Sebastian Strikes In Sepang – F1 Malaysian Grand Prix 2015 Race Report
A thunderstorm may have disrupted Saturday’s qualifying session but come Sunday, it was Sebastian that struck, and the Ferrari that rained on Mercedes’ parade.
The top 3 grid positions after Saturday’s qualifying mirrored last year’s, with Lewis Hamilton on pole, Sebastian Vettel P2, and Nico Rosberg P3. With Vettel now driving for Ferrari, the only difference being the German’s overalls.
When it comes to starting from Pole position, Hamilton has a proven track record with 7 wins from 7 poles last season, and 1 win from 1 pole this season. With this 100% win conversion rate, the Brit looked set to make it 9 wins from 9 poles as the lights went out in Malaysia.
The two silver arrows got off the line well with Rosberg challenging Vettel for 2nd after an average start by the Ferrari. The top 4 drivers retained their positions with lap 1 fairly incident free – despite the odd puncture. The Lotus of Pastor Maldonado managed to pit for replacement tyres at the end of lap 1 but unfortunately for Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, a late puncture caused by Sauber’s Felipe Nasr meant he had to do a full lap before pitting.
Lap 4 saw the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson challenge Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg for 7th. Attempting to go round the outside, Ericsson ran far too wide through turn 1 and spun off into the gravel. Beached, the safety car was deployed.
Seemingly in control of the race, Mercedes sought to seek advantage from the safety car and double-stopped on lap 5. Proving to be a popular strategy many teams followed suit, Vettel on the other hand, opted to stay out and took the lead.
At the re-start it was Vettel 1, Hulkenberg 2, and Grosjean 3, whilst the Mercedes of Hamilton and Rosberg were down in 6 and 9. Rosberg struggled to get past the Williams of Felipe Massa and it was lap 9 when he managed to make the move stick. Lap 10 saw Hamilton glide effortlessly through the field as one by one he picked off Sainz, Grosjean, and Hulkenberg to move up into 2nd – 10 seconds behind leader Vettel. Having failed to box during the safety car period, Hulkenberg, Grosjean, and Sainz pitted moving Rosberg up into 3rd.
With an impressive stint completed on the medium compound tyres, Vettel pitted on lap 18 and rejoined behind the two Mercedes.
Out of the spotlight inter-team battles were rife with the Williams of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas battling for 4th, the Red Bull’s of Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat for 7th, the McLaren’s of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button for 9th, and the Lotus’ of Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean for 15th.
With a McLaren unexpectedly running in the points, overheating of the hybrid system meant Alonso would have to retire the car on lap 21 – certainly not the start to the season the Spaniard had hoped for.
Meanwhile the battle for 2nd was on between German’s Rosberg and Vettel. Within DRS range, Vettel launched the Ferrari down the inside on turn 15 to claim the position and put himself within 7 seconds of leader Hamilton. Hamilton complained of his rear tyres dropping off and in just 2 laps his lead had evaporated.
By the end of lap 24 Vettel looked ready to pounce and it was in the run up to turn 15 that both cars got side by side. Challenging for the lead, Vettel had the inside line but the wheel-to-wheel action was cut short as Hamilton bailed into the pits to change to the faster medium compound tyre.
Having re-taken the lead, Vettel’s teammate Raikkonen was also making progress, and after a less than perfect start, had catapulted up into 6th position.
Lap 26 and Ricciardo appeared to be struggling with the RB11. In a battle for 10th with Kvyat and Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, team-radio instructed the Australian to let Kvyat through due to worsening front wing damage. Immediately having gifted Kvyat the inner line through turn 1, the Williams of Bottas exiting the pits forced Hulkenberg onto the same line as Kvyat, and the two cars to make contact. With Kvyat worse off having spun 180° allowing the Mexican of Sergio Perez through, both cars were fortunate enough to rejoin the battle. Unfortunately for Hulkenberg, he was later handed a 10-second time penalty in an outcome described as “harsh” by BBC’s Ben Edwards.
