed a bit lost the first two races, not at all the competitor of last year, thus far.
Checkers: Hamilton on his final flyer along with everyone, they all timed it to perfection. Hamilton started by throwing purples, Rosberg responded with a faster S2, but suddenly up popped Vettel, into P2 adn demoting Rosberg to P3 after he cocked up the entry into the final turn. Williams turned out a bit miserable, P7 for Mass and P9 for Bottas. Red Bull on the other hand locked out the 3rd row, with Ricciardo getting the better of Kvyat for P4. Baby Bull Verstappen followed on the heels of his big brothers in P6. Ericsson, the Stubborn Swede, was only good for P10 at the end of the day, but a good comeback after his teammate stole so much of the limelight in Australia. Grosjean quietly snuck into P8, splitting the Williams, though a later penalty for queue jumping would see him relegated to 10th (Article 23.6 of the Sporting Regs if you are keeping score at home).
Tomorrow’s race should see some entertainment as it will feature an out of position Raikkonen, Vettel on the front row and most importantly an earlier (and hotter) start time that should exacerbate any degradation problems teams are suffering. It’s possible that an actual race might brake out between manufacturers for the lead of a race (you can look away if it’s too much to bear) if everything falls the right (or wrong) way, depending on your sympathies. Still, wouldn’t count too much on it, but even the remote prospect is like a breath of fresh air. Happy race watching!