GRAND PRIX : Malaysia : ‘Game on Ferrari’ …

Posted on March 31, 2015.

Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari beat the Mercs fair and square
The finger again, but this time we don't mind

Report by Alan Brown

… so said Nico Rosberg of all people after a dramatic Malaysian Grand Prix where we witnessed the might of Mercedes beaten fair and square by a resurgent Ferrari team. It is early Monday morning now and I am still pinching myself to confirm what we all witnessed the previous day. The arrival of the morning papers reassured me, Sebastien Vettel did in fact win the race convincingly, but also Kimi brought the second Ferrari home in 4th place, gracefully advancing from the back of the field.

After a predictable start to the F1 season down under, fans the world over must surely have been hoping to see a challenge for the World Championship emerging from the pack, and that is exactly what they have now got.

Round 2 at the 3.5 mile long Sepang Circuit was eagerly awaited. Sepang, first used in 1999, is only 200Km from the equator and 30 miles south of Kuala Lumper. There is always the prospect, therefore, of juggling the pack with an interesting weather mix of anything from bright sunshine to thunder storms. he track itself offers double DRS zones and long straights in both Sectors 1 and 3 with excellent overtaking always in prospect, particularly into the KL hairpin.

Off track since Melbourne, the newswires have been buzzing. No further clarity yet on Fernando’s mysterious pre-season Barcelona incident, with the driver still alleging a steering malady and the team maintaining driver error as the cause. Echoes then of the cordiality bypass evident the last time the Spaniard was a Woking employee!

In Germany, circuit owners at Hockenheim and Nurburgring seem to have thrown in the towel in their quest to raise a big enough bag of €’s to stage the German Grand Prix. Sadly this could be the first time since 1960 the race might not make the calendar.

At Red Bull, still a lot of pencil sucking going on to unearth reasons for their continuing fall from the sport’s pinnacle. Malaysia would only add to their headaches. Rumours that Renault might start investing in other teams or withdraw altogether cannot be helping any reversal in Red Bull fortunes.

Moving to the on track action – Friday free practice did not run entirely to form for Mercedes, at least initially, with Lewis forced to sit out FP1 with an engine inlet issue. Nico however did top the time sheets in FP1, with the Ferraris encouragingly second and third. In FP2 Lewis managed to squeeze inside the 1min.40sec barrier despite only managing a handful of laps. Kimi though was close on his heels and outpaced Nico for the second time spot to underline the growing competitiveness of the SF15-T.

Nineteen cars would make both the qualifying and the race with the Manor Marussia Ferrari F1 team having to withdraw our own Will Stevens with a fuel pressure problem. As some consolation for all their hard work in getting to Malaysia, his team mate, the rookie Spaniard Roberto Mehri, did manage to participate in both.

In qualifying both McLarens amazingly failed to make Q2 for the first time in their history. In Q2 Sebastien quickly sprinted from his garage to lead the field out of the pit lane at the start of the session, as rain threatened. The heavens did indeed soon open and Seb’s shrewd move was rewarded with second fastest time behind Nico. Lewis was down in 8th and sadly Kimi was stranded just outside the top 10, getting caught up in traffic ahead of a typical Malaysian tropical storm. In the final grid shoot out on a wet track, Lewis’s first flying lap on intermediates of 1.49.834 was good enough for pole. Seb’s Ferrari, towards the end of the session posted a 1.49.908, and earned him a deserved front row place thereby breaking Mercedes run of nine front row lock outs. There was some further rancour in the Mercedes team after the final qualifying session, with suggestions Nico deliberately held up his team mate whilst in pursuit of an even faster lap. In the event Lewis didn’t need one and smugly sat on pole.

Race day dawned with some prospect of showers but none materialised. Lewis made a flying start into Turn 1 and whilst for a brief second it looked as though Rosbgerg might get the jump on Sebastien, the German held his nerve through T1 and the Pangkor Laut Chicane to retain his second place. Kimi did not experience such a sweet start, getting tagged by Nasr, forcing him to nurse a rear left puncture around a full lap before re-emerging with another set of medium tyres fitted and thankfully no damage from all the flapping rubber.

It fell to Ericsson to disrupt the day’s proceedings by clumsily locking his brakes and finishing in a gravel trap at a point where the safety car had to be deployed to extricate the beached Sauber. This incident prompted a dash into the pits for tyre changes on the part of most of the front runners. Tellingly, not Ferrari however, who had the confidence in the tyre saving characteristics of the SF15-T to stay out. The safety car also allowed Kimi to make up for a serious amount of lost time after his unfortunate puncture.

From there Sebastien and Lewis briely swapped lead positions after pit stops but the consistency of pace between the two, and with Lewis caught in traffic after the safety car period, meant that whichever of the two finished on only two stops would win the day. Happily that car was the Ferrari and an ecstatic German hoisted himself from the cockpit in parc ferme to run across the pit lane and grab the first prancing horse flag he could get his hands on and so start the wild celebrations.

This result is not only a fantastic achievement for all the new team members at Maranello, but also it offers the exciting prospect of some great jousting in Shanghai and the races beyond and not just between Mercedes incumbents.

As Ferrari personnel no doubt partied well into the night, I suspect not far away a certain young Dutchman was also celebrating. The performance of the 17 year old Max Verstappen throughout the whole weekend clearly marked him out as a hot F1 prospect for the future to say the least, his take away being 7th place and the record for the youngest points scorer in history.

At last Ferrari seem to have addressed the power output issue that so dogged their season last year whilst developing a chassis capable of managing tyre degradation well, at least at Sepang, and hopefully at other circuits too. At least we know now they can do it.

Forza Ferrari!

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