A far more exciting race than we might have had, and very much improved on Australia. Mixed bag from a betting perspective, a small red result (if you put £10 on every put you’d be a couple of quid down. Not bank-busting but not good either). I’m doubly irked with myself, though. I lacked the patience to wait a few more hours for Ferrari to top score to emerge on Ladbrokes, and the judgement to back Vettel for the win at 10.5. On the other hand, I was very confident about Raikkonen, and that did come off.
Congrats to Mr. M, who’s doing rather better than me at this betting business so far this season.
The start saw Maldonado fly up the order, only to take a slight knock, receive a puncture and later retire. Bottas went backwards, and Hulkenberg made up many places, but the top three maintained their running order.
Surprisingly, Hamilton couldn’t make a large gap to Vettel, who wasn’t that far ahead of Rosberg.
In the early stages, Raikkonen received a puncture at the worst place, just after the pit entry. So, he had to complete a whole lap trundling about before he could change tyres. His situation was moderately improved when a safety car turned out due to debris on the track.
The safety car enabled just about everyone to pit. Raikkonen didn’t, for obvious reasons. Less obviously, Vettel chose to remain out (thus acquiring the lead) and neither did Hulkenberg or Grosjean (2nd and 3rd respectively). At this point in time it seemed the Frenchman had a better shot of a top 6 finish than the Finn.
Weirdly, the two Mercedes, unlike almost everyone else, shifted to the slower hard compound tyres. Not only do this mean they couldn’t catch and pass Vettel, it seemed they degraded the tyre more rapidly than other teams, forcing them to pit sooner than should’ve been the case. In the end, lack of option tyres (due to oddly running a set in Q1) meant that Hamilton ended the race on hard tyres and Vettel cruised to victory.
Grosjean fell further down the the order than I expected. Not sure if that was due to an extra pit stop or some temporary technical issue, but I was surprised to see him so far down.
Ericsson was in a points-paying position when he made a slightly odd mistake at the first turn, going wide and beaching his Sauber in a gravel trap. Odd, frustrating and needless. Nasr had been slow all weekend and didn’t trouble the scorers, making it a comedown for Sauber after the high of Australia.
The Williams had a slightly lonely race, slower than the two top teams but far ahead of the others. On the final lap, Bottas gave us some excitement by passing his team mate to swap 5th and 6th.
It was a great day for Toro Rosso, who enjoyed a double points result ahead of their sister team (Verstappen was very racy [and became the youngest points scorer in the history of the sport by about two years], ahead of Sainz, Kvyat and Ricciardo).
Although both McLarens had to retire for technical reasons, the pace was better than they expected. Alonso was in a points position when he was forced to quit, and Button was closing on the pack when he had to box the car. There’s still a very long way to go, but there has been a significant improvement in pace just from Australia.
Hulkenberg and Perez received 10s stop and go penalties which may have been a shade harsh. They finished behind Grosjean and Nasr, with all four just outside the points.
Merhi was the final chap to finish, 3 laps off the pace. Very slow, but Manor Marussia will be glad with the car’s reliability (Will Stevens did not start).
So, we may have a two horse race for the Constructors’, and perhaps a three (or four) horse race for the Drivers’.
Strategic cunning by Ferrari and Mercedes abusing their tyres led to this race result, but what about absolute pace? Harder to assess. I think in qualifying trim the Silver Arrows retain an advantage [Vettel’s tiny deficit to Hamilton’s pole was due to Hamilton not putting in a later fast lap, the true gap would’ve been substantially larger, had he done so, I believe]. But in the race Hamilton could not break away from Vettel during the initial stint on equal fuel loads and tyres. Specifically, the Ferrari was faster on the straights, but Mercedes was better in the corners. At Monza and Austria I expect Ferrari victories. In Monaco and Singapore, Mercedes.
It’s very early days and this is, I think, the first time we’ve seen the hard tyre and definitely the first time we’ve seen such high temperatures (there wasn’t a drop of rain during the race). It may be that the balance of power was tipped by the thermometer, the hard tyres or a combination of the two. Let us not forget that in Australia Vettel was 3rd, but half a minute behind the Mercedes. However, it’s also worth noting Australia is a street circuit [albeit an entertaining one], whereas Malaysia is not, and the latter has two long straights.
Tyres, temperature, circuit, weather: all play a role. I do think Mercedes has an overall advantage, but I also think Vettel will win more races this season.
Obviously the long odds ‘Mercedes to win every race’ bet is now a loser, but I always thought it was a long shot. However, the bet on Hamilton beating the race wins record (14) remains live. It’s touch-and-go, but I did get fairly lengthy odds.
Here’s how the title races stack up:
I think you could almost nail Williams on for the third spot. Ferrari would be a lot closer to Mercedes had Raikkonen not suffered a dodgy pit stop in Australia (all else being equal you’d expect such misfortune to even itself out over a season). Ferrari to win is worth considering.
Ladbrokes have them at 9. I think that’s too long, and have put a small sum on the prancing horse for the title (feel more comfortable doing this because if Malaysia proves a flash in the pan the Hamilton most wins bet should come off, and it’s theoretically possible, albeit unlikely, both bets could be winners).
Raikkonen has yet to give Vettel a stern test, but his recovery from back of the field to 4th today was very impressive. He could yet feature in the title race, although he has an early and significant points deficit.
Can Vettel and Ferrari maintain this pace?
Next up is China, which features perhaps the longest straight in the sport [it's China or Abu Dhabi, I forget which] and two other straights. Vettel has a good history there. What tyre compounds are used could be critical. It also remains harder, I believe, to overtake this season compared to last year (Grosjean couldn’t pass the slower Force India of Hulkenberg or Sauber of Nasr over many laps).
The season just became rather more interesting. The next race is in a fortnight. Let’s hope it’s as interesting as Malaysia, but rather more profitable.