Practice Session, FP1:
A hot day in Malaysia to start off the proceedings for the F1 weekend. Interestingly, Lewis was using the same engine which handed him a DNF in Australia, a way of showing that all is well with the Mercedes powertrain. Rightly so it seemed as Lewis went on to top the session; Kimi surprised everyone ending at P2 with Nico rounding off at P3. It was a frustrating mixed day for Sahara Force India, Hulkenberg ran 19 laps ending at P8 while his teammate Perez suffered a mechanical failure after the installation lap, ending his morning run there and then. The team did fixed it up towards the end of the session but there was just not enough time left for him to go out.
Relatively the most important session for all the teams as they go about assessing the race pace with the long runs on medium as well as hard tyres. All the data collected during the day is assessed thoroughly by the engineers and the required changes is made to the car to prepare it for Saturday and Sunday. Mercedes lead the pack this time with Rosberg at P1 followed by consistent Raikkonen at P2 and Vettel at P3. Both the SFI drivers ran in the session as Hulkenberg ended P10; he did a mammoth 34 laps (only bettered by Bottas who did 35 laps) and was within a second of Rosberg’s time. Perez maiden Malaysia run saw him ending at P16, he was in the learning mode after having missed FP1.
The final session gave us a whole new picture of the standing, Mercedes were still running at the top but the difference was over a second between them and the rest of the field. Rosberg set the pace as Hamilton challenged him but had to settle for P2 while Raikkonen continued his good form ending at P3. SFI duo had a much better session with both the cars ending in the top 10; Hulkenberg impressed with a strong P5 while Perez got up to P10 after a mixed Friday running.
There was a clear possibility of a double Q3 for SFI; Hulkenberg was most likely to feature in the top 10. The question mark on Perez was solely due to him missing out running on Friday. But there was a strong possibility of rain during the qualifying session at that juncture of time making things easier for the teams to catch the Mercedes.
Spoiler alert: There was a rain delay. Malaysia’s unpredictable weather was back to business, after three dry sessions, a thunderstorm delayed the proceedings in Q1. It was certainly lottery for many teams but the likes of Sutil, Maldonado along with the Caterham & Marussia duo went empty handed as they bowed out in Q1. Everyone other then the above 6 drivers, made it through safely and slowly to Q2 including our SFI drivers. The session was red flagged with 35s to go when Marcus spun into the barriers thereby ending the session then and there.
The rain continued to come down hard between the sessions but Q2 started on the scheduled time, it was a tyre gamble but the correct choice was obviously full wets. The session was red flagged after Alonso collided with Kvyat in conditions where it was almost impossible to see who is in front, right, left, behind of you. Towards the end of the session, the time came tumbling down as one by one driver’s were pushed out of top 10; it was finally Vergne securing the all important position. Hulkenberg made it safely through to the top 10 but Perez managed only P14 after facing braking issues all through the second session.
The final shootout was somewhat done and dusted at the start of the session as the position of top 2 never changed after Hamilton & Vettel set their times respectively. Rosberg managed to push Alonso down towards the end as Hulkenberg did a fine job to qualify P7. It was tidy session for all the drivers with no real drama even though it was pretty wet out on the track.
Once again it was expected that both the SFI cars will make it to Q3 but brake issues and the rain created problems for Perez. However it was satisfactory results overall as the forecast for Sunday was pretty much dry running and our race pace was good enough for double point finish.
Weather wise it was back to being hot Malaysia on Sunday evening. After Australia, it was to be seen as to how many cars make it to the chequered flag. Going straight into the action mode, Hamilton got a good start as Rosberg got ahead of Vettel. Not only Rosberg but even Ricciardo got ahead of Vettel at the start but the German came back to get ahead of his teammate. Behind them Hulkenberg got a good start as he moved up to P6 behind Alonso in the opening stint. On the other hand, it was heartbreak for Perez as his bad weekend just became worse as he couldn’t even start the race due to software glitch on his car.
Hamilton was having a lone race ahead just like Rosberg in Australia, this time it was the British driver having a Vettel-like situation during the race. Although Rosberg had everything under control, Vettel at one point came very close to beat his fellow German driver for P2 but Mercedes pace was too hot to handle. Once again Ricciardo was undone by bad luck as he retired before the end of the race due to double issues, one because of faulty pit stop and the other because of the front wing going lose. After two good races, Ricciardo has nothing to show on the points tally. Some late race sparks were given by the Williams duo as Massa got a similar message from the pit wall, related to something like “faster than you”, thingy. Ouch!! Though this time, he ignored it blatantly and did not let Bottas go past him easily.
The sole remaining car of Hulkenberg was just doing a perfect job during the race, showing no trouble whatsoever. At one point leading the race even, just shows that Perez could have had a fine afternoon as well. Hulkenberg was locked in, in a good fight with Alonso towards the end of the race. He was the only one doing the two stop strategy and succeed in doing so which may have costed him P4, as Alonso caught up with the German driver at a rapid pace towards the end of the race.
Hamilton took his first win of the season and his first Malaysian GP win, much needed after the Australia debacle. Rosberg continued his fine form finishing P2, well ahead of Vettel who also got his championship running with a good P3 finish. Hulkenberg did a fantastic job and earned P5 on merit purely, the car is making good strides fighting for strong championship points. Outside top 10, it was the Caterham duo coming back to form finishing a fine P13 & P14 for Kamui & Marcus taking them ahead in the P10 battle after Marussia lost Jules early in the race. Also, it was first time that a Lotus completed a full race distance as Grosjean ended P11 ahead of a Ferrari that of his ex-teammate Raikkonen.
Mercedes has taken the lead in the standings and rightly so. Red Bull is the closest in terms of pace to them as the likes of Ferrari, McLaren are a bit down on pace. Sahara Force India seems to be somewhere in the bunch of McLaren, Williams and Ferrari as of now. It is definite that these are the top 5 teams after two races in. We now move to Bahrain just few days away from the race; it is a track which every driver and team knows after the pre-season testing. But one thing which no one knows yet is running under the lights, it is going to be a night race this time so it will make things interesting for sure.
Thank you for reading.