Vettel roars back to the top step for Ferrari stunning Mercedes; Hamilton a disgruntled 2nd, Rosberg 3rd
Sebastian Vettel stormed to his maiden win with Ferrari at the sultry Sepang circuit on Sunday, earning the first victory for the fabled Scuderia in well over a year. It was also the 4-time former World Champion’s first win since 2013. Using excellent tire strategy calls and the improved Ferrari powerplant, Vettel stunned the heavily favored Mercedes Silver Arrows. Wisely staying out while the Mercedes duo pitted during an early safety car period, the German ace was able to gain both track position and maximum use out of the fast but fragile softer tires, thus enabling him to execute a 2-stop strategy and run the more durable compound effectively to the end of the race.
Converesely, the Silver Arrows were done no favors by their race engineers with a 3-stop strategy that wound up splitting them. Despite the extra stop, the were unable to match Vettel’s ferocious pace at the end of the race. An audibly peeved Hamilton was overtaken for the lead while in the pits by Vettel’s charging Ferrari and had to settle for 2nd over 8.5 seconds back. Rosberg ended up 12.3 seconds adrift in 3rd after an earlier delay in the pits when he was stuck behind his teammate in the queue for service. Ferrari’s surprising ascendency after a dreadful year last season and Vettel’s seeming ability to get the most out of the new chassis from the get go is just what Formula 1 needed to spice up what was predicted to be another championship processional for Mercedes and Hamilton. Now it’s game on and, as the old saying goes, that’s why you run the races.
Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen, despite a disappointing Q2 exit in Saturday qulaifying and a first lap puncture in the race, nevertheless picked up valuable points with a gritty 4th place finish. Seeing both Ferraris run so well despite some adversity strongly indicates that this year’s model is a serious challenger and at minimum a major threat to Williams’ and Red Bulls’ hopes for 2nd overall in the Constructors’ Championship. Speaking of Williams, they had a relatively poor weekend with mistakes in strategy and tire selection that could well have cost them a better finish. Valtteri Bottas, returning from injury, was able to make an oustanding and gutsy outside pass on his teammate Felipe Massa late in the race and they finished P5 and 6 respectively. Rookies Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz were again impressive for a very competive Torro Rosso, finishing P7 and P8. That was ahead of the senior Red Bulls of Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo, whose Renault-powered chassis were again down on power and also struggled with brake overheating issues on the tropical circuit. No doubt Red Bull team manager Christian Horner’s head is about explode seeing his former championship driver back in winning form with another team and, adding insult to injury, getting outperformed by the kids at Torro Rosso .
Of course, all headaches are relative. McLaren had another migraine type of weekend and were forced to retire both cars before the checkered flag with various engine ailments, spoiling Fernando Alonso’s debut with the team and return from concussion after a testing accident. On the plus side, McLaren did seem genuinely faster than they had been in Australia so perhaps all is not lost for 2015… if they can somehow improve the reliability of the Honda powerplants. Also in the glass half-full category, Manor (formerly Marussia) actually managed to start one of their cars on Sunday, proving once again that in motorsport there are many different kinds of victories, some small and some large. But for Vettel and Ferrari, Sunday’s magnificent win in Malaysia was nothing short of massive.
Top 10 finishers for the Malaysian Grand Prix:
Pos Driver Car Gap
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1h41m05.793s
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 8.569s
3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 12.310s
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 53.822s
5 Valtteri Bottas Williams/Mercedes 1m10.409s
6 Felipe Massa Williams/Mercedes 1m13.586s
7 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso/Renault 1m37.762s
8 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso/Renault 1 Lap
9 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull/Renault 1 Lap
10 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault 1 Lap
The next race weekend is on April 10 – 12 in Shanghai, China — hope to see you then.