Monday, March 30, 2015

Vettel and Ferrari Outsmarts Mercedes for Malaysian Grand Prix Victory

Photo Credit: Ferrari

The domination of the Mercedes AMG team during the 2014 Formula 1 season derailed the momentum of two established names in the sport. After four-consecutive years of championship success with Red Bull Racing, Sebastian Vettel's string of luck was trimmed. While his 2014 Red Bull Racing teammate Daniel Ricciardo found victory lane three times, Vettel's best effort was a second in Singapore. In another 2014 Formula 1 paddock, Scuderia Ferrari went winless through the entire 19-race schedule (the first time since 1993 that happened to the Italian team. Joining forces for the 2015 season, expectations were high as many observers believed the Ferrari/Vettel pairing could become a new Formula 1 dynasty. In only the second race of the season, the 2015 Malaysian Grand Prix, this partnership obtained its first major objective.

After Saturday's qualifying in deteriorating conditions, Lewis Hamilton maintained a long-standing stranglehold of the pole position for Mercedes-Benz dating back to the Australia Grand Prix in 2014. However, the feat was also spoiled by an emerging threat to Mercedes AMG. Ferrari and the SF15-T race car appears to be to most viable challenger the Silver Arrows in the early part of the 2015. Barely missing the pole, Sebastian Vettel would also be beaten on the standing start by Hamilton's Mercedes-AMG car. Just as Lewis Hamilton was preparing to orchestrate another potentially masterful victory with a superior race machine, the Malaysian Grand Prix was completely reshaped. In lap 4, safety car period was called when Marcus Ericsson spun-out in turn one and buried the rear wheels of his Sauber-Ferrari in a safety trap. Bringing the field together, a crucial strategy decided the outcome of the Malaysian Grand Prix.

As the safety car lapped the Sepang International Circuit, a majority of Formula 1 teams chose to pit including the race leader Lewis Hamilton, his teammate Nico Rosberg as well as the Red Bull Racing and Williams Martini Racing cars. While most of the front-running cars pitted, one contender remained on-track. Scuderia Ferrari kept their #5 car driven by Sebastian Vettel out on the race track. Joined by a handful of other drivers such as Lotus' Romain Grosjean and the pair of Force India vehicles, Vettel inherited the top spot in the race when the safety car pulled off the track on lap 7.

Compared to the Australian Grand Prix, the non-finisher list was considerably smaller. Among the most notable retirees were the McLaren Honda race cars. In their second showing with the all-new Honda powerplant, the McLaren machines struggled for speed through the entire Malaysia Formula 1 race weekend. Making a momentous return to competition, Fernando Alonso's first outing with McLaren Honda was cut short after 21 laps. 20 laps later, Jenson Button was forced to park his car in the team's garage. The retirement of Alonso's car was associated with a ERS cooling issue while Button's problem was associated with a turbocharger. The 2015 season may be a long period of work for the McLaren Honda organization.

Photo Credit: ©FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO/ Pirelli

While only five cars failed to cross the start/finish line at the Sepang International Circuit, there were several close calls that risked expanding the retirement list. One incident involved an on-track battle between the Red Bull Racing drivers of Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat as well as a Force India-Mercedes piloted by Nico Hulkenberg. On lap 26, the dicing among the trio resulted in Kvyat spinning when he and Hulkenberg made contact in turn 2. Hulkenberg was assessed a 10-second penalty for the incident. Shortly after the Red Bull-Renault's spin involving a Force India, Hulkenberg's teammate Sergio Perez made contact with the Lotus-Mercedes of Romain Grosjean. Like Kvyat, Grosjean spun out but dramatically recollected his race car and continued racing. By lap 36, both Force India cars were given 10-second penalties. From the Force India team's official Twitter account, they remarked to the ruling with the following tweet: 

After the 56-lap distance of the Malaysian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel became the 38th different driver to win a Formula 1 race driving for Scuderia Ferrari. The win was the first grand prix victory for the team his the Spanish Grand Prix in 2013 and Vettel's first since the Brazilian Grand Prix of that same year. His first win with Scuderia Ferrari, this victory was Sebastian Vettel's second coming from Ferrari power. Vettel debut win at the 2008 Italian Grand Prix came behind the wheel of a Toro Rosso powered by a Ferrari engine.

Adopting a two-stop strategy, the key to victory for Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari was the ability to carefully manage their Pirelli slick tires. Mercedes AMG team cars, leaving the Sepang International Circuit with their eight-race winning streak broken, operated on a three-stop plan finished second and third. Finishing 8.569 seconds behind Vettel, Lewis Hamilton finished more than 3.7 seconds ahead of his teammate Nico Rosberg.

Photo Credit: Mercedes AMG

Despite a cut tire early in the grand prix, Kimi Raikkonen persevered to finish strong in the second Ferrari. Using some short-pitting, Raikkonen maintained a steady advantage to hold on to fourth place. The effort ties the Finnish driver's best result since returning to the Ferrari team in 2014.

