Winners And Losers: Malaysia

Date published: March 29 2015

Sebastian Vettel has set the World Championship alight with Ferrari’s 222nd GP win.

Star of the Race
Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, 1st
Well, that didn’t take long.

That familiar routine of the German anthem followed by the Italian anthem tugged at many heartstrings after the Malaysian GP and so it should. But at a time of great celebration for Maurizio Arrivabene and his resurgent Ferrari team let’s spare a thought for Stefano Domenicali.

Because it was former Scuderia boss Domenicali who hired technical chief (and principal F15-T designer) James Allison. It is Allison’s skill at producing cars, such as the 2013 Lotus, that are light on its tyres which gave Sebastian Vettel the tools to do what he does best in Malaysia. Lead from the front.

Afterwards James said that the early Safety Car had helped, because it meant that they didn’t have to get past the Mercedes cars on track, but it looked like Vettel was quite capable of beating the Silver Arrows with or without a Safety Car. Instead of belting off into the distance Lewis was just 0.8 seconds ahead of Vettel by Lap 3. Neither Silver Arrows car looked capable of delivering a two-stop race.

Vettel is back at the top and unquestionably Fernando will have rushed down to his former team to high-five them all.

Overtaking Move of the Race
Lap 56: Valtteri Bottas, Williams on Felipe Massa, Williams for P5

Unlike Melbourne there were some thundering overtaking moves in Sepang, but none had the perilous consequences of Bottas vs Massa on the last lap. Had Valtteri messed it up then he might have got a very large kick in the backside to go along with the stabbing pain in his back he got in Australia. Throwing away a 5th and 6th place would not have gone down well with Frank and Clare, though the fact neither were at Sepang might have subconsciously emboldened him.

Bottas chose the dusty outside line around the outside of his team-mate at Turn 1, which didn’t work, but he trailed him all the way through Turns 2, 3 and 4 and then went to accelerate around the outside of him going towards Turn 5. As we saw with Perez vs Grosjean, it can bring grief. But Valtteri made it stick and took P5. It would be interesting to hear the debrief…

Both Williams drivers had strong races and with the Prancing Horse doing so well they need to bank all the points they can.

Winners
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 2nd

Lewis may be able to comfort himself with the fact that before the race the track temperature was at a record 63C and Pirelli were frying eggs on it. That’s not going to happen at Silverstone, or Shanghai, or anywhere else this year. So the thermal tyre degradation of Malaysia, coupled with a rough ashphalt surface  that demands Pirelli’s two hardest compunds is not going to re-occur any time soon. The time for Lewis to really get worried is if Sebastian Vettel can repeat what he did in two weeks’ time.

If anything Hamilton was reasonably fortunate to stay ahead of Rosberg in the race as Nico could lap almost as quickly on the Hard tyre as Lewis could on the Medium tyre. On Lap 30, just six laps after Lewis’s second stop, he was putting in 1:44.2 on the Medium, while Nico could do a 1:44.4 on the Hard.
The double tyre-stop for Mercedes after the Safety Car had given Lewis a gap to Nico which he exploited by moving competently though the field, whereas Rosberg took longer and waited for unlikely gifts – such as Daniel Ricciardo running wide at Turn 1 or Grosjean locking a brake. Thatgave Lewis the comfort zone he ultimately needed.

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 3rd
As noted above, even though Nico showed hesitancy in dealing with slower cars – his clear-track pace and ability to manage tyres looked stronger than Hamilton’s. The post-race analysis won’t be so bad, but Paddy Lowe might want to know why he didn’t press his claim for the inside line at Turn 1 after the start. 
One thing we learned from the 2014 season is that Nico sometimes has difficulty judging his braking on heavy fuel loads early in the race and it was this conservatism that allowed Vettel to grab P2 quite easily on the opening lap. Maybe if he’d known that Seb was going to be a genuine contender for the win he’d have tried a little harder.

 

Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, 4th
Such was the solid pace of Ferrari in Malaysia that Kimi Raikkonen could suffer the slings and arrows of a first lap puncture (just past the pitlane entrance) and recover to finish in P4.

We were treated to a much-sought-after Kimi outburst when he got stuck behind his nemesis Felipe Nasr dawdling a long way behind the Safety Car: “Can I pass these people because they’re not even trying to catch the others!"

