Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
62°C Track 33° Air 46% Humidity
Updated 16:00 GMT
Brutal heat battered the drivers and cars in the run up to the start, with Hamilton burning his hands on the steering wheel as it had been left out in the sun far too long. A foreshadowing of the events to come, perhaps. Further down the grid, Will Stevens was already out, his car having been rendered terminal by whatever vague fuel gremlin Manor were chasing, as like as not supply chain issues as mechanical. Merhi was in however, thanks to the tender mercies of the stewards and he would be looking to make the most of his start.
With the massive tropical sun reflecting in shimmering waves off the track the drivers hit their marks and, in a hurry to hit the AC, Charlie Whiting wasted little time in pressing the button and getting the race under way.
From the moments the lights went out, the racing that seemed to be missing from Melbourne was back and more. Fights up and down the field, multiple strategy calls, safety cars and the unlikeliest of all events, the re-emergence of the Scuderia and Vettel, seizing the reins from Mercedes who appeared to have thoroughly misunderestimated Ferrari.
The setup was the early appearance of the Safety Car for Ericsson who beached his Sauber at Turn 1 on the lap 4. Taking advantage, Mercedes chose to pit Hamilton from the lead to ditch the Medium tyres, with Rosberg following behind from P2, along with most of the rest of the field. Vettel and Ferrari, chose not to cover to them as that would have fatally compromised their strategy to run long on the Mediums and take advantage of their lightness on the tyres, which was clearly not anticipated by Mercedes. Further back, the same Safety Car would prove to be a saviour for Raikkonen, whose race was almost immediately ruined by the errant Sauber of Nasr, whose Front Wing punctured his tyre. From far down the field, the Finn brilliantly fought his way back throughout the race to claim P4 at the end.
The turn was the traffic, with Hamilton out in P6 and Hulkenberg holding up everyone but Vettel in P2. When the safety car came back in lap 7 it took Hamilton 4 laps to chase down the Force India, at which point he was 10 seconds back. It was to be the same margin at the end of the race, a slow brutal grind as lap by lap Lewis tried to reel in Vettel, but without the tyre advantage he needed at the end of the race.
The origin was Mercedes decision to be conservative with tyres and use the Medium tyre for the first session in qualifying yesterday, effectively taking the race out of Hamilton’s hands and leaving it to the strategists. Even if they’d had the fresh Option available, Lewis would have had to catch and pass Vettel, but he would have had the pace to do so, though whether the tyres would have lasted was the $64,000 question on a day as brutally hot as this one.
Of course, that was hardly the only action on track, as Toro Rosso thoroughly schooled Red Bull, with both cars finishing ahead of their big brothers and Verstappen getting the better of Sainz this time around. Williams, too, saved a spectacular duel for the very end of the race as Bottas from P6 eventually managed a fantastic overtake on the penultimate lap on the exit of T4, from a move that really started from the last turn of the lap before.
The first 5 laps of the race alone featured more racing than the entire show of Melbourne, with the close racing that had been promised up and down the field. McLaren showed early promise, but eventually Alonso was forced to retire, followed by Button. In their quest to build a fast engine that is unreliable, it appears thus far that Honda has managed to get the unreliability right, though the speed is still missing.
With the early Safety Car tossing the strategies up into the air, the field was in constant flux, with cars constantly fighting their way through traffic, providing numerous overtakes and many spectacular moments as well as several clumsy ones as well. In particular the Force India were guilty of this as both Hulkenberg and Perez were penalized for causing collisions.
Sauber, too, had a race to forget as they failed to repeat the remarkable results of Melbourne, while Grosjean managed to score the first points for Lotus, despite being given a rather big punt by Perez halfway through the race. Maldonado was again retired, this time near the end of the race, with a Brake-By-Wire problem.
In the minor victory department, Merhi finished for Manor in P15, though he was three laps down.
The big winner though, was the sport of F1. With the emergence of a real counterbalance to Mercedes, Horner and Red Bull have more than a bit of egg on their face with their calls for engine equalisation and the true race fans finally have a reason to watch again. With luck, once again the actual racing will become the focus, rather than the political sideshow.
