sepang

Malaysian Grand Prix 2015

After the “humdinger” that was the Australian Grand Prix, people thought rather prematurely that this might be a season of crazy dominance by Mercedes.

They thought wrong.

As a viewer, I thought Mercedes had a chance when they dived into the pits with the safety car and ended up a good 10s behind Vettel, who raced away in clear air. But as much as Hamilton and Rosberg huffed and puffed, they just couldn’t keep the tires going for as long as the sleek Ferrari did. If they had stayed out, they may have kept the margins down, but Vettel had pace to match the Mercs all weekend.

As a Hamilton fan, I have to admit to being quite annoyed, especially since Vettel isn’t a driver I particularly like either. But kudos to Ferrari for sticking to their strategy, and for their pace. Pundits say that China might be a different story, but this could really unfold into a thrilling season between a couple of championship contenders.

Behind the podium finishers, Raikkonen ran a pretty crazy race, dealing a puncture that was thankfully equalised due to the safety car. Fourth was about the best Ferrari could expect of him, and he did well to get there from 11th on the grid. Williams trudged to 5th and 6th in Bottas and Massa, the white cars unable to keep up with the massive improvements James Allison has brought to Ferrari.

Well done to Verstappen and Sainz, who took a fantastic 7th and 8th for Toro Rosso. Sainz had trouble in qualifying, and to make 8th is quite the achievement. But Verstappen was amazing in the face of pressure from the sister Red Bulls of Ricciardo and Kvyat, and eventually overtook them all.

The Red Bulls had to come home a pretty dismal 9th and 10th, unable to match even their junior team with brake overheating that threw out black plumes of brake dust at the end of each straight. Grosjean was right behind, apparently with turbo problems that meant he was down on power. Lotus have had better days, but they clearly have a bit of pace if everything came together. Maldonado wouldn’t want that though; a coming together left him with a puncture and had to retire later on.

Nasr came home 12th for Sauber, and Raikkonen might feel a little aggrieved with Sauber given the customer of Ferrari gave him that puncture after getting held up by Ericsson in Q2. Ericsson beached himself in gravel braking too late into Turn 1, which was what prompted the safety car. Behind them were the two Force Indias, still struggling to get anywhere without the aero upgrades from their new wind tunnel. Finally, Merhi completed a race distance for Manor Marussia, which is quite the achievement for a team with zero testing and no running at all in the Australian GP.

And McLaren, well, they’ve had MUCH better days before. Alonso’s car overheated, Button’s had a failure of some sort, and both had to retire. Still, they were much better on pace than in Australia, and things might be looking up for them.

Vettel is now 3 points behind Hamilton after a most thrilling Malaysian GP. This championship could yet turn out to be nail-bitingly good.

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Malaysian Grand Prix 2014

Qualifying

Well, that was a bit of an anti-climatic end, with Hamilton bagging pole with his earlier time. Vettel came agonisingly close, but didn’t make the checkered flag for one last flying lap. He was trying to hang back to get some space from Rosberg, who had first backed off him, then came charging up to get track position. Vettel’s fault for misjudging the time? Maybe, but it was by maybe a second or less. Intentional from Rosberg? That’s conspiracy theory stuff, but amusing to consider.

Of course, well done to both Vettel and Hamilton, who showed their class in the wet. The conditions made a great equaliser for Red Bull, who did bring a lot of parts and probably performance too, so it’s probably even closer in the dry now. I still expect the Mercedes to have upwards of 0.5s a lap on Red Bull though, but they look like they are comfortably the 2nd fastest car on the grid. They have the aero and thus the grip; if they had Mercedes engines, they’ll probably be on top again.

Alonso had a coming-together with Kvyat, and I’m amazed Ferrari managed to fix his broken wishbone, which was crucial for steering. And then he went on to get a P4 behind Rosberg with a car that doesn’t steer properly. That’s brilliant from probably the best driver on the grid. And he outqualified Raikkonen again, despite Kimi seemingly having the upper hand in Q1 (as was Rosberg with Hamilton). Well, as they might say, the best drivers shine when the pressure’s on…

McLaren’s gamble, or rather Button’s, to go on inters didn’t pay off, but they didn’t lose that much in the end. Magnussen had a decent qualifying given the speed of the McLaren, as did Hulkenberg who always outperforms his car. Williams was nowhere in the wet, mirroring Melbourne, and if it pours again tomorrow, I don’t expect them anywhere near fighting for the podium as Bottas was in the early parts of the Aussie GP.

Ericsson had a BIG crash in Q1, where he basically spun off and onto the track two corners later, nearly hitting Gutierrez. Every driver had their moments off track, including wet-weather specialists like Hamilton. The torque-y nature of the 2014 cars probably made it even worse.

Can’t wait for the race tomorrow!

Race

The rain threatened to come down, but in the end, it never did, allowing for a good race to unfold. Well, from P2 onwards anyway. Hamilton had a faultless race, hammering out a 17s gap on his own teammate, using less fuel to do so, and avoiding the tyre wear issues that Rosberg seemed to have. That’s mind-bogglingly good, and lays down a huge marker for Rosberg.

Rosberg did a good start to leapfrog Vettel, and from then on was uncomfortably ahead. He pulled out a max of 4s on Vettel in various parts of the race, but it got really close at the pit stops, and it dipped under 1s at points. He just couldn’t seem to pull away from Vettel like Hamilton could pull away from him, but a good race nonetheless.

Vettel outlined the potential in that RB10 with a great race, hanging on to Rosberg all through the race. He dropped to P4 at the start, but managed to get pas Ricciardo again to get P3 and stayed there all the way. Formula 1 is indeed an engine formula now; if that RB10 had a Merc engine, Vettel would probably have been challenging Hamilton for the win.

Ricciardo inherited his Australian predecessor’s bad luck, as crap poured down on him. First it was a poorly fitted front left that cost him a lap, then his wing failed, then he got a drive-through for the bad pitstop. In the end, he had to retire. But he was showing decent pace and was on for a 4th place finish, so Red Bull will be pleased with that.

Alonso drove a typical fighting race in 4th, and Hulkenberg managed a very good 5th on a 2-stop strategy. It’s amazing how his talent can be overlooked for his weight, but all the better for Force India. Perez, his teammate, couldn’t even start due to some issues, which is a pity given the pace of that car.

Button cruised to a 6th for McLaren, probably not where they want to be at the moment. But they managed to keep ahead of the squabbling Williams, who had their own ‘multi-21’ moment, coincidentally at Malaysia as well. Massa was asked to move over for Bottas, and was probably fed up after having to do that at Ferrari more than his fair share. So he kept ahead of Bottas and prevented him from chasing down Button, which is bad for the team but good for him personally.

Behind them was Magnussen, who made a mistake and came into contact with Raikkonen at the start of the race. That damaged his front wing and gave him a 5s stop-go penalty, and he made a great recovery drive for 9th. Raikkonen, sadly due to the puncture from that contact, could only come 12th.

Kvyat drove to an impressive 10th, a 2nd consecutive points-scoring race for him. Grosjean actually finished the race, keeping just ahead of Raikkonen and showing that the Lotus has pace despite all their reliability issues. Maldonado had a damaged floor due to contact with Bianchi on the first lap though, and unfortunately had to retire. Bianchi retired too, though I’m not too sure as to why.

Kobayashi drove a fighting race too, and managed a great 13th for Caterham. Behind him was his teammate Ericsson and then Chilton, who finished yet another race and kept up his consecutive finishes. Finally, Sauber had a nightmare race where both cars retired.

That’s race 2 over. Bring on Bahrain!