Malaysian Grand Prix: Mercedes Assert Dominance

It was a Mercedes 1-2 finish at today’s Malaysian Grand Prix with Lewis Hamilton securing the win from pole position. Team mate Nico Rosberg made an early dart to second position from Sebastian Vettel before reaching the first corner. The Red Bull driver, while laying a number of attempts on Rosberg, was forced to settle for the third step on the podium.

For the second time in the 2014 season, 21 cars lined up on the grid, and one Sergio Perez in the pit lane. In stark contrast to qualifying, Sepang was bone dry for lights out. Hamilton had a clean getaway and was first into turn 1, though it was team mate Nico Rosberg who had the advantage, sneaking his way passed an unsuspecting Sebastian Vettel. The Red Bull did not go down without a fight, and kept the pressure on Rosberg through the first two corners, before the straight line speed of the Mercedes succeeded over the Red Bull. Daniel Ricciardo made up a position on Alonso into the first corner, and by turn 3 the pack, lead by Hamilton followed as Rosberg, Vettel, Ricciardo, and Alonso.

Hamilton was unchallenged from pole position to finish on the top step of the podium. The Mercedes grew his lead from the opening laps to more than three seconds. The Brit’s run went largely without incident, having only to look after his tyres in the final stint of the race. Rosberg only asserted Mercedes advantage by leap frogging Vettel to cruise in P2 for the race. Though under pressure by a hungry Red Bull, the team pushed to lengthen the gap to Vettel, and Rosberg obliged.

Though still back on familiar ground, Sebastian Vettel finished on the podium once again for the Malaysian Grand Prix. The Red Bull, though instantly conceding his P2 starting position, worked hard to catch the Mercedes of Rosberg, coming within DRS several times. It seemed however that the German could only manage to maintain a three second chase on the Mercedes. It would seem that absolutely nothing can wipe the smile from Ricciardo’s face. The Australian got off to a strong start, initially making up a grid position, though following a botched pit stop in which the RB10s front left tyre was improperly secured, Ricciardo was handed a penalty for unsafe release. Ricciardo took the news in stride and delivered a competitive drive to make up the lost positions, that is until lap 49 when the team called him in to box to retire. To make matters worse, the stewards felt that the in race penalty was not enough for the team, so Ricciardo has also been handed a 10 place grid penalty for the upcoming round in Bahrain. It’s ok though, Ricciardo views this as “character building”…

Ferrari’s driver line up appears to chalk and cheese when you look at driving styles. Alonso, remains calm and level headed, while Raikkonen is aggressive form the get go, though at times to his own disadvantage. While his team mate crossed the line in a very respectable P4, Raikkonen found himself on the back foot from the opening laps after contact with Magnussen’s McLaren costing him valuable positions. The Ferrari driver suffered a rear puncture and by the time he’d limped back to the pits, he was more than half a lap down on the field. Though Alonso might not have got himself in a position to have contact with another driver, I doubt whether he could have come back as determined as Raikkonen. The Finn took advantage of pit strategies throughout the race to make his way through the back markers, and came close to making it back into the points. However, former team mate, Romain Grosjean ensured that Kimi only made it as far as P12.

Sergio Perez was set to start from the pit lane, suffered from mechanical issues before the race even begun and did not start. Nico Hulkenberg was unphased by the issues with his team mate’s VJM07 and delivered yet another phenomenal race. Starting on the grid in P7, Hulkenberg maintained a strong pace, despite a threat of approaching rain, and was able to run a two stop strategy for the race. The strategy allowed him to comfortably move up to P5, proving yet again that he is a driver to watch.

McLaren’s, Jensen Button finished the race in P6, ahead of Kevin Magnussen in P9. The Brit made up four grid positions during the race, despite his concerns for reliability for his MP4-29 in the heat. Kevin Magnussen had a difficult race compared to the season opener in Australia. Magnussen made contact early on with Raikkonen, costing them both track positions, and resulting in the McLaren being handed down a stop go penalty. Despite the penalty, the Danish driver delivered a competitive race, holding back the two Williams of Massa and Bottas before coming in to the pits to serve his penalty.

It wouldn’t be a Malaysian Grand Prix without someone disobeying team orders, and this year the shoes were filled by Felipe Massa who chose to ignore orders from his pit wall to let team mate Valtteri Bottas passed. The original order of “Bottas is faster than you” was made with haunting familiarity, but as it came in the final stint of the race the Williams team could do nothing but watch as the Brazilian stood his ground and refused to surrender his position to his team mate. For a while both the Williams’ were held up by the McLaren, though Bottas could never make a clean move on his team mate. Determined not to become another clear number 2 driver, Massa deliberately disobeyed his engineers order to let Bottas passed. Given that the driver order would make no difference to the constructors points,  I feel this was the right decision by Massa. Though harsh words may be spoken tonight, both Williams finished in the points with Massa P7, and Bottas in P8.

Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat took the last point for the Malaysian Grand Prix after defending his position to Magnussen. The Russian driver first defended well from Magnussen for the final point position. Despite the McLaren eventually making his way through, Kvyat was able to maintain his P10 position following pit stops and retirements from the race. Jean-Eric Vergne had a very slow getaway from the grid with what appeared to be an issue with the STR9s turbo. The issue soon became terminal as the Toro Rosso was told to box and retire on lap 18.

In what can be considered a great success for Lotus, Romain Grosjean not only finished the race in P11, but put the E22 through it’s paces to defend his position from former team mate, Kimi Raikkonen. The pair were engaged in wheel to wheel action in the final laps of the race, even coming together on the entrance to turn 1 a few times. Both cars emerged unscathed from their little bumps, and Grosjean managed to hold off the Finn to cross the line P11. The other side of the Lotus garage would have less to celebrate as Pastor Maldonado was told to box and retire on lap 7 for an issue with his power unit.

Caterham, for the first time since 2012, are on their way to being placed tenth in the constructors standings after both Kobayashi and Ericsson finished the race in P13 and P14 respectively. Kobayashi was even able to make a two stop strategy work for the race in hot track conditions, the only other driver able to do so was Hulkenberg, so this is a massive positive for the team in terms of reliability and performance. Marcus Ericsson, while on a three stop strategy delivered a good race for his first time in Malaysia, again showing promise for the team.

No sooner do I insist Marussia to be a reliable team on the grid set to have both cars finish, do they have retire Bianchi from the race, (Sorry guys, I hope I didn’t jinx you). Though the cause of retirement was less to do with reliability and more to do with the contact made with Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado in the opening stages of the race. Bianchi came together with Maldonado on the entry into turn 2, damaging both cars. The stewards deemed the collision Bianchi’s fault, and was ordered to take a 5 second stop go penalty. Shortly after however, the team retired Bianchi on lap 8. The remaining Marussia of Max Chilton, went on the reliably finish the race in P15 following the seven retirements from the race.

It was disappointment in the Sauber garage with a double retirement for the team. Sutil was the first retirement on lap 32 with issues with the Ferrari power unit, shortly followed by Gutierrez with gearbox issues on lap 35.

Despite a dry race at Sepang, the circuit still managed to deliver a thrilling race in hot conditions. There were a few good battles for positions, and shuffling of the pack as the stewards were more heavy handed than usual with their race penalties. For now, the championship moves to the Middle East for the Bahrain Grand Prix this Sunday, a track were all teams should be familiar with the circuit following winter testing. Unfortunately, alelbuth on tour temporarily ends in Malaysia, until the British Grand Prix. So until next week, selamat tinggal!

– Alex

Qualifying Pole Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Podium Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Nico Rosberg (McLaren-Mercedes)
Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Fastest Lap 1:43.006 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)


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