After the disappointment that was the season opener in Australia two weeks ago, you could be forgiven for thinking there is a light at the end of the Mercedes dominated tunnel.
After the first race it looked as if Mercedes had both championships sewn up, but thanks to Sebastian Vettel and his Ferrari (with a little help from a bad strategy call on Mercedes’ part), Vettel stormed his way to the top step of the podium after a fascinating Malaysian Grand Prix. The win was the first for Ferrari since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix and Vettel’s win since the final race of 2023.
Vettel passed pole sitter Hamilton when the Mercedes team decided to pit both Hamilton and Rosberg on lap four under the safety car that was brought out after Marcus Ericsson beached his Sauber at Turn One. Mercedes decided to ditch the option tyre in favour of the hard tyres which ultimately led to their demise. Neither Hamilton or Rosberg were happy on the prime tyres and failed to make the stint last or show any pace that would be able to topple the Ferrari’s who seemed to be in a class of their own.
The tyre degradation that we saw on Friday throughout practice was apparent, whilst Mercedes forced themselves to make three stops, Vettel cruised home making just the one.
With Vettel in clear air it was up to the Mercedes pair to fight their way back through the pack, with Hamilton and Rosberg jostling for position it allowed Vettel to build a gap. The German made his first stop on lap 17 and quickly went about catching the then leader Hamilton who was on older rubber.
Mercedes then split the strategy for the third stint with Hamilton heading onto the option tyres in hot pursuit of Vettel who was quickly increasing his margin.
For a moment it looked as if we could be in for a grandstand finish; it was believed that Hamilton would pit for fresh option tyres in his final stint and have one big push at the Ferrari. Unfortunately for him he was unable to make his third stint long enough and had to go on to the primes for the final push, the same tyre as Vettel if he was to make it to the end of the race.
— Scuderia Ferrari (@ScuderiaFerrari) March 29, 2015
Hamilton was furious with his team at a numerous points throughout the race. “These are the wrong tyres man” was heard as he left the pits for the final time as well as “Don’t talk to me through the corners, I almost went off there.” Perhaps signs of cracks in the Mercedes camp?
— MERCEDES AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) March 29, 2015
Kimi Raikkonen provided further proof that Ferrari are contenders in this year’s championship. The Finn recovered back to fourth position after he was caught up in a first lap incident with the Sauber of Felipe Nasr with resulted in the Finn limping back to the pits with a puncture, the safety car playing into the hands of both Ferrari drivers as it allowed the 2007 champion to join the back of the pack.
Fifth and sixth was the best that Williams could hope for, whilst it was clear that Ferrari have made the jump on them they fought each other. The battle in the closing stages ultimately ended with Valterri Bottas passing Felipe Massa with a spectacular pass in the closing stages to take fifth place from the Brazilian.
Red Bull who were upbeat about their chances after a strong showing in qualifying yesterday were left disappointed to be beaten by both Toro Rosso’s of Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz who continued to impress everyone in their rookie seasons. Whilst the senior team could only manage to round out the top ten it was Verstappen and Sainz who came home an incredible seventh and eight place. In the process Verstappen become the youngest ever driver to score points in Formula One aged just 17.
— Toro Rosso (@ToroRossoSpy) March 29, 2015
The result should have been better for Red Bull however, Daniil Kvyat and the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg came to blows at Turn Three. Hulkenberg was given a ten second penalty for his role in the accident. Team-mate Sergio Perez also received a penalty after he collided with the Lotus of Romain Grosjean at the high speed Turn 12; he was given the same penalty as Hulkenberg and left Grosjean understandably furious.
Much like Australia Maldonado failed to make it past the first lap without incident; he retired his Lotus after picking up a puncture after being clipped by the Bottas of Williams, retiring nine laps shy of the cheqeured flag with brake problems.
Whilst on paper it may look bleak at McLaren they were quite pleased with the step that they feel they have made since Australia. It looked at one stage that the team could be on for some points with Fernando Alonso running as high as eigth place but it was not meant to be. Both cars retired from the race both with engine problems.
— Fernando Alonso (@alo_oficial) March 29, 2015
Roberto Merhi made it to the end of the race for Marussia albeit three laps down. Will Stevens did not take the start following the same fuel issue that hampered the Brit yesterday.
So it seems that Mercedes are not bulletproof after all. We will have to see in China if today was perhaps a one off and that the conditions played into the hands of Ferrari. Hamilton and Mercedes will be desperate to bounce back after today’s result; they created their own problems and paid the price.
Below is a full run down of the result as well as the state of play of both championships after the second round.
|2||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||+ 8.6s|
|3||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes||+ 12.3s|
|4||Kimi Raikkonen||Ferrari||+ 53.8s|
|5||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Mercedes||+ 70.4s|
|6||Felipe Massa||Williams Mercedes||+ 73.6s|
|7||Max Verstappen||STR Renault||+ 97.8s|
|8||Carlos Sainz||STR Renault||+ 1 Lap|
|9||Daniil Kvyat||Red Bull Renault||+ 1 Lap|
|10||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Renault||+ 1 Lap|
|11||Romain Grosjean||Lotus Mercedes||+ 1 Lap|
|12||Felipe Nasr||Sauber Ferrari||+ 1 Lap|
|13||Sergio Perez||Force India Mercedws||+ 1 Lap|
|14||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India Mercedes||+ 1 Lap|
|15||Roberto Merhi||Marussia Ferrari||+ 3 Laps|
|16||Pastor Maldonado||Lotus Mercedes||DNF|
|17||Jenson Button||McLaren Honda||DNF|
|18||Fernando Alonso||McLaren Honda||DNF|
|19||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber Ferrari||DNF|
|20||Will Stevens||Marussia Ferrari||DNS|
|4||Felipe Massa||Williams Mercedes||20|
|6||Felipe Nasr||Sauber Ferrari||10|
|7||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Mercedes||10|
|8||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Renault||9|
|9||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India Mercedes||6|
|10||Max Verstappen||STR Renault||6|
|11||Carlos Sainz||STR Renault||6|
|12||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber Ferrari||4|
|13||Daniil Kvyat||Red Bull Renault||2|
|14||Sergio Perez||Force India Mercedes||1|
|15||Jenson Button||McLaren Honda||0|
|16||Romain Grosjean||Lotus Mercedes||0|
|17||Roberto Merhi||Marussia Ferrari||0|
|18||Pastor Maldonado||Lotus Mercedes||0|
|19||Kevin Magnussen||McLaren Honda||0|
|20||Fernando Alonso||McLaren Honda||0|
|21||Will Stevens||Marussia Ferrari||0|
|6||Red Bull Renault||11|
|7||Force India Mercedes||7|