2014 Malaysian Grand Prix: Race Analysis

Hamilton Leads First Mercedes 1-2 Since 1955

After Nico Rosberg took a comfortable victory in Melbourne, it was Lewis Hamilton’s turn to taste victory in 2014, as he waltzed to his second win for Mercedes. With teammate Rosberg in P2, it was a perfect day for Mercedes, reinforcing their strong championship credentials. Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel impressed with a solid P3, demonstrating the potential of the RB10 and the excellent development conducted by Red Bull following their dire winter. However, Daniel Ricciardo’s day was filled with issues, as the Aussie suffered misfortune of the same ilk as his predecessor and fellow countryman, Mark Webber.

Silver Arrow Success

It was never in doubt. After his sublime Pole Position yesterday, Lewis Hamilton drove the perfect race today. After pulling away in Vettel-esque fashion in the opening lap, he never looked back, only relinquishing his lead on one occasion, when the two stopping Nico Hulkenberg briefly took over for half a lap. Hamilton’s stranglehold on P1 looked ominously comfortable, with the Brit and his team carefully monitoring the powertrain and ensuring that stresses on the W05 were minimized. The FIA’s fuel flow readings highlighted that Hamilton’s fuel consumption was remarkably low considering his lead, as he used around 2% less fuel than Rosberg, (perhaps due to his tyre preservation tactics and extending his final stint to cover the threat of rain.)
Meanwhile, Nico Rosberg’s calm and considered drive to P2 was similarly impressive. While he lacked the raw pace to keep up with Hamilton, the German made another excellent start to jump Vettel off of the line. In trying to prevent this, Vettel pinned Nico up against the pit wall, in a decidedly borderline move by the champion. It was firm yet just about fair. While I expected the two Mercedes’ to streak away from their rivals, Vettel managed to hang onto Rosberg throughout the race. Ultimately, whenever Sebastian reached DRS range and became a real threat, Nico dipped into his speed reserve and always had the composure to pull away.
However, today was very much Hamilton’s day to soak up the team’s praise. His performance was even more spectacular considering the fact that this was his first race distance completed in the W05. Misfortune in testing meant that his longest stint prior to today was 43 laps, so the race was a learning experience as much as an opportunity to make up for Australia. His advantage over Nico Rosberg was therefore even more awe-inspiring. “I’m really happy with the way today went,” he said when speaking to actor Benedict Cumberbatch on the podium. “Nothing is ever easy and you’re always learning, and today is the first race distance I’ve really covered. I’ve learned about the fuel and the tyres, lots of things I can improve upon. But I’m really happy with the performance today, and let’s hope it continues.”

Superb Sebastian; Disappointed Daniel

The very thought of the Malaysian Grand Prix would surly send a shiver down the spine of Christian Horner after the Multi-21 incident just 12 months ago. Red Bull’s day was very much a mixed bad, as Sebastian Vettel claimed a well deserved podium, while Daniel Ricciardo suffered problems by the bucket load and eventually retired.
Starting with the positives, it is evident that Red Bull have gained ground on Mercedes even in this early phase of the season. Hamilton may have built a 24 second advantage over Sebastian by the chequered flag, but the German was largely able to hang onto his fellow countryman ahead. While Red Bull have looked good in the wet when their engine deficiencies are somewhat nullified, today shows that they can challenge Mercedes in dry conditions. The RB10’s mechanical grip seems far superior to any other car, as demonstrated in sector two, where Vettel could close in on Rosberg.
As for Ricciardo, the Aussie appears to have inherited Mark Webber’s bad luck, after another impressive performance was curtailed by a handful of issues. Firstly, he made an excellent start, challenging and passing Vettel. However, it was revealed that his FIA fuel flow sensor had failed, meaning that the team were relying on predetermined figures given to them by the FIA. After being re-passed by Vettel, Ricciardo was running excellently in P4 and resisting a fast charging Fernando Alonso. However, when pitting for his final stop, the mechanics failed to secure the front left tyre before Ricciardo was given the signal to leave his box. He stopped immediately, but the lost time meant that he dropped to P14. To add insult to injury, one lap after his calamitous stop, his front wing right hand bond failed, forcing an unscheduled stop. Then came a drive through penalty for the unsafe release, which has been compounded retrospectively by a ten place grid-drop for Bahrain. It seems harsh to punish the driver for an issue outside of his control, but it is the nature of a team sport. In F1, you win as a team and suffer as a team. Unfortunately for Daniel, two excellent drives in the first two events have reaped no rewards, as he remains rock-bottom of the championship table.

