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

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