In fact just after the Safety Car came in it looked as though this might be another dreadful race for Kimi. On Lap 8 he was still stuck behind Jenson Button’s McLaren.  In Melbourne he’d shown strong pace, been on to score good points, and then had two disastrous pit-stops. In Sepang he was faster than Vettel in practice, yet it all started to unravel in Qualifying when he got into the queue for Q2 behind Marcus Ericsson, missed Q3 and had to start in P11. 

From P11 he slipped back to P12 on the opening lap, and then was undone by the slight nerf from Felipe Nasr’s front wing. Had he qualified where he was capable of qualifying – P4 minimum – then we might even have been looking at a Ferrari 1-2 this afternoon. No, really.

Max Verstappen, Toro Rosso, 7th
We knew it was going to happen this season, but it’s nice that it happened after a cracking performance from Max, not just a trickle home in P10 after two cars retired. At just 17, Max Verstappen became the youngest points scorer in F1 history, a record that may never be beaten.

Verstappen had shown  extraordinary skill in qualifying his car P6 in wet conditions on Saturday, a fact made the more astonishing when it was revealed that he had a vast brake temperature imbalance between his front two brake discs.

In the race he made some strong overtaking moves including one memorable pass on an understeering Daniel Ricciardo on Lap 23.

Carlos Sainz Jr., Toro Rosso, 8th
It’s hard to tell that either Toro Rosso driver is a rookie and Carlos was able to mix it with the front-runners without looking out of his depth.

Losers
Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, DNF

It wasn’t the rookie that produced the rookie error. Although it was a clear mistake to stick his Sauber into the gravel at Turn One, many drivers overshoot into the wide acres of Tilke Turn Ones and scoot around on coloured tarmac with no penalty. With reduced grid sizes, it may be time to give marshals the discretion to push cars back into the race if they have just two wheels that are stuck.

Red Bull, Daniil Kvyat 9th and Daniel Ricciardo 10th
The Renault engine was more driveable in Sepang – or at least, everyone in the Red Bull team agreed to say that it was more driveable, but the team are still struggling. Despite the strong qualifying performance from Saturday they were hampered – of all things – by brake temperature problems, especially in the second half of the race.

McLaren-Honda, Fernando Alonso DNF and Jenson Button DNF
We’re a bit further up the painfully steep learning curve. McLaren are at last finding out the kind of problems that winter testing was there to flush out, except they’re doing it in the full glare of worldwide coverage. If anybody had been poised to sign a title sponsorship deal (and Mclaren hinted they had a candidate, before announcing that title sponsors were a thing of the past) they’re probably mightily relieved.

Lotus, Romain Grosjean 11th and Pastor Maldonado DNF
Romain tried a risky move on the outside of Checo and it didn’t come off, which effectively robbed him of the chance to grab a last-gasp P10. Pastor Maldonado made it five Malaysian GP starts and five Malaysian GP non-finishes, and a double DNF start to the season. Maybe he’s reviewing the choice of No.13 as his permanent number.  And it had all started so well, too, the Venezuelan made the most amazing start from P12 on the grid. It all looked to be going so well until, like Raikkonen, he got a first lap puncture.

Race Stewards
Is the FIA so short of suitable candidates that it has to draft in a motorbike racer to be its driver steward. Or was Mick Doohan a last-minute replacement? (Three Times Le Mans Winner) Allan McNish could have stepped in, he was there. Here’s Wikipedia’s summary of Mick’s brief F1 career: “After his success in Grand Prix motorcycle racing he got a chance to test a Formula One race car, the Williams FW19, at Circuit de Catalunya (in Spain) in April 1998. He found the car difficult to drive and crashed against a guard rail.”

Media Watch
David Coulthard:
“Kimi Raikkonen’s coming off the back of a forgetful 2014 season.”  (some would say forgettable)

STBO: Stating the Bleeding Obvious Award
Suzi Perry
managed to claim this one convincingly on Saturday as we waited for the Q3 session to start: “The track can’t dry out when there’s any rain coming down.”

Eddie Jordan wasn’t sure that Nico Rosberg should be praising Lewis Hamilton so highly: “There’s a huge fine line between being sportsmanship  and gritty determination.”
Plus there was biological controversy from Eddie: “We always know that the body controls the mind.” 

Suzi Perry: “Why are you laughing David?”
David: (Pointing at Eddie Jordan) “He went ‘Two points. 1… and B…’”

Andrew Davies (More media quotes in Team-Mate Wars this Tuesday)