The glory of the day went to Vettel, however, and as he crossed the line for the final time and took the checkers, the roar of the tifosi could be heard across the pond. Though the woulda coulda shoulda brigade will point out all the places Mercedes strategy got it wrong, and they have in the past appeared a bit dodgy in that department, at the end of the day it was a Ferrari win rather than a Mercedes loss and that truly does herald the start of a new day in the sport. Rejoice, therefore, or lick your wounds, but it’s time to put paid to the haters and whingers who are dragging the sport through the mud, as today’s race is making a strong argument that F1 is finally reclaiming it’s title as the pinnacle of motorsport.
Good start by Lewis, excellent one by Rosberg and as they entered T1 Vettel was already defending though by time they cleared the first complex Rosberg has already backed up. Further down the field, the tricky set of corners did its usual damage with both Raikkonen and Maldonado being the victims of punctures brought on by contact with Front Wings in the opening scrum. Massa moved up to P5 and Hulkenberg passed Sainz to claim P11. On their way to complete the first lap the front of the field in order was Hamilton, Vettel, Rosberg, Ricciardo, Massa, Kvyat and Verstappen. Kimi was tossing big chunks of rubber off his ruined tyre and no doubt doing some floor damage at the same time. Maldonado, too, took achingly long to get round to the pits with his puncture.
Lap 2: As the wounded cars made for a new set of tyres, Vettel worked to keep the gap to Hamilton under a second. Rosberg maintained a similar pace as the trio began to separate themselves from the pack.
Lap 3: Grosjean put on a strong move to take 9th from Verstappen, whilst Lewis maintained a gap of around a second on Vettel. Nasr boxed for a new Front Wing as Kimi and Pastor took on new tyres.
Lap 4: Yellows out for Ericsson as he beaches it on the outside of T1, a completely self-inflicted wound. Unable to get out, the appearance of the JCB brings out the Safety Car. Most of the field choose to pit in the following laps, notably the front runner Hamilton. Importantly, Vettel and Hulkenberg stay out and take over P1 and P2 respectively. Lewis expressed concern over his Front Wing, but no damage reported as he exited pits, with Rosberg in directly behind him.
Lap 6: Vettel on the radio accuses Mercedes of slowing to +10s on the Safety Car delta to allow both cars to box comfortably. The Mercedes went onto the Hard tyre while everyone else chose to continue on a fresh set of Mediums. Mercedes made it clear that they preferred the Hard compound by running the Medium in yesterday’s qualifying, diametrically opposed to Ferrari. Bottas suffered an ill stop as there was a mad scramble to come up with his Left Rear tyre. The delay cost him dearly as he emerged into P12. With the cycle complete, the leaders were Vettel, Hulkenberg, Grosjean, Sainz, Perez, Hamilton, Ricciardo, Massa and Rosberg. Basically everyone ahead of Hamilton was throwing down for a two stop strategy. Happy days for Maldonado and Raikkonen as they rejoined the lead lap. Merhi provided some amusement as not not knowing he was allowed to catch up to the main field, he kept strictly to the Safety Car delta, hanging a group off the back of the field by 4-5 seconds. A frustrated Raikkonen, radioed for permission to pass when he finally got round to them, to the amusement of the comentators.
Lap 7: Safety Car in and from the off it’s Massa versus Rosberg and Massa got the edge through Turns 1 and 2, while Hamilton found himself stuck behind Perez. Through Turn 9 Lewis pulled off a beautiful pass and Ricciardo, taking advantage of Perez being out of position, went along for the ride.
Lap 8: Rosberg, Kvyat and Verstappen all follow suit as Perez appears to have forgotten which foot to press down. Even Alonso got in on the action, lining up Sergio, but not quite getting the job done.
Lap 9: Hamilton continued thrashing his way to the front, challenging Sainz for P4 but very aware that time was of the essence as Vettel was making hay up in the clean air while the execrably slow Hulkenberg was exacerbating the situation. Lewis completed his move going into Turn 1 of the next lap while behind him Rosberg took the fight back to Massa, forcing his way thorough. Sainz had a late faint at Hamilton as he went past and thought better of it, though it likely gave Lewis a bit of a moment as he had nowhere to go. By turn 11 it was Grosjean’s time to be moved neatly over and he wasted little more time getting by Hulkenberg. Still, by the time he hit clean air at the start of lap 11, he was 10 seconds back of Vettel, a margin that would prove to be of great significance.
