Brought to you by TJ13 Courtroom Reporter & Crime Analyst: Adam Macdonald (@adamac39)
The thought of a Ferrari win seemed, at best, ambitious to those who follow F1 and watched the Australian Grand Prix two weeks prior to the Sepang race. Maurizio Arrivabene had stated his intention to win this year, but even his wildest fantasies would not have featured a top of the podium finish so soon.
Immediately after the race, there were the usual naysayers who cried foul of the German’s win giving a plethora of excuses as to why, but did they have any credence to them?
Let’s revisit some of the important events of the weekend and factors involved in the win in order to understand just why the prancing horse was so much kinder to its Pirelli PZeros throughout the weekend, which ultimately cost the Mercedes cars the chance of victory.
Fail to prepare…you know the rest
The weekend did not get off to the best of starts for the Mercedes drivers, as Rosberg had handling problems in FP1 and Hamilton’s running was curtailed by a shutdown of the telemetry relay, not managing a single flying lap. Immediately on the back foot, Hamilton was also limited in his running during FP2 staying in the garage until the final 30 minutes and limited to around half (16) the laps of the Ferrari pair, even though he did go on to set the fastest time of the session.
That same session saw Sebastian Vettel fine tuning his car, steadily removing downforce before the spin that saw him flat-spot his medium tyres (after a red flag caused by Merhi meant his first flying lap had to be aborted). Better prepared and more confident with the setup of his car, Vettel already held a slender advantage over the Mercedes drivers on Friday evening.
This drove the pit stop strategy which was the ultimate undoing of Hamilton and Rosberg, as a two-stop race was worked out to be 5 seconds quicker than the three-stop version, providing there was no interference of a safety car. The 18.8 second pit lane loss meant that, in theory, pitting while under safety car conditions would have been the quickest way to complete the race, barring traffic and the varying characteristics of the cars.
Undoubtedly, there is a still a deficit of power between the Mercedes and Ferrari powertrains which, in the absence of rain, required skilful driving to make up for. The evidence of the lower downforce setup that Vettel elected for, compared to his teammate, is shown in the table below of the speed traps. All of this only came as a result of the lower tyre degradation shown in FP1 on the hard tyre and consequent fine tuning during FP2.
|Malaysian GP||Intermediate 1||Intermediate 2||Finish Line|
This was not the case in Australia two weeks prior to Malaysia, where Raikkonen had looked stronger and more likely to finish above Vettel. Had it not been for the melee that ensued at the first corner and subsequent botched pit stops, then it may well have been the Finn who had taken the final podium spot at Albert Park; the street style circuit clearly suiting the 2007 World Champion.
|Australian GP||Intermediate 1||Intermediate 2||Finish Line|
The defining factors between the two circuits were a) the extreme heat in Sepang, which caused the high tyre wear and b) the fact that Sepang was not as fuel or heat limited as Melbourne was. A James Allison designed car is traditionally kinder to its tyres, as was shown by Kimi’s win for Lotus at Albert Park, in 2013, when Pirelli had brought the most extreme rubber to date – the fiasco of Silverstone still fresh in the minds of many an F1 fan.
The emergence of the safety car allayed any fears over fuel, meaning the Ferrari powertrain could be turned up to the maximum when racing resumed, in part cancelling out the advantage Mercedes held. The high humidity meant the turbo was cooled far easier than in Melbourne, which is, as we know by now, is a benefit of the Mercedes power thanks to its split design.
With such a straight line speed disadvantage in Sepang, the Mercedes cars had not been setup to do a great deal of overtaking, instead optimised for outright lap time and wet weather running. When they found themselves taking on cars with similar straight line speeds, in a DRS train, they were faced with difficulties. The two DRS detection points were needed in order to pull off the passes required, showing how the Silver Arrows’ advantage was nullified.
Would Mercedes have lost even without a safety car?
In truth, it would have been a very close fight. At the very least Hamilton or Rosberg would have needed to make the pass out on track to take the race win, which as discussed would have proven tricky. Martin Brundle was pressing the point home of the advantage that Vettel held at the end over Hamilton was merely what he had built up after the safety car left the track and the Mercedes cars scythed through traffic, although this is not entirely fair.
Vettel’s final lap was 3 seconds slower than where he had been lapping previously, showing little, if any, signs of degradation beforehand. Laps 39-52 were within three tenths of each other (excluding the fastest lap which was one tenth faster and one lap where he encountered traffic), showing that the Ferrari driver was far from the end of the tyre life at the end. If anything, the lap charts merely show that Hamilton was lucky the race ended when it did, as Rosberg was hot on his tail.
Victorious Vettel Validated?
The conclusion to all of this then would be that the perfect storm came together to make the SF15-T a race winning package. Mercedes seem to have returned to their 2013 design, whereby the car was lightning quick over one lap but used the tyres up far quicker than others, albeit a far less pronounced version.
The extreme heat of Malaysia made the problem even worse for Mercedes, whilst it played perfectly into the hands of Ferrari – especially when they had track position. Furthermore, the lack of a second car for the Scuderia challenging at the front also made pit stop decisions easier, with there being no need to cover off a teammate.
The most sensible decision, on hindsight, for Mercedes to have taken would have been to split the strategies and avoid the stacking up in the pits, which ultimately cost Rosberg any chance of anything higher than third place. It appears Vettel’s words on the podium were the truth, “We beat them fair and square.”
There were claims within the TJ13 jury that Mercedes may have turned down their engines given the outcry after Melbourne over the perceived advantage the Silver Arrows held. Of course the only ones who know the truth are Mercedes engineers, but when analysed critically, Malaysia would not have been the race to do it at. With no German GP this year, this was the home race for the title sponsors – Petronas – of the German, Malaysian backed team, which would hardly impress them failing to take the win.
Not stage-managed, not a fluke, but unfortunately not entirely genuine pace, this was a mixture of all three factors combining to give the Maranello team a first win in almost two years. They will not care one bit though in Italy as they have a new German idol, which must have brought back floods of nostalgia to the Tifosi. Given the characteristics of Spa, Monza and Singapore, we may even see another Ferrari win this season.
A Ferrari win at Monza is pretty much as good as it gets for a Ferrari driver, something a certain Fernando Alonso managed in his debut season for the Scuderia, back in 2010. A penny for his thoughts right now…