In fifth and sixth place, the Williams Martini Racing team had an admirable day. Kept out of the car due to back problems in Australia, Valtteri Bottas' first grand prix of the year was a fifth place result ahead of the second Williams-Mercedes of Felipe Massa. Similar to the Williams team, Toro Rosso and Red Bull Racing had both team cars finish in order. Formula 1 rookie drivers Max Verstappen as well as Carlos Sainz Jr took the checkered flag in seventh and eighth. The mother team to Toro Rosso, Red Bull Racing was led by Daniil Kvyat who recovered for a ninth place result. Daniel Ricciardo's race was disrupted early with a rear braking issue but still finished in the 10th place spot capturing the final point-paying position in Malaysia.

The last car to finish the 2015 Malaysian Grand Prix was the Manor Marussia F1 Team's entry driven by Roberto Merhi. Following the embarrassment the organization brought to themselves in Australia, a 15th place finish for the Ferrari-powered race car was a noble effort.

Next race for the 2015 Formula 1 schedule is set for April 12th at the Shanghai International Circuit hosting the Chinese Grand Prix.

2015 Formula 1

Malaysian Grand Prix

Race Results

Pos # Car # Driver Team Engine

1 5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari Ferrari
2 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
3 6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
4 7 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari
5 77 Valtteri Bottas Williams F1 Renault
6 19 Felipe Massa Williams Mercedes-Benz
7 33 Max Verstappen Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault
8 55 Carlos Sainz Jr Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault
9 26 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull Renault
10 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Renault
11 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus Mercedes-Benz
12 12 Felipe Nasr Sauber Ferrari
13 11 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes-Benz
14 27 Nico Hulkenberg Force India Mercedes-Benz
15 98 Roberto Merhi Manor Marussia Ferrari
16 13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus Mercedes-Benz
17 22 Jenson Button McLaren Honda
18 14 Fernando Alonso McLaren Honda
19 9 Marcus Ericsson Sauber Ferrari
20 28 Will Stevens Manor Marussia Ferrari

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Hamilton Endures Soaking to Claim Pole in Malaysia

Photo Credit: Mercedes AMG

The opening race for the 2015 Formula 1 series two weeks ago saw the Mercedes AMG team continuing on the path of domination they established in 2014. The 2015 Australian Grand Prix featured the Mercedes AMG's W06 Hybrid race cars of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg handily fended off 2015 challengers. However, their near-flawless performance in qualifying and on race day in the Albert Park track may have been magnified by miscellaneous incidents that resulted in an 18-car starting field deteriorating to 11 finishers. Arriving for the second race in Malaysia at the Sepang International Circuit, every Formula 1 team will be critically tested against their efforts in Australia.

While practices on Friday and Saturday for the Malaysian Grand Prix continued to present the familiar sight of Mercedes AMG cars at the front, their presence at the top of the time charts was a runaway. Following-up on impressive race pace in Australia, the Ferrari squad were consistently within a second of the top Mercedes AMG driver's top practice session time. In the first practice, Nico Rosberg was hounded by Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel in their second and third-fastest Ferraris. For qualifying, the Silver Arrows faced its first real pressing opposition on-track arriving from the Prancing Horse brand.

Starting in dry conditions, qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix was affected by a fast-moving storm. While Q1 allowed teams to run on slick Pirelli tires, heavy rain flooded the 5.543-kilometer track in the early part of Q2. Resulting in just a few minutes for drivers to post a quick time to advance in the top-10 for the final qualifying session, the dry track was crowded for Q2 resulting in Q1's fastest driver Lewis Hamilton only able to muster an eighth-place time. While Hamilton was still able to gain entry into Q3, the same was not the case for Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen who missed making the final session with an 11th fastest time.

After a brief delay, the Q3 qualifying session for the Malaysian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton recovered to take the pole for Sunday's race. On wet weather tires, Hamilton's Mercedes AMG posted a 1-minute, 49.834-second lap time to stand at the top of the charts. Stretching the streak of Mercedes-Benz engine poles in Formula 1 to 21 grand prix events, this occasion at the Sepang International Circuit almost saw a new powerplant leading the field to Sunday's race start. Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari was only 0.074 seconds off the time of the lead Mercedes AMG car. One of Vettel's better qualifying efforts since his last championship-winning season in 2013, the Ferrari SF-15 T race car is showing potential during this initial point of the season of legitimately contending against current Mercedes-Benz guard of Formula 1.

Nico Rosberg qualified third for the Malaysian Grand Prix and will start alongside the Red Bull-Renault of Daniel Ricciardo. A little over half a second off Ricciardo's time, Russian teammate Daniil Kvyat is starting beside Max Verstappen driving for Toro Rosso (Kvyat's race team in 2014). A little off from their performance in Australia, the Williams-Mercedes cars were still successful in making the top-10. Felipe Massa will start seventh on Sunday while Valterri Bottas is starting eighth. Originally qualifying in eighth place, Romain Grosjean was required to start in tenth place due to a post-qualifying procedural penalty for the way he entered pit lane.

