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2015 Malaysian GP Post-Race Report
Posted on 30 Mar 2015
By James Allen
This was a fantastic race with an unexpected outcome, as Sebastian Vettel breathed life into the 2015 Formula One championship with a superb victory for Ferrari in Sepang, as Mercedes were outperformed for the first time in over a year.
Lewis Hamilton maintained the lead in the Drivers’ Championship with second place here while Nico Rosberg dropped behind Vettel into third in the championship with a third place finish.
It was his fourth win in Malaysia, his first since 2013 and the first for Ferrari for 35 races. More importantly for him, it put him in the same company as his childhood idol Michael Schumacher as a Ferrari race winner.
This was a victory built on all of Vettel’s guile and as well as tactical brilliance from the Ferrari strategy team.
They had done their homework in Friday practice and knew that the Ferrari was better able to look after its tyres in the intense heat of Sepang – the track temperature hit 62 degrees at one point, far hotter than any reading we have seen over the years in the Singapore Grand Prix.
Hamilton, in contrast, paid the price for limited running on Friday due to technical problems with his car. He did not have the balance he needed, nor the data about the relative merits of the hard and medium cars.
So when a Safety Car was deployed on Lap 4 due to the spin for Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, they took the gamble of staying out with Vettel, while most of the field including race leader Lewis Hamilton, pitted.
The reason why so many cars pitted is that they had a pre-race plan to do three pit stops, which meant that the first pit stop would be around lap 10. So, reasoning that the Safety Car was likely to stay out for three to four laps, that would take them to Lap 8 and it would make no sense to do two more laps then pit. So the appearance of the Safety Car meant that they needed to pit there and then.
However Ferrari felt that the laps under the Safety Car would help them to reach their goal of stopping only twice. So it proved. After the Safety Car period ended on Lap 7, Vettel pushed hard and opened a gap of almost 10 seconds on Hamilton, who had come out in 6th place after his pit stop and who was now on the Hard compound tyres.
This was a crucial phase of the race, as Vettel basically maintained that lead to the finish (he won by 8 seconds) and Hamilton could not reduce it enough to challenge.
Mercedes had problems with balance and looking after its tyres up to the summer of 2013 and since it found a solution, has not suffered like this. So it will be disconcerting for them to have been beaten like this by Ferrari.
Will it happen again in China? Unlikely. The cooler conditions of Shanghai are likely to mean that Mercedes regains the advantage. The Silver Arrows car is around 0.8s to 1 second faster than the Ferrari, but the advantage was cut here due to the tyre situation and the heat.
What about Singapore later this year? Will Mercedes struggle there too? They have plenty of time to get on top of their tyre problems, but then again Ferrari is making rapid development progress and Vettel is something of a Singapore specialist, so it should be a similarly engaging battle in September at Marina Bay Circuit.
Other key talking points were the success of Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen, who scored his first points today in 7th place, one position below where he started on the grid. He becomes the youngest points scorer in the history of Formula 1.
Even sweeter was the fact that he finished ahead of the cars from Red Bull Racing, Toro Rosso’s better resourced sister team, which uses the same Renault engine as the Italian outfit.Leading Formula One™ commentator and journalist, James Allen is a contributing writer for Singapore GP Pte Ltd