To say that the Malaysian Grand Prix result was unexpected is an understatement. Most people, myself included had expected a Mercedes to take the victory but Ferrari driver, Sebastian Vettel had other ideas as the German took victory on merit at the Sepang International Circuit courtesy of the F15T being gentler on its tyres. The Ferrari only required two pit-stops while rivals had to stop for fresh rubber three times.
The Mercedes duo finished 8.5 and 12.3 seconds adrift of Vettel’s Ferrari with Lewis Hamilton winning the intra-team battle, finishing 3.8 seconds ahead of Nico Rosberg with the recovering Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari taking the chequered flag in fourth place almost 54 seconds behind the lead Ferrari.
Vettel, along with Carlos Sainz Jnr, Romain Grosjean, Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg elected to stay out while the rest of the field chose to change rubber during the safety car period caused by Marcus Ericsson’s spin into the gravel trap on lap 4. Vettel went to lap 17 before pitting for a second set of medium tyres while Hamilton and Rosberg were on a third set of tyres just a handful of laps later.
From what we heard over the team radio, Hamilton was not a happy camper, showing clear frustration especially in the last stint complaining about having the wrong tyres. Because Mercedes were harder on their tyres and needed to make the extra pit-stop, the only option was the harder tyre as there were no new medium compound tyres available. I do believe that if Hamilton had the medium tyre, he would have caught Vettel who was on the same hard tyre as Hamilton after the final round of pit-stops.
Kimi Raikkonen had a battling race, having to start from 11th because of being baulked in qualifying, then getting tagged by Sauber’s Felipe Nasr causing a left rear puncture on lap one with the Finn having to limp around to the pits dropping to the back. Fourth place is a good result for the Finnish driver given the challenges he faced. I do wonder if Raikkonen had better luck, could he have challenged Mercedes too?
In the Williams camp, they have to be disappointed finishing 70 seconds off the lead Ferrari although Valteri Bottas did finish three places ahead of where he started in fifth with Felipe Massa finishing up one place in sixth after being overtaken by Bottas in the closing stages of the race with slightly fresher rubber.
Both Red Bulls were beaten by junior team Toro Rosso despite starting in front on the grid. Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jnr who started in 15th place claimed eighth place while 17 year old team mate Max Verstappen claimed seventh place for the ‘B’ team. Which frankly embarrassed Red Bull who could only manage ninth and 10th with 2014’s wonder-boy Daniel Ricciardo finishing behind new boy Daniil Kvyat.
It was a major comedown for Sauber after their fifth and eighth place finishes in Australia, who had one car spin out and the other finish in 12th place at Sepang. While a special mention goes out to Roberto Merhi who brought his Manor Marussia home, albeit in last place, three laps down, but for the struggling Manor Marussia team, finishing the race is like a win after neither car made it out on track in Australia.
McLaren had a more encouraging weekend with both cars taking the start and at one point had both cars running in the points before the inevitable retirements of both drivers. It’s hardly been the return of the McLaren Honda partnership that Ron Dennis has been selling to the media. That said, there are encouraging signs from Woking, let’s hope that Button is correct in predicting points by the Spanish GP.
I’m really hoping that this race is indicative of the season to come, a battle between two or more teams rather than a Mercedes white-wash like last season with other teams winning only when Mercedes had reliability issues. So c’mon Williams and Red Bull, time to step up and take the competition to Mercedes.
2015 Malaysian Grand Prix Results
1. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 1:41:05.793
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +8.500
3. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) +12.300
4. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) +53.800
5. Valteri Bottas (Williams) +70.400
6. Felipe Massa (Williams) +73.500
7. Max Verstappen (Toro Rosso) +97.700
8. Carlos Sainz Jnr (Toro Ross) +1 LAP
9. Daniil Kvyat (Red Bull) +1 LAP
10. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) +1 LAP