Multi 77-19

Ok, perhaps not, but Williams have been the source of yet more team orders in Malaysia, and similarly to Red Bull 12 months ago, they were ignored. In the closing stages, Felipe Massa had cruised up to the back of Jenson Button, yet after being unable to pass him with his first attempt, Massa had been forced to settle in behind Button. When Valtteri Bottas caught Massa, the team believed that Bottas was better placed to attack the McLaren and gave the team order, telling Felipe to move over and let Bottas through. After spending four years at Ferrari moving aside for Fernando Alonso, a disgruntled Felipe failed to carry out the order and finished ahead of his less experienced teammate.
An understandably defiant Massa stated; “I was there, I was fighting. It was not that we were on two completely different strategies. He was not in a different strategy to me, he stopped just after me and his tyre was slightly better, but not enough to pass me and not enough to pass Jenson as well. So what I did was the right thing.” While Valtteri was perhaps in a better position to attack Button at the time, the situation was badly dealt with. Issuing team orders in that situation was unnecessary – If Bottas had the speed advantage which would warrant such orders, he would have cruised past Felipe under his own initiative. Perhaps this is a crude observation, however, with Pat Symonds absent, I wonder whether he would have acknowledged that team orders were not right in the situation. Massa will quite rightly feel aggrieved, especially after he was promised the open opportunity to race his teammate upon joining Williams – something he has been deprived of for four years.

Introducing Penalty Points

After Valtteri Bottas became the first recipient of penalty points yesterday, Kevin Magnussen and Jules Bianchi have added their names to the list, after both incurring two penalty points each today. The points system works similarly to standard driving licences. Drivers will incur points on their superlicence’s in conjunction with standard penalties, in the event that they are found guilty of causing a collision, illegally blocking etc. Incur 12 points within a rolling 12 month period and the driver suffers a race ban.
Magnussen’s two penalty points have been issued as a result of his early collision with Kimi Raikkonen at Turn one. The Dane clumsily dabbed his nose into an ever decreasing space, which was being filled by the Ferrari. His front wing connected with Raikkonen’s left rear tyre, causing a devastating puncture for the Finn and significant front wing endplate damage for Kevin. In race, Magnussen received a five second stop-go penalty, which he served during his second pit-stop, while Raikkonen could only recover to a lonely P12.    

While Magnussen recovered to P9, he could have earned far more points, without the mistake. “I’m sorry for the team that I messed it up in the first corner,” the Dane said. “I think we could have got some good points today so I’m really disappointed with myself that I did that mistake.” No driver can say they have never made mistakes behind the wheel and it appears the exuberance of youth caught Kevin out today. However, with Button in P6, McLaren have another double points finish and considering their dire long run pace from Friday, that is an achievement in itself.
Meanwhile, Jules Bianchi’s accident came at Turn four, yet prompted another issue of two penalty points. While his collision with Pastor Maldonado looked as though it was a ‘slam-dunk’ penalty for Bianchi, Marussia have claimed that he was in fact pushed into the collision by Jean Eric Vergne. Similarly to Magnussen, Bianchi also received a five second stop-go penalty. On top of this, the team slipped out of P10 in the constructors after Caterham enjoyed their best day of 2014 so far. Both Kobayashi and Ericsson finished, with Kamui’s P13 eclipsing Chilton’s result from Australia by virtue of Ericsson’s P14 today. As the reliability of teams such as Sauber, (who suffered a double retirement) and Lotus improve, these positions will become harder and harder to obtain. Therefore, today’s result for Caterham could prove pivotal come November.

KGibbsF1’s Driver of the Day

Nico Hulkenberg
How is this guy not in a top team yet. After an impressive performance in Australia, the German drove another inch perfect race. While his rivals were pushed into a three stop due to the high tyre degradation, Hulkenberg managed to stretch his stints. Ultimately, his eventual pace was not quite good enough to hold off a fast charging Fernando Alonso, but P5 is the German once again punching well above his weight. 

With the next race in Bahrain just seven days away, conclusions from Malaysia will have to wait. However, Mercedes will head to Sakhir with beaming smiles and quite rightly so. They have the high ground in the championship, but Red Bull are catching them quicker than expected. Vettel and Ricciardo are becoming stronger with each passing day it seems.

Race Results

1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:40.25
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes +17.3
3 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull +24.5
4 Fernando Alonso Ferrari +35.9
5 Nico Hulkenberg Force India +47.0
6 Jenson Button McLaren +83.4
7 Felipe Massa Williams +84.7
8 Valtteri Bottas Williams +85.1
9 Kevin Magnussen McLaren +1 lap
10 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso +1 lap
11 Romain Grosjean Lotus +1 lap
12 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari +1 lap
13 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham +1 laps
14 Marcus Ericsson Caterham +2 laps
15 Max Chilton Marussia +2 lap
Not Classified
Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 49 laps
Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 35 laps
Adrian Sutil Sauber 32 laps
Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 18 laps
Jules Bianchi Marussia 8 laps
Pastor Maldonado Lotus7 laps
Sergio Perez Force India 0 laps              

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