2015 Malaysia Grand Prix: Race Analysis

A Challenger Emerges

When a spectacle was needed, the sport found a way to deliver the goods once again. Just as armchair pundits began to prepare a year of Mercedes domination, Ferrari have emerged as credible challengers to Mercedes superiority, beating the world champions in a straight fight. Unlike Daniel Ricciardo’s three victories last season, Sebastian Vettel needed no invitation to take the win, as Mercedes found themselves out-paced by a rival for the first time in this current turbo era. A big day for F1 and an equally seismic occasion for everyone wearing red.

Red 5

Many, including myself, mentioned the possibility of a return to the top step of the podium for Ferrari today, yet it seemed to be a long shot. The Ferrari pace demonstrated on Friday had sowed the seeds of hope but with the level of Mercedes dominance shown in Australia, a P3 for Vettel was the feasible estimation ahead of lights out.

Much was made after the race of how Mercedes’ strategic errors cost them dearly. I would disagree with this commonly held view. Ferrari were simply faster today and while Lewis Hamilton was heard exclaiming how poor the condition of his tyres had become by the end of stints, Vettel managed to preserve his rubber and comfortably perform a two stop race as well as lap quickly while doing so. Even at the end of his mammoth opening stint, the German only dropped two seconds to a fast charging Hamilton, who was at that point, free of traffic. In my opinion, it was Ferrari’s pace which forced Mercedes into a strategic tangle, as they realised that in order to win today, they would have to do something different.

It may seem from the above wittering that I am pleased that Ferrari took the win today, and that is because I am, and make no apology for it. The reason can be found in the fact that I am a F1 fan and not an F1 journalist. This was a fantastic result for the sport in general. After observing the opening exchanges of 2015, Hamilton seems to have an edge on Rosberg having carried his momentum from the closing stages of 2014 into this new campaign. It is therefore integral that, for our entertainment if nothing else, Mercedes have a credible challenger.

On the grounds of this particular event as a whole, it seems that they have found their chief rival in Ferrari. While it is fair to assume that Mercedes will once again have a performance advantage in China, on account of the low surface temperatures, Ferrari will surely threaten the Silver Arrows again in locations such as Bahrain. It is food for thought that had Kimi Raikkonen not dropped out of qualifying in Q2 yesterday, he could well have taken the fight to Sebastian for top honors and edged a Mercedes off of the podium altogether.

In short, it’s now “game on” in 2015.

The Kids Are Alright

Perhaps an even bigger shock than a glorious Ferrari victory today was Toro Rosso’s efforts, beating both Red Bull’s emphatically. While Ricciardo and Kvyat scrambled for the minor points placings, Verstappen and Sainz were hugely impressive, highlighting the potential of their STR10. A P5 finish in the constructors standings may have seemed like a lofty target to set at the start of the year, but so far, Toro Rosso have appeared as good value for it.

Just as impressive as the car performance are the pilots behind the wheel. On split strategies today, they both executed their plans well and were un-flustered in the opening stages of the race when the state-of-play can only be described as frenetic. A slight misjudgment on the pit entry from Max Verstappen was the only mistake either driver made today – the only mistake the 17 year-old made all weekend. His pass for P7 on his teammate may have been improvised but was another sign of how cool, calm and collected the youngster is behind the wheel. The term, “old head on young shoulders” gets banded around a few too many times, but in the case of Verstappen, it is the perfect description.

Meanwhile, brake issues meant that Red Bull were hampered today, but ultimately, P9 and P10 is a bitterly disappointing return regardless. It seems as though the wet qualifying meant that they flattered to deceive yesterday. Plenty of work to do for the Milton Keynes squad, who are behind Toro Rosso – a point which was all but confirmed by today’s running.

Conclusions

Driver of the Day

Max Verstappen

Sublime performance from the Dutchman who looked supremely composed in wheel-to-wheel combat, of which today was a fine test of his race craft. He performed four overtakes, became the youngest points scorer in the history of the sport and claimed the spoils in the inter-team battle. A textbook drive.

Overtake of the Day

BOTTAS vs Massa 

Just as in 2014, the two Williams found themselves sharing the same piece of tarmac in the closing stages of the Malaysia Grand Prix, but on this occasion, they were allowed to race. My thanks, therefore, goes to Williams, who facilitated a great show of wheel-to-wheel racing between their two men, which ultimately resulted in Valtteri Bottas performing a bold move around the outside of his teammate at the tricky turn five.

Team of the Weekend

Ferrari 

You guessed it! The Scuderia were sublime from Friday through until the final lap today. Their strategic moves were perfect and it was their tyre management which allowed the opportunity for flexibility. Had Kimi Raikkonen not been subject to misfortune on both Saturday and Sunday, the team may have had a chance to seal a 1-2 finish – their pace was certainly good enough.

Race Result

1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
5 Valtteri Bottas Williams
6 Felipe Massa Williams
7 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso
8 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso
9 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull
10 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
11 Romain Grosjean Lotus
12 Felipe Nasr Sauber
13 Sergio Perez Force India
14 Nico Hulkenberg Force India
15 Roberto Merhi Manor
DNF Pastor Maldonado Lotus
DNF Jenson Button McLaren
DNF Fernando Alonso McLaren
DNF Marcus Ericsson Sauber

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