An early race safety car bunched up the field and provided for an enthralling Malaysian Grand Prix. Some drivers were able to shine by executing their strategy perfectly in hot and humid conditions of Sepang, while others fell towards the rear of the pack. Sebastian Vettel was the standout driver of the race while Kimi Raikkonen’s equally magnificent drive to fourth place went largely unnoticed.
Meanwhile, Max Verstappen became F1’s youngest point scorer after crossing the line in seventh while Toro Rosso teammate Carlos Sainz Jr also finished ahead of the flagship Red Bull outfit.
After a troubled 2014 season, Sebastian Vettel re-stamped his authority as one of the best drivers on the grid by winning the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday.
When majority of the pack pitted under the safety car, Vettel decided to stay on track and stick to his two-stop strategy - something rivals wouldn’t have managed regardless. This served as the foundation of his victory as arch Mercedes rivals lost a heap of time in traffic, while Vettel himself was able to run in free air.
This beautiful execution of strategy, paired with some quick and timely pitstops by the Ferrari mechanics gave Vettel his first victory since 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix.
Kimi Raikkonen’s shoddy 2014 season has been well documented as the Finn failed to match teammate Fernando Alonso on his return to Scuderia. However, with the team now producing a car that is not only quick, but one that also suits Raikkonen’s style, the positive effects are evidently visible.
The business part of the race weekend started in worst possible manner when Raikkonen failed to make it into the final leg of qualifying, after being impended by Marcus Ericsson's Sauber. His fortunes didn't change at the start of the race either when as incident involving the other Sauber of Felipe Nasr punctured one of his four tyres.
However, this preluded to a fantastic drive from back of the grid where Raikkonen was able to show his aggression and speed to fight his way up to fourth place. Had it not been for that first lap misfortune, the Finn might well have secured a Ferrari 1-2 ahead of the Mercedes pairing.
Max Verstappen’s F1 debut has been highly controversial with much of the paddock reckoning he’s too young and inexperienced to drive in the pinnacle of motor racing. However, the Dutchman has remained unfazed ever since the announcement was made and preferred to wait till the start of the season to answer back.
And his Sepang drive showed that he deserves the faith bestowed upon him by the chiefs at Red Bull’s young drivers programme.
In unfamiliar wet conditions, Verstappen lined up his Toro Rosso on sixth on the grid, way ahead of his teammate Carlos Sainz Jr who is a hard chap to crack, given his credentials. On race day too, he prevailed in an intra-team wheel-to-wheel fight to cross the finish line in seventh place.
Carlos Sainz Jr
Verstappen’s F1 debut has made all the headlines, to the seclusion of Carlos Sainz Jr who has a Formula Renault 3.5 title to boast about. But the latter is equally good behind the wheels, as illustrated from the first two races of the season.
After failing to make it into the final leg of qualifying, the Spaniard looked far better in race trim and regularly ran in the top 10. He made his two-stop strategy work to take eighth at the chequered flag, ahead of the flagship Red Bull team. His only regret would be not finishing ahead of Verstappen who had fresher tyres towards the end of the race.
Valtteri Bottas had a horrible start which compromised his race and prevented him from challenging the ‘big boys’ for a spot on the podium. The Finn fell down to 14th place by the end of lap 1 and it took him until lap 12 before he broke into the top 10. However, with sufficient pace in the car and the mighty Mercedes power unit, Bottas was able to claw back lost positions.
By lap 41, he had consolidated his sixth place and was able to put on a charge over Williams teammate Felipe Massa for the fifth spot in the classifications.