Malaysian Grand Prix – The Race

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Return of the King?

Straight in to #MartinsGridWalk (because there is a LOT to get through) and first up its Mr Jenson Button. He outqualified his new team-mate Alonso (who has returned to F1 racing after his slightly mysterious absence) yesterday and thinks they will be more competitive today. Admittedly that means the cars are still rubbish but a bit less rubbish than in Australia. Still baby steps.

I just can’t get beyond the fact that Jenson is still sporting a Mansell Moustache and now seems to have a very dubious haircut. Hey I want to look like a 1980s geography teacher. Said No One Ever (except for geography teachers in 1983 presumably). Maybe it’s a subtle ruse to embarrass McLaren by modelling ever more ludicrous facial hair until he gets a decent car. Blimey he’ll be a dead ringer for Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath by the time we get to Monaco. Which in its own way might be fun.

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Winner of the oddest picture I have ever included in a blog (and there have been many).

Today Carlos Sainz Jnr is happy to chat to Martin (he didn’t want to speak on the grid before his first race last time out – fair do’s) and he’s looking to have some fun. I have decided that I quite like Carlos. We need more smiley people in Formula 1.

Felipe Nasr told Martin of his troubled weekend so far and said he was struggling to find the right balance (hmmm driving around on a track that is hotter than the sun isn’t probably going to solve that problem). Next up (Martin is on a roll with chatty drivers today) was Pastor Maldonado who feared tyre degradation due to the heat would be a big factor. Apparently the track temperature is 62 degrees. Basically you could do yourself a nice fry-up on a quiet corner of the Sepang circuit and surprisingly for Sepang there are a lot of blue skies and no sign whatsoever of any dark Game Changer clouds. Bah.

Its fair to say a lot of people’s hopes (like mine) are resting on Sebastian Vettel for this race who has astonishingly (a ridiculous thing to say about a 4 time world champion but such is Mercedes’ dominance) put his car on the front row of the grid. So the top 8 line up on the grid as follows: Hamilton – Vettel – Rosberg – Ricciardo – Kvyat – Verstappen – Massa – Bottas

Lewis is complaining that his steering wheel has been left in the sun and is now too hot. But er you’re wearing fire-proof gloves!? Poor Toto Wolff – he mustn’t get a minute’s peace from the avalanche of complaints and moans he has to tackle every day. As a mother of two small children, I feel your pain Toto.

So its time for the second race of the 2015 season. Charlie Whiting is ready and waiting to begin the magic sequence of start buttons and the 4 year old asks why are we not there with Charlie. Its one of life’s imponderables.

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And they’re off…
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The dash to the first corner

Its Go! Go! Go! at the Malaysian Grand Prix! Hamilton sails off serenely and Vettel appears to have a rather sluggish start but just about manages to keep Rosberg behind him. Meanwhile Massa has had an absolute stormer to leapfrog Kvyat and Verstappen to move into 5th place. Maldonado has had a puncture after being hit by Valterri Bottas. Kimi’s tyre is delaminating all over the place after a collision with Nasr. Somehow he limps into the pits and manages to rejoin the race. It is total madness out there. Bring me lots of coffee now!

How completely bizarre, literally just as we’re watching him, Ericsson just outbreaks himself when under no pressure whatsoever and spins off wildly into the gravel. A total schoolboy error and then some. But this bit of lunacy means we get a Safety Car which we all know can be a Game Changer <crosses fingers>. Cue usual flood of pitstops under a Safety Car. Most of the frontrunners come in except for Ferrari who are clearly trying a Clever High-Risk Two Stop Strategy – and lets face it anything is worth a shot.

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Taxi for Ericsson

Vettel gets on the radio to tell his team that Mercedes deliberately slowed down before their pitstops (presumably to stagger the stacking in the pits) then speeded up in a Not Very Subtle Message to Charlie Whiting. Good old Seb! He’s read the script.

