Race check-up: the prancing horse gallops to victory

Prancing horse victory

Four-time World Champion returned to the podium with his maiden win for Ferrari in an action-packed and entertaining race in Malaysia. He was followed by Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in second and third respectively.

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All thanks to the dominant seasons in previous years by Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel, if there is a national anthem more familiar to me than my own country’s, it’s the German one. Sebastian Vettel’s stylish win in Malaysia only brought back the familiar tune along with the Italian national anthem after ages at the podium ceremony (wonder how the German one never got noticed during Rosberg’s wins).

The four-time world champion started second on the grid and jumped into the lead when Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg pitted after the first safety car. With a two pit-stop strategy and effective tyre management, he finished the race with a comfortable lead of 8.5 seconds. The maiden win of the season was the 40th one in Vettel’s Formula 1 career, one less than Ayrton Senna and his first win after the Brazilian GP in 2013.

Ferrari: the return of the reds

For the Italian team, Vettel’s win is the first one in two years after the Spanish GP in May 2013. The Maranello based outfit has used a blown front axle on the SF15-T which helped in the heat in Malaysia, as front cooling aids better performance in such conditions. Another aspect of the blown front axle is to reduce drag, which comes into play with the nature of the Sepang circuit. The hot and dry track conditions made tyre management key where Ferrari faired the best on the medium compound. The important takeaway was that they could manage the medium compounds in various temperatures better than rivals Mercedes.

If there is a national anthem more familiar to me than my own country’s, it’s the German one.

Kimi Raikkonen finished fourth after dropping to the bottom of the grid twice in the race, on a three pit-stop strategy which is commendable after starting the race 11th. The Finn had to pit in the first lap after suffering a puncture on the rear left tyre on making contact with Marcus Ericsson at turn 4. He made his way up the grid after dropping to P17 twice and to P7 from P3 on his last pitstop. Had he qualified at a better position, one could have seen him on the podium too.

Mercedes: Silver Arrows remain in their quiver

After claiming the 40th pole of his career and making the 150th GP start in nine years in Formula 1, Lewis Hamilton finished second followed by teammate Nico Rosberg in third. Throughout the race, the Silver Arrows team were lagging behind in pace, along with strategy and tyre management. The track conditions were demanding on the tyres therefore tyre selection was key and a three-stop strategy didn’t work too well for them. They did have the fastest car and best qualifying but technically the Ferrari was better with tyre management and in terms of aero and front cooling. Even their favourite tyre compound the hard compound which works best for them did not help them close in on Vettel’s Ferrari in terms of pace. All one can say is they will be challenged further in the season, assuming there will be more upgrades on the Maranello cars in the races to come.

Williams: third fastest

Drivers Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa finished fifth and sixth respectively. They might have the third-fastest car with Mercedes power but they are a step behind compared to their finish last season where they were second fastest after Mercedes. Both drivers were on a 3 pit-stop strategy and were seen battling it out with each other towards the end of the race.

Toro Rosso: Junior Bulls unbolted

The Red Bull junior team did show its superiority in qualifying and finesse in the race with drivers Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Junior finishing 7th and 8th respectively. Verstappen became the youngest driver to finish in the points in Formula 1. Both drivers finished ahead of their sister team and were seen battling it out fiercely with them. The 17-year-old was optimistic of outdriving Red Bull drivers and aimed for a fifth in his comments post-qualifying. With Max taking the limelight for being a former f1 drivers’ son, one can’t look away from Sainz performance, who drove equally well. As far as the technical aspect goes, the STR10 has had a trouble-free start to the season as compared to the RB11.

Red Bull Racing: matching up to the junior team

Team Principal Christian Horner was heard complaining about Mercedes dominance post-Australia but post-Malaysia, RBR’s battle is going to be with its own junior team. Drivers Daniil Kyvatt and Daniel Ricciardo managed to finish 9th and 10th respectively. Compared to last season where Ricciardo finished third in the championship, he seems to be outdriven by his own teammate. The Australian managed to qualify fourth with his teammate behind him in fifth but in terms of race pace and reliability, the RB11 lagged behind the STR10. A major weakness in the car noticed was the under-braking, and one could see ridiculous amounts of brake dust flowing from both the RB11s.

Amidst the 56 laps packed with action, there were four retirements that, Marcus Ericsson, Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button, and Pastor Maldonado. Sauber driver Ericsson spun out on lap 6 bringing out the safety car. For McLaren, it was a double DNF with Fernando Alonso retiring at lap 22 due to an ERS cooling issue and Jenson Button retiring at lap 42 due to a turbo issue. In terms of pace Alonso was seen running as far up as ninth till lap 20 but the technical failures were unfortunate for both the World Champions.

Another team with a disappointing performance was Force India who had double points finish in the last race. Whereas in Sepang drivers Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg finished 13th and 14th instead.

Post the Malaysian race, Lewis Hamilton leads the championship with 43 points followed by Sebastian Vettel with 40 points and Nico Rosberg with 33 points in the Drivers’ standings. In the Constructors’ standings, Mercedes leads with 76 points, followed by Ferrari with 52 points and Williams with 30 points.

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