Ferrari has entertained viewers of the Malaysian F1 Grand Prix with a win by Sebastian Vettel and a very well driven fourth place finish by team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
It was evident during qualifying that Vettel was going to provide some serious competition for Mercedes pair Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, with Vettel starting second on grid just .074sec behind Hamilton. Unfortunately Raikkonen was denied any opportunity to pass Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) during qualifying and was forced to start eleventh.
The race itself was terrific and for a moment we were able to forget the criticisms and drama that have plagued the headlines since the Mercedes dominance at Albert Park two weeks ago.
The opening lap started with a tight pack fighting through corner one, and Vettel denying any space for countryman Rosberg to pass. Ericsson was particularly aggressive from his ninth grid position, barging through Max Verstappen (Scuderia Toro Rosso). Just three laps later Ericcson came unstuck, losing control on turn one and needing to be pulled out of the trap, introducing the race’s first safety car.
This proved a crucial turning point in the race for Ferrari, who took a gamble by keeping Vettel out on his medium tyres longer than any other team; apparently Ferrari’s aerodynamics allow it to be kinder to its tyres than the Mercedes. Nearly all other teams pitted for a change; in fact, only two of the top ten would pit less than three times.
Raikkonnen suffered a left-rear puncture on the first lap of the race, and re-entered second last, ahead of Pastor Maldonado (Lotus) who had also punctured a rear before notching his fifth consecutive year without a finish at Malaysia, due to a brake issue on lap 50.
In contrast (and quite incredibly), Raikkonnen was able to fight his way back through the field to take fourth place.
Vettel finally pitted after lap 17 and came back on track behind both Mercedes cars, however after just four more laps he had regained the lead, making his way to first on the podium and proving that Ferrari has the pace and reliability required to take on Mercedes this year.
Although Fernando Alonso has been optimistic of McLaren’s potential in 2015, he was required to retire after lap 22 with a technical issue in his 2015 season debut. Team-mate Jenson Button retired on lap 44 with a mysterious power loss.
Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa of Williams-Mercedes showed good reliability and better pace than Red Bull, finishing just over 70 seconds behind the leader in fifth and sixth respectively.
Seventh-placed Verstappen was the last driver to not be lapped, the 17-year-old once more showing incredible potential for the future.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) suffered from front wing damage on lap one, and finished tenth.
For the first time since Alonso’s win for Ferrari at Barcelona in 2013, a manufacturer other than Red Bull or Mercedes has taken first place on the podium. Ferrari showed good pace at Albert Park and perhaps the Malaysian win is a sign of a good competition this year; at least extending to the top four positions.
Mercedes leads the F1 constructor’s championship with 76 points to Ferrari’s 52 and Williams’s 30, and although the result from this race looks very good for Ferrari, they have conceded the high temperature and conditions at Malaysia were in their favour.
Ferrari technical director James Allison has elaborated on Ferrari’s luck in Sepang: “I only know one half of the equation, which is our car,” Allison said when asked to compare Ferrari with Mercedes. “I know we have a pretty decent cooling package for which a lot of credit needs to go to the cooling team in the wind tunnel and also in the drawing office, who have put together a fairly innovative package on our car. That allows us to operate even in these fierce temperatures without having to open our car up badly.
“The track is quite rough and hot, which is hard for tyres, and we are fortunate that the car goes quite well on its tyres. Quite what problems are being carried on the other side of the equation in Merc-land, I don’t know, but I’m fairly sure that we will have our work cut out in China to do anything like as impressive a job as we have done here,” he said.
The big question for China remains: A number of factors helped Ferrari win in Malaysia, but will they be able to maintain the pace, or will they need a stroke of luck to win again? We look forward to the answer, especially if a motivated Raikkonen is able to qualify without incident.
|7||MAX VERSTAPPEN||NED||TORRO ROSSO||+97.762s||6|
|8||CARLOS SAINZ||ESP||TORRO ROSSO||+1 lap||4|
|9||DANIIL KVYAT||RUS||RED BULL||+1 lap||2|
|10||DANIEL RICCIARDO||AUS||RED BULL||+1 lap||1|