Malaysian Grand Prix: Hamilton too good as Mercedes dominate at Sepang

Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday 30 March 2014.

Lewis Hamilton won the Malaysian Grand Prix with a pole-to-flag victory ahead of Nico Rosberg on Sunday in a first Mercedes one-two since they returned to Formula 1 as a works team in 2010 – the last time they did so as the F1 Silver Arrows was in 1955.

The 2008 Formula One World Champion easily pulled away from his rivals on a dry track, with a three-stop strategy, to win the race by 17.3 seconds, take his 23rd career victory, and finally break his Sepang bogey.

“Really grateful, thank you so much,” the Briton told his team over the radio after taking the chequered flag for his second win for Mercedes since he joined them last year, and his first points of the 2014 season.

Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday 30 March 2014.

He added on the podium afterwards, “That was just incredible after such a difficult weekend and a long winter. I just feel so grateful, particularly after the tragedy three weeks [ago] and I would like to dedicate the win to the families [of Flight MH 370].”

“Today you are sweating before you even got in the car so you just have try to keep cool and keep your focus. But the team were absolutely spot on with all their instructions today so “big thanks” to them,” said the Briton.

Rosberg, who won the season opener in Australia two weeks ago, started in third place but slipped past quadruple world champion Sebastian Vettel on the first corner and was able to keep the Red Bull at bay, and stay at the top of the the drivers’ standings.

Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday 30 March 2014.

“I got a great start today, it was tough but I took it from there. I was trying to chase Lewis but he was just too quick for me today,” said the German.

Vettel finished third, 7.2 seconds behind Rosberg, for his first points of the season, following an early retirement in Australia, as he struggled to make an impact on the Mercedes pair without the rain that helped his Qualifying bid on Saturday.

A month ago few would have bet a dime on Red Bull finishing a race, let alone finishing on the podium, but that is exactly what Vettel did as he chased the silver cars after an early skirmish with luckless teammate Daniel Ricciardo who looked strong for at least a top-four finish until it all went awry for him after a botched pitstop. More of that later…

Vettel reflected on the Sepang podium, “The start was not very good and I was quite surprised when I saw Nico on my right. I thought that I had a good start but Nico was there, it was quite tight, Daniel was coming as well and I lost a place. Fortunately I got it back and later I tried to get as close to Nico as I could, but then it was like he found another gear, and pulled away. At the end I was just trying to get the car home. There’s still a long way to go – the Mercedes cars are quick!”

Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday 30 March 2014.

Ferrari‘s Fernando Alonso secured his second fourth place finish of the season, after coming out ahead in a tight battle with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg in the closing stages.

Alonso told reporters, “It was never an easy race, as I would expect, it was tough, and maybe we didn’t have the pace to follow the Mercedes or Red Bull. We had a different strategy and it was fun, but definitely we need to work a little bit on the performance. We want to battle with Red Bull and Mercedes. But on the other had we had zero technical problems all weekend – we just need better performance.”

Hulkenberg gets the Grand Prix 247 ‘Man of the Match’ for his efforts which continue to show up the ignorance of the big team bosses who appear to disregard his constant above par performances with midfield equipment.

Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday 30 March 2014.

Hulkenberg said, “After the start, I was in a nice comfortable position so it was easier to manage the tyres and fuel which was good. Alonso was ‘eating me alive’ but I knew that there was no way to keep him at bay. I was expecting McLaren and more so with Williams that they would be all over me but we performed very well.”

“It’s been a really smooth transition [going back to Force India] better than I thought to be honest, it helps knowing people and I love the guys. They all look after me and every now and again I will try to give them points and it seems to work so far. The aim in Bahrain must to carry on and get some more points,” declared ‘The Hulk’.

McLaren’s Jenson Button was content to finish sixth, after starting tenth on the grid, “I think after Friday, sixth place was probably better than expected, I don’t think there were many cars slower than us, then but a lot of work was done. I had to really control where I could and couldn’t push so it was a really thinking race for me and mentally very tiring. It’s not where we want to finish though…we need some upgrades.”

Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday 30 March 2014.

Team orders drama (which dominated headlines at the same race last year) re-emerged, this time at Williams as Felipe Massa repeatedly ignored calls from the team’s pit-wall to allow teammate Valtteri Bottas  through.

  • Williams team: “Felipe, Valtteri [Bottas] is faster than you. Can you let him through?”
  • Valtteri Bottas’ race engineer: “You’re faster than him [Massa], overtake him!”

Massa refused to yield and as a result the Williams duo crossed the line nose-to-tail in seventh and eighth respectively, the veteran Brazilian racer sending a clear message to his new team in the process.

Massa was unrepentant, ” I was just fighting to the end, that’s the way I wanted to do it and I will fight for my career and for what is right. I did nothing wrong because I was chasing Jenson Button and there was a chance of catching him. I don’t regret what I did. I tried to push in the direction that I believed was the right one and we both got points on the day. I have very good respect for the team and I believe that they respect me, and that is very important.”