Lap 12: Sainz had a lockup that let Ricciardo through and Danny immediately repays the favour by going wide, allowing Rosberg to get around both of them. Ricciardo continued to hold Massa up as further back Raikkonen lined up and passed Alonso with aplomb.
Lap 13: Hamilton with his 8 lap old Hards was not making any headway on Vettel with his 15 lap old Mediums. Grosjean locked up as he came under pressure from Rosberg, allowing Nico the easy opportunity to take P4. The following lap saw him get around Hulkenberg and finally into clean air. Further back Massa took Ricciardo with a nice move in Turn 2. Hamilton chipped away at Vettel, but the margins were small, just 0.3s for the last trip around.
Lap 15: Sainz and Raikkonen took to the pits as Perez jetted past Alonso on the main straight. Hamilton took another 0.5s out of Vettel as both Red Bulls began shedding disturbing amounts of brake dust under hard braking. Maldonado was investigated for exceeding Safety Car time and was dinged for a 10 second penalty. Another 0.6s for Lewis the following lap as both Grosjean and Hulkenberg boxed. Bottas made the move to P6 and the leaders were Vettel, Hamilton, Rosberg, Massa, Bottas, Ricciardo and Verstappen, virtually status quo ante.
Lap 17: Button passed Perez and Raikkonen overtook Maldonado. Told his tyres looked OK for degradation, Perez replied he was just too slow.
Lap 18: Vettel pitted, onto the Mediums again and out into P3 ahead of the Williams with a very non-Italian 2.4s stop. Kvyat and Verstappen both passed Ricciardo before Kvyat boxed. Ricciardo followed him a lap later onto the Hards and for the moment Alonso was in a points paying position. Vettel was astonishingly fast on his fresh tyres, taking close to 2 seconds a lap out of Rosberg and catching up to him by lap 20, as Raikkonen made the move on Nasr for P13.
Lap 21: A rather worried Rosberg hits the radio to see if Vettel getting by him, would mean Vettel winning. Told all cars on same stops now so if Vettel gets by, he finishes ahead. Way back down the order, Button had a go at Sainz and couldn’t quite pull it off, but Grosjean can and takes P9 away. Alonso gets the call that his race is over, as he had cooked his ERS and Vettel absolutely terminated Rosberg’s hopes, blowing past him with ease. The following lap saw Button into the pits and a rather concerned brain trust on the pitwall for Mercedes, as by lap 23 Lewis was giving up almost 2 seconds a lap. Verstappen made a really nice pass on Ricciardo to distract everyone and set his sights on the ever truculent Hulkenberg.
Lap 24: Verstappen got Hulkenberg for P9 as Hamilton bailed for Mediums as Vettel flashed past him, completely bollixing his original strategy as the Hards were no answer for Vettel on the Mediums. Hamilton was back out in P3 and immediately almost a second a lap faster than Vettel. Meanwhile Kvyat and Ricciardo took their turn stuck behind Hulkenberg as Raikkonen ascended into P5, far beyond what he would have thought given the dismal start to his race.
Lap 25: Raikkonen continued his charge, passing Bottas for P4 as Valterri followed Massa into the pits. Kvyat, seeing an opening passed Ricciardo and as he came through Hulkenberg punted him into a spin. He recovered without obvious damage aside from time lost and continued.
Lap 27: Rosberg and Grosjean both pitted, with Rosberg taking the Hard tyre and seemingly ceding P2 to either Hamilton of Vettel. Hamilton continued to be a second a lap faster than Vettel, but faced with the obvious problem his Mediums wouldn’t last long enough to make up the entire pit stop. Ricciardo took P9 for the moment and Button seemed elated on the radio to actually be catching up to traffic till his team pointed out it was primarily an artifact of Hulkenberg’s incredibly slow pace.
