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

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