So on lap 7, racing in anger recommences (and it appears there are quite a lot of agitated drivers out there – Hamilton, Raikkonen, Rosberg for starters). The Safety Car has brilliantly shuffled the pack and the front 5 are now 1. Vettel 2. Hulk 3. Grosjean 4. Sainz 5. Perez. Game on. Hamilton starts his charge by passing Perez and then Ricciardo neatly swoops round Perez as well. And quite incredibly Alonso and Button are not last and currently occupy P13 and P14. Poor old Perez is having a mare. He’s now fallen behind Verstappen, Kvyat and Bottas. There is some brilliant racing and passing going on out there. When Malaysia is good, it is very very good indeed.

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Such a brilliant driver in such a dog of a car. Its just wrong.

Rosberg is asking his team for updates and they remind him that he is on prime tyres (code for #getabloodymoveon). He manages to claw his way past Massa but its fair to say he is not exactly carving his way through the field like a hot knife through butter.

Hamilton is now up to 3rd place and then 2nd place. So on lap 11/56, Vettel has a 10 second lead over Hamilton with one less pitstop to do. We think. Behind Hamilton, it is all kinds of crazy as the next cars from the Hulk in 3rd down to Kvyat in 11th jostle and scrap like mad. What a thing of beauty to watch all these cars snaking around so close together after the sad, surreal sight of watching a lone car have a sector to itself in Albert Park.

And now Button takes Perez for P10 – high five Jenson. That is two McLarens in the points. Heady times. Vettel finally pits for the first time on lap 18 and comes out in P3 behind Hamilton and Rosberg. Interestingly, prior to Seb’s pitstop, Hamilton hadn’t really made major inroads into Seb’s lead despite being on newer, faster tyres. Those Ferrari cars are freaking fast and, as if to underline the point, Kimi is now setting a string of fastest laps.

Vettel is taking giant chunks out of Rosberg’s time and is just over 1 second behind him. Nico is freaking out over the radio and the team tell him that both him and Seb have one more stop to make. If I was Toto or Nico’s race engineer I wouldn’t want to hear my driver come back with “if he goes by me he has won”. You could always retake him. I sense that Nico is really feeling the pressure this season.

On lap 22 Vettel just destroys Rosberg to take P2. Well nobody expected this. The 4 year old is overjoyed (she chose her top today especially because it had a horse on it – admittedly that’s because she loves horses but its something to work with) and am I wrong for really, really hoping that Vettel can pull off the impossible. Interestingly, Ferrari seem to think degradation might be an issue for Hamilton and they could be right as Hamilton has reported exactly the same problem.

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Vettel takes Rosberg for P2

Oh poor Fernando Alonso is out of the race after running so well up in P8. Gutted for him. His replacement at Ferrari, Vettel, has just taken 2.5 seconds out of Hamilton and the gap is all of a sudden now down to 1.6 seconds, That is just freaking incredible. What is it about Germans at Ferrari? It is like watching Schumacher of old and that really is praise indeed. This is mindboggingly brilliant. GO SEB!!!

Quite incredibly on lap 25, Vettel edges past Hamilton to TAKE THE LEAD and Lewis promptly dives into the pits for what seems to be a slowish stop. Clearly, Mercedes have been forced to change strategy. The world has been turned upside down on its axis. This is one of the very best races I have seen in a long time.

A very fiesty little battle for P10 is raging on between Kvyat v Ricciardo v Hulkenberg. Ricciardo’s Red Bull is struggling and he’s told not to hold up his team-mate. CRASH ALERT: the Hulk has a rare aberration and on losing position to Kvyat, tries to retake the place, clatters into poor old Kvyat who spins and narrowly avoids crashing into his team-mate Ricciardo. Oh dear.

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Nico Hulkenberg makes a move on Kvyat. Not in a good way.

At the half-way point of the race (how is it only lap 28?!) it is 1. Vettel (Ferrari) 2. Hamilton (Mercedes) 3. Raikkonen (Ferrari) 4. Rosberg (Mercedes) 5. Sainz (Torro Rosso) and 6. Massa (Williams). Can I just say how much I ADORE Jenson Button … the master of brilliantly laconic radio messages “I’m a little bit surprised…I appear to be catching cars”. Admittedly they are caught up in a Hulk traffic jam but McLaren deserve a few breaks.

