Detailed review of the weekend:
It was a slow start by the teams in the warm conditions in Malaysia as the team tested the new orange painted hard tyres. The teams took their time to set some real times as most teams aimed for understanding the tyres rather than go for times. Webber lead the way with Kimi & Vettel at P2 & P3 respectively. SFI started where it left off in Australia with Sutil once again performing well to finish P6 with Di Resta at P8, some 0.004s behind his teammate. Now that is what you call “close times”, but it was only practice sessions at that time.
Like Australia, Malaysia too had 4 seasons in a day. You will find it warm, sultry for major part of the day but as evening approaches, it changes drastically with rain pouring down like anything. Towards the end of the session, situation was such for the teams but on the positive side they got some inter and wets running under their belt. Kimi ended P1, time set during dry with Vettel at P2 & Massa at P3. SFI continued their performance with Di Resta ending at P8 and Sutil at P10. It was good to see Sutil finishing in top 10 even though he did only 10 laps when others behind him did almost double the laps.
The final session was sort of a mix session for most of the cars out, some had a great session while some where left asking questions as to what could be the best strategy for qualifying and for the race. The warm conditions were creating some problems as well as Vettel ended the session P1 with Hamilton at P2 & our own Sutil at P3 who looked very impressive and strong in the mediums. Even Di Resta wasn’t far off as he ended P6, the times were real close. It was a bit surprising yet amazing to see SFI cars doing so well. They were matching the RBR, Mercedes, Lotus pace.
Something looked odd from the practice times from what we saw in Australia as Ferrari, Lotus were not looking that strong as they were and Red Bull were somewhat on the money yet were not up there. Mercedes & Sahara Force India were the two teams which looked quite strong specially for race. I was still favouring Vettel to take pole but thought any of Mercedes or SFI driver can challenge him well. Seeing such times, I was certain that both SFI cars will make it to Q3 and perhaps to top 5.
It was real hot during the first 15 minutes of the qualifying session, so much so that quite many teams opted to stay in for a long period of time and many perhaps opted to do only one running like RBR who almost paid the price for it. Our man, Sutil ended P1 beating Kimi & Rosberg and of course the rest of the field behind. Di Resta too made it comfortably to Q2 ending at P7 and at that stage, it seemed SFI were in for maybe even a top 3 position. With the two Marussia’s & Caterham’s, it was Vergne & Bottas bowing out from Q1.
The game changed drastically within minutes of the second session as out of nowhere, it started drizzling and it was that time again for the season to change in Malaysia. It changed the whole scenario for pole position battle. Rosberg ended P1 from Webber & Hamilton as Sutil making it through to Q3 for the first time since his return. It was bitter luck for Di Resta who was caught be rain after failing to improve and spinning while trying, he ended a mere P15, not at all the position he or the team had even thought about after FP’s.
With rain around, it meant that it was inters all the way to the end of session. There was any ways not enough time to go out and gamble on slicks. With an improving track, times kept tumbling one by one which meant the last person to set had a slight advantage. Webber set the initial time which was beaten by Hamilton then Alonso and then finally Vettel who clinched the pole as Massa pushed Alonso to P3 to once again out-qualify his teammate. Sutil only managed P9 in the end, the changing conditions surely hindered his balance as he did say that he wasn’t 100% confident in the damp conditions.
The pole battle turned out to be pretty opposite to what one thought about when Q1 began. Vettel was very much in contention but the like of Lotus & SFI ended pretty low due to weather changes. It was a touch of disappointment in the hands of SFI, starting only P8 (after Kimi’s penalty) & P15 after what could have been a top 5 finish for the team at one stage. But then all was still to play for in the race.
We wait months during winter time for the first race to begin but here we had only a week’s time wait for the second GP to begin. After a great start in Australia, all eyes were on Malaysia with rain looming all over the sky before the start of the GP. Some cars went off during their installation lap but it was only in part of the circuit as other part of the circuit was relatively dry and was drivable on slicks. Teams taking precautionary step and started on inters, there was already talks that the teams will have to do 3 to 4 stops. The start was fine for Vettel as he took lead but it was terrible for Alonso as he touched at the back of Vettel thereby damaging his front wing. With the team not deciding to pit, it turned out to be their worst decision as he crashed out from the start/finish line on lap 2. Further back it was great start from Button as Kimi fell behind. Even Hulkenberg had a good start as Sutil went a place back at P9 while Di Resta rose a place to P14 fighting with Grosjean. Pic made a good start moving ahead of the Marussia’s.
As the pit stop round started, it was Webber who took the lead from Vettel and started pulling away in some sorts. Behind them it was all Mercedes with Button sandwiched for some laps as Massa, Grosjean, Kimi, Hulkenberg fought for the remaining 5 places in the top 10. The pit stop period saw several problems as well with many teams having a troubled time handling the pressure situation. Perhaps the funniest being, Hamilton going to McLaren’s pit stop area only to realise he has to stop at Mercedes. Bianchi got ahead of the Caterham’s midway in the race and sit looked like, he was way ahead of the behind pack and once again looked spectacular in that Marussia.
SFI did start a bit on the slower side but once the track started drying out, they started to look strong. But something else was in store for them really, God wasn’t too kind on them to keep their luck and form going. They opted for double pit stop which is normally done by teams now a days but it failed. Sutil’s pit stop went wrong due to wheel nut failure, as a result Di Resta was held out. Both came out behind the pack but it was good to see them coming back fighting hard. Di Resta was in points already by the time he had to stop again. Both drivers looked strong in the drier conditions.
Towards the end, the drama unfolded between the two teams running in front. It was more of inter-team drama than two teams against each other. In Red Bull, it was a case of ignoring team orders as Vettel failed to comply with Horner’s order of him holding his position and staying behind Webber. While in Mercedes it was acknowledging team orders as Rosberg was told to stay behind Hamilton and he did the same even though he didn’t wanted to. Vettel won it from Webber with Hamilton finishing P3. The day for SFI went from bad to worse as they suffered a double DNF after what Dr.Mallya termed “catastrophic” failure of the wheel nut as the team had to retire the car for safety measures. Bianchi once again outshone in the Marussia to finish P13 ahead of the Caterham’s and his teammate Max.
To be honest, one could sense that no one was happy after the race. The podium was celebrations were glum and Webber at that time along with Newey & Horner was furious with Vettel’s behaviour. Hamilton felt that Rosberg deserved the podium. All in all no was happy even though they performed extremely well. I don’t think Vettel was faster than Webber as he himself said, he eased up after that pass and so Vettel was at mistake while Hamilton was at mistake acknowledging team orders, if he really meant Rosberg deserving the place, should have moved aside then and there, Rosberg was clearly faster. The whole fiasco has indeed damaged F1 as a sport and largely damaged Vettel’s reputation and credibility.
Even for SFI, it was certain barring mistakes they would have scored strong haul of points but for that failure of wheel nuts proved to be very, very costly. There whole happiness turned into sadness by the end of the weekend. But one take a lot of positives from this, it is certain that the car is pretty strong, one which can challenge for top 5 finishes and even the long awaited podium. Come China in 3 weeks time, we can somewhat sure of the fact that the team will perform better, better than Malaysia for sure and better than Australia. 3 weeks will be a long wait but after what happened in Malaysia, everyone needs the break.
Thanks for reading,