Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 31° Track 41° Humidity 67% Wind 3.0 m/s
The shimmering heat slammed down through brutal humidity onto the newly resurfaced circuit at Sepang where, not surprisingly Mercedes is yet again markedly faster than their rivals over a single lap, with Lewis capping FP3 in a 1:34.434. Mixing things up, Verstappen followed in P2 0.442s off with Rosberg a further 0.15s back. Important to note that the new surface makes direct comparison with last year rather pointless. Lots of camber changes as well as the entire circuit has been reprofiled to improve drainage. Generally the changes have been well received, but the newly off camber T15 has come in for an almost universal thumping from the drivers, who can now get nowhere near the old apex, given the inside of the turn was raised by 1 metre. Also worth noting is that drivers are now officially required to bail on laps with double waved yellows, specifically:
Any driver passing through a double waved yellow marshalling sector must reduce speed significantly and be prepared to change direction or stop.
In order for the stewards to be satisfied that any such driver has complied with these requirements it must be clear that he has not attempted to set a meaningful lap time, for practical purposes this means the driver should abandon the lap (this does not necessarily mean he has to pit as the track could well be clear the following lap
Pirelli has required tyre pressures of 20.5/17.5 F/R which is Pirelli making good on their promise to reduce pressures now that temparatures during the race are sorted, but those are still high historically.
As the sale of F1 continues to reverberate throughout the Motorsport world, Zak Brown looks likely to play an important role as he officially stepped down from being CEO to take up an as yet undisclosed role with Liberty. Given his name always comes up whenever the subject of Bernie’s successor gets raised it should be interesting to see where he winds up. Along those political lines, word from Bob Fernley is that the EU investigation has kicked into 2nd gear and Christian Sylt continues to throw shade at the Liberty deal in a variety of outlets, hammering away at the FIA ownership of 1% share as disqualifying it from being able to exercise it’s regulatory oversight properly, a point that has been made in a variety of places ever since the arrangement was announced. Given his sources and seemingly direct line to Bernie, read what you will between those lines.
Silly season refuses to sort itself out with the ever coy Perez now admitting he knows where he will be, but refusing to state where and giving the highly precise time unit of “soon” as to an announcement.
AS the pit exit went green it was Manor first off the blocks, tracking through the cement dust that was put down to soak up an oil spill, which also was all down the even side of the grid on the start/finish strait. They were followed shortly by Rosberg and Hamilton, all 4 on the Soft tyres, with a radio message from Lewis confirming that the track had become overcast, though the team confirmed there was nothing on the radar at the moment.
Wehrlein pipped Ocon and by time the Mercedes duo hit their hot laps the entire pitlane had pretty much hit the track, despite the lack of precipitation on the radar, Malaysian weather being delightfully unpredictable. Hamilton drew first blood going 1:34.444, just 0.016s faster than Rosberg. Button had a lurid spin during that action, noting there was a large amount of traffic and blaming specifically the Renault of Magnussen for his off, thought the commentariat seemed to disagree as to how much influence that would have had.
Hulkenberg cranked out P3 also running Softs, with Red Bull and Ferrari both running Mediums for the first session, Ricciardo getting the best of that bunch, P4 and only 0.6s off.
Grosjean’s right wing mirror became detached during his run and flew up and whacked him in the face, which seems to adequately define the current relationship between the Frenchman and his HAAS machine.
Button again was on the radio, this time complaining of Ocon from Manor, demanding he be penalised for blocking, a bravura performance of oratory from the not entirely retiring Brit.
As the times settled from the first runs, Ferrari thought better of their strategy and decided to commit a pair of Softs to the efforts, having wound up in 9th and 10th. Red Bull elected to keep Verstappen in the garage, even though he was just marginally faster than Raikkonen who was right behind him.
As the session clicked down to under 5 minutes to go, Gutierrez, Ocon, Ericsson, Wehrlein, Nasr and Alonso all had some work to do, though Alonso with his penalty was hardly going to make much of a serious effort. Palmer was in the hotseat, barely quicker than Gutierrez.
As the chequers fell it was Nasr up and out, Magnussen to 12th, Gutierrez to 14th putting Grosjean on the bubble. Romain snatched P11 and coming round T15 it was Palmer with a massive lock up, giving it all away. Catching up it was Ericsson, Nasr, Palmer, Ocon, Wehrlein and, of course, Alonso who was just out to set a 107% time going no further.
Of note, Sainz beat Kvyat and, rocking the Soft tyre, Raikkonen got the better of Vettel. Traffic aside, Button wound up P10 and made the rather plaintive argument that perhaps F1 cars should be fitted with air horns, so they can properly warn their slower rivals out of the way.