By lap 31 the Lotus of Romain Grosjean was within DRS range of the battling Force India’s and made a late move on Perez. The slight contact caused Grosjean to spin but the Frenchman kept it on track. Unluckily for Force India, the stewards handed them their second 10-second time penalty of the race.
Back to the front and with a 14-second lead over Hamilton, Vettel made his second pit stop on lap 37- changing to the harder of the two compounds after having completed the first two stints on the faster mediums. On the same set of tyres and with his final pit stop under the belt, teammate Raikkonen completed a straightforward pass on Verstappen to move up into 6th, just 5 seconds adrift of Bottas in 5th.
With only 19 laps to go it was Hamilton 1, Vettel 2, and Rosberg 3, although both Mercedes still needed to pit. Lap 38 and they did just that, with Hamilton pitting for a set of the harder compounds and teammate Nico pitting 4 laps later for the medium compounds.
Everyone had now completed their final pit stops, and by lap 42, Vettel had maintained his 14-second lead over Hamilton. Hamilton’s race engineers transmitted through team radio that the forecast was to catch Vettel with 5 laps remaining, and the Brit didn’t seem to like what he was hearing – “Hey man, don’t talk to me through the corners, I nearly just went off.”
No doubt with the McLaren engineers also disliking what they were hearing, “Lost power, lost power”, Jenson Button was forced to retire on lap 42 branding both McLarens unclassified – the first time since the 2006 United States Grand Prix.The 4th and final retirement of the race was Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado, with brake problems contributing towards his second consecutive DNF of the season.
Back to the action and with just 4 laps remaining, the Ferrari looked to be galloping off into the distance with the gap to Hamilton at 10 seconds. With Hamilton looking to be out of contention, full concentration was required to hold onto 2nd and to fend off teammate Nico who was catching on the faster medium compound tyre.
Outside the podium positions Raikkonen was running comfortably in 4th, whilst behind, the gap between Massa and Bottas was a little too close for comfort at just 0.5 seconds. Onto the final lap and with precious points up for grabs, Bottas completed a spectacular move, swooping around the outside of his teammate to move up into 5th.
This was it. The chequered flag was in sight. Vettel had done it. Sebastian Vettel had won the Malaysian Grand Prix. In only his second race driving for Ferrari Vettel had secured his maiden victory in red, and in doing so, had ended the team’s 34-race drought.
Current World Champion Lewis Hamilton was unable to make it two in a row as he crossed the line in 2nd, just 3.5 seconds ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg who rounded off the podium positions. After a disappointing start, three-stopping Kimi Raikkonen did well to finish in 4th ahead of the Williams of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa. 7th and 8th went to Toro Rosso rookies Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz who put on quite the show, and in doing so, beat the senior team’s Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat who finished 9th and 10th respectively. Lotus’ Romain Grosjean finished in 11th from the Sauber of Felipe Nasr and Force India’s Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg. Roberto Merhi of Manor rounded off the field in 15th.
Now with 4 wins accumulated around Sepang, Sebastian Vettel becomes the most successful driver in Malaysian Grand Prix history – surpassing former Ferrari drivers Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher. Speaking of making history, Torro Rosso’s 17-year-old rookie Max Verstappen did just that by finishing 7th, making him the youngest points scorer in F1 – and possibly ever with 2016 seeing more stringent rules enforced by the FIA, one of which prevents anyone under the age of 18 from obtaining a Super Licence.
With Vettel describing his victory as a “dream”, it marks an amazing turnaround by Ferrari who were coming off the back of their worst season in 21 years – accumulating just 2 podiums. Now a record 4-time winner around Sepang, Vettel’s victory marks the 40th of his career and places him only one behind Ayrton Senna who currently sits 3rd on the all-time list.
Ironically Vettel’s win comes after Australia’s post-race press conference where Nico Rosberg was quoted saying “I hope that you (Ferrari) can give us a good challenge…if you do come a bit closer that would be awesome.” Although said in jest, it just goes to show…be careful what you wish for!
They say lightning never strikes twice,but who knows?
Will Sebastian strike again in Shanghai?
Tune in on the 12th April to find out!
© Rebecca Ferguson 2015