Lap 29: Hulkenberg Kvyat collision was investigated and Rosberg’s 2 lap old Hard tyres easily trumped Kimi’s 14 lap old Mediums. Kvyat and Grosjean both caught up to Perez. As the laps continued to unwind, Verstappen passed Sainz to take over P6 and Kvyat managed to get through, though Grosjean remained stuck.
Lap 32: Hamilton officially told P2 was his and that he would need to pass Vettel on track for the win. Grosjean finally found a way past Perez and Sergio, seeking to improve his standing in the paddock, hit Grosjean broadside for which he was handed a 10s penalty. The next laps saw Vettel’s tyres slowly going off as Hamilton continued to press.
Lap 34: Bottas and Verstappen pressed an epic battle that began into Turn 1 and lasted through the exit of Turn 4, where Bottas finally made his move stick for P7. Raikkonen came in the following lap for Hards to run to the end of the race. P9-11 was fiercely fought at that point with Perez, Button and Sainz all within tenths of each other but the end of lap 36 saw both Perez and Button in for their last stops.
Lap 37: Vettel was told to box to get him out ahead of Rosberg. Vettel onto the Hards and out into P2 with Rosberg all but even as Vettel hit pit exit. No matter as Nico was either unwilling or unable to dice with Sebastian and by Turn 3 he was off into the distance in pursuit of Hamilton.
Lap 39: Hamilton boxed to ditch his Mediums that were beginning to lose time to Vettels fresh Hards. He leaves on Hards as well and lets Bonnington know on the radio he thinks theyr’re the wrong tyre. . Bonnington replied that they only had scrubbed Mediums from Saturday’s Quali left. A small, but noticeable sign of the disarray going on behind the scenes. Massa joined Lewis on the Hards, but suffered a slow stop as there was trouble for Williams again with the left rear tyre.
Vettel and Hamilton immediately set to trading very fast times, but with the same compound and only 2 laps fresher tyres, Lewis advantage is minimal.
Lap 41: Rosberg was called in and boxed for Mediums as his previous stint was Hards. As he started setting faster times than Lewis and Seb, Button began losing power and after one more very slow lap, his day was done as was McHonda’s.
Lap 43: As the laps continued reeling away, frustration was clear in Hamilton’s voice as Mercedes could offer him no answers. Whilst Lewis continued to press, Vettel came up to a serious scrap between Grosjean and Hulkenberg. Mindful of the Mercedes behind him Vettel began to sing “Blue Flag” over and over on the radio as he approached the pair, just in case the marshals might have forgotten to deploy them.
Lap 45: Back on the radio, Mercedes seemed to have finally sorted themselves enough to give Hamilton a clear target to drive to on his Hards: 42.7s to catch Vettel. Seemed highly optimistic, which was confirmed when he ran a 43.1. Faster then Sebastian, just not fast enough. With the strategies played, the race began to settle into it’s final phase as the ebb and flow of lap times set the stage for the final battles.
Lap 48: Bottas catches up Massa and they begin their long dance while Verstappen, taking advantage of fresher tyres, put his teammate away for good on the following lap. Maldonado, already on a fairly bad day, retired on lap 51 making it exactly 0 Grand Prix that he has finished this season. Meanwhile Vettel, pushing hard to keep Lewis at bay, hove into sight of the Red Bull pair. The next lap saw the the blue flags waved for his former team, and he sailed past without a second glance, consigning them to the ignominy of being lapped.
Lap 54: With just two laps left to run, Bottas and Massa decided to go hammer and tongs for P5, much to the delight of the viewers. Hamilton, having not lost the plot, crept inside 10 seconds but it was academic at that point as Vettel’s lead was unassailable. On the penultimate lap Bottas finally got the better of Massa, again using the exit of Turn 4 as his launching pad.
At the checkers, it was a joyful Vettel who crossed the line first, in P1, followed by Hamilton P2, Rosberg P3, Raikkonen P4, Bottas P5, Massa P6, Verstappen P7, Sainz P8, Kvyat P9 and Ricciardo P10. No doubt there will be many parties tonight in Maranello, and quite a few meetings in Brackley as the circus rolls on to China for the next round of the 2015 season.
World Drivers Championship:
Constructors World Championship: