Malaysian Grand Prix: The Return of Ferrari

Sebastian Vettel broke the Mercedes strong hold by taking the chequered flag at the Malaysian Grand Prix. A superior tyre strategy and management for Vettel left Mercedes chasing the prancing horse as Hamilton and Rosberg came home second third.

With nineteen cars lining up on the grid in hot and humid conditions, Hamilton kept the lead into turn 1, while Vettel was able to hang on to second place and keep Rosberg in his mirrors. Further back in the pack there was contact between Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado and Williams Valtteri Bottas, resulting in a puncture for Maldonado. Max Verstappen lost a few places off the line, while by the time the grid had reached the hairpin Felipe Nasr caught up to Kimi Raikkonen. Nasr got his C34 a little too close for comfort to Kimi however, clipping the SF15-T’s left rear. At the end of lap 2, both Maldonado and Raikkonen limped back into the pit, with Raikkonen’s rear completely missing. Keeping things interesting and reshuffling team strategies, Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson brought out the safety car after he out-broke himself and got his C34 beached in the gravel at turn 1.

… More to come

– Alex

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)

 

Malaysian Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Selamat datang ke Malaysia! The Formula 1 Championship moves to Asia for the first time in the 2014 season for the Malaysian Grand Prix held and Sepang International Circuit. The 5.543km track runs clockwise, and boasted every elements needed for an exhilarating circuit. Drivers must snake their way through the right hand hairpin of turn 1 and avoid lock-ups, before immediately turning back for the left hand hairpin of turn 2. The track then opens out into a long sweeping right hander before another series of sweeping corners in sector 2. Turn 9 however into sector 3 puts a lot of pressure on the brakes. The third sector ends with a high speed straight before the final hairpin at turn 15. Having driven this track myself*, I know just how crucial it is to get the correct line out of a corner to ensure you’ve got the speed through the winding circuit. This really is one of the best circuits on the calendar. True to form, Malaysia delivered torrential rain which saw qualifying delayed while we waited for the track to resemble less of a river. Once the session finally got underway, it was Lewis Hamilton who secured pole position for the second race in a row, ahead of team mate Nico Rosberg in P3. Sebastian Vettel found himself in P2 between the two Mercedes.

Both the Mercedes were the dominating force in qualifying, proving still to be the quickest package this season. Hamilton looked at home in the wet throughout the session, remaining firmly at the top of the time sheets. The rain persisted during qualifying, allowing for Hamilton to run the intermediate only in Q1, opting for full wets for the remainder of the afternoon. In the end it was time of 1:59.431 on full wets that secured Hamilton pole position. Nico Rosberg was equally as quick during qualifying, though deteriorating track conditions in Q3 proved difficult for the German.

Sebastian Vettel was back to his usual form, securing P2 on the grid after a rocky start due to an issue with the RB10’s energy store. Once the RB10 was reset, however, Vettel found the qualifying pace that was missing in Australia. Though the Red Bull is looking more reliable than in Australia, the RB10 isn’t quite up to scratch in terms of straight line speed, so it will be down to a downforce package to maintain position. Proving that his performance in Australia was not a fluke, Daniel Ricciardo looked at home in the RB10 and the rain. Sitting at the top end of the time sheets, the Australian was bumped down to P5 in Q3, though still in front of the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, which (let’s face it) is pretty impressive on it’s own.

Ferrari are undoubtably quick around Sepang, with both Alonso and Raikkonen delivering strong performances in qualifying. Fernando Alonso, despite suffering from a disconnected front left track rod in Q2 was close to making the second row of the grid before being edged out by Rosberg to start P4. Kimi Raikkonen appeared more comfortable in the Ferrari than Australia, though still can’t quite match the pace of the Spaniard. Kimi eventually qualified P6

Nico Hulkenberg gave yet another impressive performance throughout qualifying, proving not only his talent as a driver, but the potential of the VJM07, securing P7. While team mate, Sergio Perez was not as comfortable in the track conditions. Perez couldn’t find the grip or the pace enough to follow Hulkenberg in Q3. Eventually setting a lap time of 2:02.511 for P14, more than a second than a half slower than his team mate.

McLaren, after being plagued with software issues in practice, finally managed to get both MP4-29s under control, only to opt for the wrong tyre strategies throughout qualifying. Both Magnussen and Button headed out on full wets in Q1, despite the rest of the grid opting for the intermediates, and both cars struggled with lack of grip. Luckily both the McLarens made it through to the next session. Kevin Magnussen had luck on his side after taking a very quick stroll through the gravel trap at the hairpin of turn 15, making it through to Q3 to eventually qualify in P8. Jensen Button was no luckier with his choice in tyres, though he too had a place in Q3. In the final minutes of qualifying, Button swapped his full wets for a set of intermediates, hoping to take advantage of a dry line. However, there wasn’t one. The Brit’s McLaren therefore rounds out the top ten in P10.

Jean-Eric Vergne largely avoided incident in qualifying, playing it safe and securing good lap times on the full wet tyres. The track conditions seemed to favour the Frenchman’s STR9, securing himself a place in Q3 to eventually qualify P9 with 2:03.078. Daniil Kvyat escaped penalties from the race stewards after making contact with Fernando Alonso at turn 9. Taking the inside line of the corner, Kvyat’s suffered a lock up, colliding with the Ferrari. The incident occurred before anyone had set a lap time in Q2, and saw the session momentarily red flagged. When the session resumed, Kvyat stayed in the garage, eventually coming out to wet track conditions. Determined to make it through to Q3 for the second round in a row, the Russian rookie sat on the cusp of the drop off zone, only to be pushed out by his team mate. Kvyat’s final flying lap time of 2:02.351 will see him start P11.

Esteban Gutierrez was lucky to make it through to Q2, not for any fault of his own, but the Sauber driver was dangerously close to colliding with an out of control Ericsson in the final minutes of Q1. Possibly due to the adrenaline that surely kicked in, Gutierrez put in a determined drive in the following session, setting purple sector times through the sweeping second sector. Though the Mexican didn’t make it to the final qualifying session, he did manage to get his Sauber C33 up as far as P12. Team mate, Adrian Sutil looked less comfortable in the car, and in the wet conditions. Sutil’s C33 twitched it’s way through turns 1 and 2, and only worsened as the rain picked up again, eventually qualifying P18. Though given Bottas’ penalty, will start P17.

Williams were unlucky in qualifying when taking the risk to run the intermediate tyres. The gamble didn’t pay off as the rain picked up again, with absolutely no grip, both Massa and Bottas quickly pit for full wets. Felipe Massa, desperate to make it into Q3, managed another flying lap in Q2 once on the wets but only good enough for P13. Bottas gave a decent performance in the early stages of qualifying, really putting the Fw36 through it’s paces. However, later Valtteri Bottas was handed a three place grid penalty for impeding Daniel Ricciardo earlier in the session, moving is P15 qualifying to starting P18. Williams simply ran out of time in Q2, the laps lost running the intermediates were all that was needed to see both Massa and Bottas further up the grid.

Lotus had a unfortunate qualifying as Romain Grosjean suffered a spin at the turn 15 hairpin on his final attempt to make it into Q3. The Frenchman had been on a flying lap before the E22 lost control approaching Rosberg, who was on a slow lap. Settling for a qualifying position of P16, Grosjean moves up to P15 following Bottas’ grid penalty. Pastor Maldonado qualified behind his team mate, in P17 though will start P16. Despite qualifying at the back end of the grid, the fact that the E22 made it through all three practice sessions, and the first qualifying has to be seen as progress for the team ironing out the reliability issues that have plagued them so far.

Order was restored at Marussia with Jules Bianchi qualifying in P19, ahead of team mate Max Chilton in P21. Though the Marussia is not particularly quick package compared to the rest of the field, at least they are reliable, which at the start of the 2014 season could prove to be more advantageous than speed.

For their home race, neither Caterham made it out of Q1, as we round off the back end of the grid with Kamui Kobayashi in P20, and Marcus Ericsson P22. Kobayashi’s qualifying was largely without incident. Though, Marcus Ericsson learnt the hard way that you cannot use the kerbs when the track is wet. The Caterham rookie cut the end of Q1 short after the CT05 careered off the track, hitting a barrier and then collecting a sign. Ericsson was extremely lucky not to collide with the oncoming Sauber of Esteban Gutierrez.

Strategy for today’s race is completely dependent on rain, with most likely a three stop strategy for a dry race. If the rain holds off however, the track conditions are equally as difficult, though this time for heat and keeping the cars cool. Personally, I’m hoping for a wet race to close the gap between the field and lessen the issues of over heating. Undoubtably Mercedes will be quick during the race, though I’d watch to see what Williams do with the right tyre strategy. As always, the Malaysian Grand Prix promises to be a truly unmissable race.

– Alex

* Albiet, driven a remote control RB7 around a chalk outline of the circuit in a car park.

Chinese Grand Prix: Back in Gear

After two Sundays of (lets be honest) not really knowing what to do with myself, the season kicks back in to gear with the tenth UBS Chinese Grand Prix. Hamilton is on pole for the first time with Mercedes, and Raikkonen and Alonso starting second and third.

I would have liked to have gotten a post down in the last two weeks following the obvious controversy over Vettel’s win at Sepang, unfortunately thesis work had to take priority. Although I was still greatly involved in the debate through Facebook, Twitter, and various people around the office. I’ve very mixed feelings about Vettel’s win. On the one hand, he is one of my favourite drivers to watch. Partly for his skill, and partly for his complete cockiness and cheek. But… I honestly felt like he was being a shitty teenager during the race at Sepang.

“I’m faster than Mark, let me through”… C’mon mate, if you’re faster than him, pass him on your own accord, but don’t tell the team to get Mark out of your way. Which brings me to the actual overtaking, clearly disobeying team orders. Again, I don’t approve of what Vettel did to pass Mark. But it made for a decent end to the race, I honestly would have been a little bored if the top four cars had just cruised over the final laps.

I’m not sure if it’s because I live in Australia, or people just hate Vettel enough, but I saw so many idiots jumping on the “We hate Vettel” bandwagon. The vast majority of Australian media has literally no clue about Formula 1, and their criticisms of Vettel weren’t even based on driving ability, F1 regulations, or even being a fair team mate. I was ashamed when I heard a Triple M radio presenter “I would have thought that by 1918, and 1942 the Germans would have worked it out… You don’t F*** with the Aussies”. This guy’s statement basically sums up the Australian media surrounding F1 the past two weeks.

All in all, I think Mark undoubtably deserved the win in Sepang. He raced brilliantly, had a perfect start, and kept a fiercely competitive Vettel at bay for nearly the whole race. Heres hoping that his anger translates in to some equally competitive racing today, despite yesterdays fuel issues in qualifying.

-Alex

Triple M Audio of “Billy’s Bake”