Q2 jumped off with Mercedes right out once again, Rosberg ahead of Hamilton, with Toro Rosso behind them. By time Rosberg made T15 the track was again full with teams anxious to not get caught out by the weather playing a joker on them.
Through S1 Lewis again had the advantage of his teammate, which he held through S2. Rosberg was into the 1:33’s but Lewis purpled the 3rd sector as well to go 0.55s faster with a 1:33.046.
Showing they were also coming out to play were Red Bull, Verstappen getting the better of Ricciardo this time round, but still a full 0.775s slower than Hamilton. Massa lingered in P5 as Ferrari decided to ride the pine a bit to let the traffic clear before they had a go. Perez had split the Williams with Hulkkenberg and Button rounding out the top 10 for the moment.
Vettel was first round for Ferrrari going P5 but it was the Iceman bringing home the bacon, faster yet again than his teammate by nearly 0.1s. His delightful characterisation of the lap? “Well, OK”.
A brief spot of coffee later and it was Button, Grosjean, Gutierrez, Magnussen, Sainz and Kvyat who had it all to do for a shot of Q3 glory with Hulkenberg in the hot seat as the session wound down. Perez and Bottas elected to join the fray but Williams sat Massa down, choosing a fresh set of tyres over a single row on the grid. Given their general tyre woes and heat of Malaysia, not necessarily a bad call.
Button was on it and as the clock tripped down to 0:00 his first sector looked good to go. Bottas too, but a big lockup T15 and couldn’t improve. Button to P8, Gutierrez stayed P13. Hulkenberg to P9 and kicked Bottas to the kerb, with Kvyat beating Sainz but the pair in P15 and P16, their year old Ferrari engine just not up to the task on a track like this.
Bottas, Grosjean, Gutierrez, Magnussen, Kvyat and Sainz were done as the top 10 readied for the last push for the palmares.
Perez was the lone driver to take to the circuit as the track opened, rocking a set of used Softs. Adopting an alphabetical order, it was Vettel and Verstappen next out before Kimi spoiled it. Ricciardo saved him though as the letters continued 2×2 and Rosberg kept the R’s alive. Hulkenberg and Hamilton were next and then finally, Massa, who had no match and brought my fun to an end.
Button elected to skip his first run and with 8 minutes left it was Perez first across into the 1:35’s. Vettel barely into the 1:33’s and then Verstappen 0.5s up was into P1. Again, Raikkonen took Vettel and suddenly Hamilton was crushing Rosberg, 0.6s up through the first 2 sectors and then Lewis screamed across the line with a 1:32.85. On playback, Rosberg had 2 rather lurid moments, including opposite lock out of T15 and very wide through T5-T6 and as a result he sat P5 after his first run as there was a radio report of drizzle on the track. Verstappen was P2 and Ricciardo P3 with Raikkonen taking the last of the spots between the Mercedes.
Rosberg was first out with 3 minutes to go and Verstappen and Button both slotted in before Hamilton managed to cruise serenely out of the garage. No rain reported by Verstappen T4 as the outlaps were being completed and Rosberg cranked down the final strait to build momentum.
Nico was 0.1s down through the first sector, but much tidier on second effort. Lewis had a massive lock up into T1 on his final go and abandoned fairly rapidly, rather content to rest on the laurels of his first effort. Sector 2 continued with Rosberg not able to match Lewis’ time but the improvement was there. Again Nico sawed through T15 but this time he was into P2 with a much cleaner effort. Verstappen couldn’t quite match him and neither could Ricciardo. Vettel was able to get ahead of Raikkonen and that was the top 6. Perez, Hulkenberg, Button and Masssa rounded out the top 10.
Mercedes announced that Lewis’time was fastest ever around the circuit, though Sky disagreed, reaching into the memory banks to say that Alonso had gone 0.3s faster on a qualifying effort back in the day.
Verstappen’s race pace, according to AMuS looked rather ominous relative to Mercedes and as always, the unpredictable weather remains to potentially add some excitement to tomorrow’s spectacle.
Tomorrow will also be Button’s 300th Grand Prix and there’s probably a good punt somewhere as to whether he will finish it or the car will let him down yet again. Ferrari’s updates have obviously done them no good relative to Red Bull at least in quali, but the race tomorrow starts earlier and will be hotter so perhaps on race pace we’ll get to see Raikkonen and Verstappen banging wheels yet again. Given Verstappen’s starts of late perhaps more likely than not.
Mercedes’ starts also will remain in the microscope as Rosberg managed a good one last time out in Singapore, but their record remains dismally close to 50% when both drivers are considered. The opening complex of turns, too, leaves some interesting overtaking opportunities, particularly at the start. Still the clear interest is going to be where Hamilton finishes relative to Rosberg and with luck (and possibly a bit of weather) we will get something other than a procession at the front.
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