Bottas gave his version, “I was approaching quicker than him. We should speak with the team, look at the data and see if I could have caught Jenson – I thought I could have. We need to learn from today for the future, we always have to keep learning.”

Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday 30 March 2014.

McLaren’s Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen and Toro Rosso’s Russian newcomer Daniil Kvyat rounded out the top 10 of a race that suffered just a couple of light drops of rain, despite concerns about possible thunderstorms.

Magnussen again did his shares no harm with a strong performance, perhaps blighted by an early tangle with Raikkonen for which he was penalised, perhaps too harshly for the  offense committed, but he took it on the chin without complaints.

“I apologise to the team because I made a mistake in the first corner and it made the race a lot worse. I’m sorry about that and I will learn. Jenson did a brilliant job today – he started 10th and finished sixth. I started eighth and should have finished well from a better starting position. It was my mistake,” admitted Magnussen.

It was a big step forward for Lotus as Romain Grosjean finished 11th, despite niggles throughout the afternoon, but nevertheless making up for the retirement of teammate Pastor Maldonado.

Grosjean declared, “I think it was alright overall, the tyre degradation was hard to control, and it was tough [the] last few laps. It was good to see the chequered flag and a good reward for all the guys.”

Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday 30 March 2014.

Kimi Raikkonen was victim of an early puncture, when he went wheel to wheel with Magnussen, after which he was out of contention. His reward for a tough afternoon in the trenches was 12th, as his return to Ferrari continues to be dogged by frustration.

After his Melbourne first lap debacle, Kamui Kobayashi signalled his return to the big stage with a feisty performance in his Caterham, finishing 13th and providing good entertainment as he battled doggedly in mid-pack, giving Raikkonen a run all the way to the finish line.

Ricciardo, who was disqualified in Australia (pending an appeal), missed out on points for the second race in a row after a disastrous third pit stop while  running fourth.

The Red Bull driver pulled away before his front left wheel was fully attached. This led to the somewhat comical sight of his mechanics sprinting down the pitlane to push him back, and fix the issue.

The Australian was then given a 10 second penalty for the unsafe release but his chances of points were already over after he shredded a tyre and damaged a wing shortly before the stewards’ decision. He retired soon after.

Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday 30 March 2014.

Ricciardo said, “I am disappointed, it was looking like we could have a solid points finish and I was starting to mix it up at the front but at the last pit stop there were all the problems so the race ended pretty quickly for me.”

“Deep down I am really disappointed but there is a bit in me which is happy because I have come out how i wanted to in the first two races, I want to improve, but there are things to be pleased with.

“Because I am always smiling and happy a lot of people think I am too nice, but I am here to race and I want to race at the front and you will see a lot more of that,” concluded the Australian.

Final word to Mercedes Non-Executive Chairman Niki Lauda who punched the air as Hamilton crossed the finish line, “The team is my baby and I am very happy,” said Lauda. “It was a fantastic drive by Lewis and Nico and to get first and second was great. Two races, two wins, we can’t do any better.”

Lewis+Hamilton+F1+Grand+Prix+Malaysia+pn3NEjIK3yqx

“I am not surprised by the start though, because I have watched the team throughout the winter. We knew that the new car was better than last year’s and we have got a balanced car with a good engine so the next couple of races are going to be very exciting.”

“I am keeping my feet on the ground because things can change very quickly, so I will never get carried away. We will continue to improve the engine and the car to make sure we can just keep our noses ahead.” (Reuters-GP247)

Subbed by AJN.

Subbed by AJN.

Malaysian Grand Prix, Sepang International Circuit – Sunday, 20 March 2014

Pos No Driver Team Laps Time Grid Pts
1 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 56 Winner 1 25
2 6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 56 +17.3 secs 3 18
3 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 56 +24.5 secs 2 15
4 14 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 56 +35.9 secs 4 12
5 27 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 56 +47.1 secs 7 10
6 22 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 56 +83.6 secs 10 8
7 19 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 56 +85.0 secs 13 6
8 77 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes 56 +85.5 secs 18 4
9 20 Kevin Magnussen McLaren-Mercedes 55 +1 Lap 8 2
10 26 Daniil Kvyat STR-Renault 55 +1 Lap 11 1
11 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 55 +1 Lap 15
12 7 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 55 +1 Lap 6
13 10 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham-Renault 55 +1 Lap 20
14 9 Marcus Ericsson Caterham-Renault 54 +2 Lap 22
15 4 Max Chilton Marussia-Ferrari 54 +2 Lap 21
Ret 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing-Renault 49 +7 Lap 5
Ret 21 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 35 +21 Laps 12
Ret 99 Adrian Sutil Sauber-Ferrari 32 +24 Laps 17
Ret 25 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Renault 18 +38 Laps 9
Ret 17 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Ferrari 8 +48 Laps 19
Ret 13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus-Renault 7 +49 Laps 16
Ret 11 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 0 +56 laps 14

Note – Bottas qualified 15th but was subsequently penalised three grid places for impeding during qualifying.