Another battle for P10 is kicking off between Kvyat v Hulkenberg v Perez v Grosjean. And in the least surprising event ever we have ANOTHER CRASH – Perez basically didn’t give Grosjean enough room. I’d say that’s a slam-dunk 10 second penalty for Perez (and sure enough that is what happened – 10 second penalties slapped on each of the Force India drivers).

Both Mercedes drivers are told the 1-2 finish is still on but they need to make a move on track to seal the deal. How much am I loving the sight of a Ferrari leading a F1 race once again. Vettel gets the order to box (for the second and final time) and he re-emerges literally a nanosecond ahead of Rosberg. I can’t help but think possibly Rosberg should have made that corner his. Hamilton’s tyres are right royally stuffed and he is forced to pit earlier than he and the team probably wanted. He is now on the hard (slower) tyre compound which means the battle to catch and pass Vettel has suddenly become a whole lot harder.

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Ferrari, welcome back!

Still I cannot call this race (and when was the last time I wrote that?). Hamilton is berating his team for not telling him what’s happening. Pity the poor hapless guy who accidentally pressed the comms button just as Paddy and the team were privately discussing strategy options. Brundle has just commented on how angry Hamilton gets sometimes. The team comes on the radio to tell Lewis they’ll be catching Vettel in 5 laps (fairly welcome news one would have thought) and he lambasts them for distracting him by talking to him on the corners saying he nearly went off. My diplomatic head says Lewis must be feeling disappointed having got pole and then through tyre choices and safety car intervention may well be seeing a win slip through his fingers. But really what I am thinking is Lewis, just get a goddamn grip. Imagine what life is like for Jenson Button who drove so valiantly once again but has sadly retired from the race. Its going to be a long, grim season at McLaren.

So Ten Laps To Go Klaxon and Vettel has a 11 second lead. It sounds a lot but is a tad slender for my liking. We have now entered a strange period of calmness at the front but we get to enjoy a good scrap between Sainz and Verstappen. How prodigiously talented is Verstappen (he was born in 1997 – my brain just cannot compute that, that was only one year before I met the husband) – he has just passed Sainz for 7th place.

A truly lovely and poignant comment from Martin saying he hopes somewhere Schumacher is watching the race with a big smile on his face. I hope so too. Actually that’s just made me really choke up.

With a couple of laps remaining the gap has not come down between Vettel and Hamilton but there’s still life in this grand old race yet – the Williams team is putting on a brilliant show for us with Bottas finally making a move stick on his team-mate.

Lap 56/56 and the impossible has happened. Sebastian Vettel wins his FIRST RACE FOR FERRARI (in his second race for the greatest and most historic team in Formula 1 – how about that!). Sebastian Vettel is back. Ferrari is back. And all of a sudden this season looks very very very exciting! I am an emotionally spent force.

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Vettel’s first win for Ferrari. Many more to follow I suspect.
  1. Vettel – How much does this mean to him? And check out that Italian accent. A majestic and imperious victory (against considerable odds) that Michael Schumacher would be proud of.
  2. Hamilton – He will be disappointed and starting to realise that he might have to battle an tougher opponent than Rosberg this season.
  3. Rosberg – Again, solid and steady but can’t be overjoyed that the person to beat Hamilton wasn’t him.
  4. Raikkonen – After his rocky start, Kimi recovered well to follow the Mercedes pair home. Hopefully the new awesome Ferrari will see the rebirth of the cavalier, victorious Kimi of 2012.
  5. Bottas – Another decent result but Williams are no longer the best of the rest. Is this the optimum that Williams is capable of?
  6. Massa – See Bottas.

So we salute you Malaysia. At the risk of sounding like Eddie Jordan (forgive me, its been a long exhausting race with one hour less sleep than normal having gone to bed at 2am!) what a show you put on for us. It may have been one race late but the season has exploded into life in spectacular fashion. It is nearly two years since Ferrari last won a race but Formula 1 has a habit of pulling a rabbit out of the hat when you least expect it. Vettel was in tears, James Allison (Ferrari’s enormously likeable technical director) was in tears and you know what, I also might have wiped away the odd tear.

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Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel. The baton has been passed on.
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