Triumphantly returning to Formula 1 competition after a crash in pre-season testing, Fernando Alonso officially starts his first race back with the McLaren team. While Alonso's presence was welcomed, the performance from the McLaren-Honda race car is far from celebrated in qualifying. Both eliminated in Q1, the machines of Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso were more than 2.3 seconds slower than the top time in the first session. Only the Manor Marussia F1 Team entrants were slower than the McLaren Honda team.

After creating controversy in Australia for not even registering a qualifying lap, Manor Marussia F1 Team was ordered to pay their travel expenses for the first race as it appeared the team had no intentions to compete. The organization returned to the paddock in Malaysia expected to prove they were serious about making a best effort in racing. Though the Manor Marussia-Ferraris were at the bottom of the time sheets on all three practice sessions as well as qualifying, Formula 1 stewards have allowed drivers Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens to run in Sunday's race.

With a 20-car field, the 2015 Malaysian Grand Prix is set for 3 pm local time or 3 am eastern daylight time.

2015 Formula 1

Malaysian Grand Prix

Starting Grid

Pos # Car # Driver Team Engine

1 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
2 5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari Ferrari
3 6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
4 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Renault
5 26 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull Renault
6 33 Max Verstappen Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault
7 19 Felipe Massa Williams Mercedes-Benz
8 77 Valtteri Bottas Williams F1 Renault
9 9 Marcus Ericsson Sauber Ferrari
10 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus Mercedes-Benz
11 7 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari
12 13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus Mercedes-Benz
13 27 Nico Hulkenberg Force India Mercedes-Benz
14 11 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes-Benz
15 55 Carlos Sainz Jr Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault
16 12 Felipe Nasr Sauber Ferrari
17 22 Jenson Button McLaren Honda
18 14 Fernando Alonso McLaren Honda
19 98 Roberto Merhi Manor Marussia Ferrari
20 28 Will Stevens Manor Marussia Ferrari

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Recovered Fernando Alonso Rejoins McLaren Team for Malaysia

Photo Credit: Pirelli Photo Service

Good news has come for the McLaren Honda team and major motor racing fans in time for the second race of the 2015 Formula 1 tour. Having missed the first race of the season, Spain's Fernando Alonso has been given a clean bill of health for the trip to the Sepang International Circuit for March 29th's Malaysian Grand Prix. Alonso will belt himself into the #14 Honda-powered McLaren MP4-30 race car amid several early season concerns.

At the end of the 2014 Formula 1 season, it was fair to say that the McLaren team was looking forward to what 2015 will bring thanks to two major components. Power their 2015 effort would result from a partnership with a resurrected Honda presence in the grand prix tour. Taking an additional year to iron-out their new gasoline/hybrid racing powertrain, Honda was placing complete attention on the single team for new year rebranded as McLaren Honda. The second element was a driver line-up for which 2009 Drivers' champion Jenson Button would be joined by two-time Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso. A Ferrari driver from 2010 to 2014, Spain's Alonso has been actively hunting for a third championship title and the move to McLaren Honda was seen as a bridge to that goal.

In open testing prior to the beginning of the new Formula 1 season, the latter ingredient to McLaren Honda's idyllic 2015 was placed in jeopardy. During the second day of testing in Barcelona on February 22nd, Fernando Alonso's McLaren collided hard with the wall in turn 3. An area where vehicle speeds were estimated at around 150 miles per hour, the driver suffered a serious concussion and resulted in the loss of consciousness. It was also confirmed that Alonso suffered temporary retrograde amnesia when the Spaniard regained consciousness leaving him unable to recall events past 1995. This 20-year memory gap appears to have been quickly recollected. Alonso has since remembered a testing crash leading to him being sidelined remembering sensing "heavy" steering before the hit.

While the biggest concern regarding the crash was Alonso's health, the McLaren Honda team also appeared to have had their pre-season preparations thrown off kilter. Judging solely from the first race of the 2015 season, the year spent preparing the Honda powerplant for competition may not have amounted to the advantage McLaren was planning to obtain. For the opening race in Australia, test driver Kevin Magnussen returned to competition as a replacement to Alonso but was unable to start the event when smoke erupted from his MP4-30 vehicle. The remaining vehicle driven by Jenson Button was better than Magnussen's but still came up short. Though Button's car finished the race (two laps down to the winning Mercedes AMG of Lewis Hamilton), its 11th place finish made it the only car to complete the Australian Grand Prix without scoring championship points.

McLaren is clearly anticipating the arrival of Fernando Alonso will represent a second chance to start the 2015 Formula 1 in their intended form.