Race Malaysian GP report: Ferrari
Fernando Alonso started from fourth on the grid and 56 laps later, he was fourth at the flag. It was a tough afternoon for him and even tougher for his Scuderia Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, who spiralled to the back of the pack after having to pit with a puncture, eventually fighting his way back to finish twelfth. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg secured a one-two finish for Mercedes, the company’s first since the 1955 Italian Grand Prix, with Sebastian Vettel third for Red Bull.
Hamilton’s Mercedes led from pole, Rosberg squeezed very close to the pit wall and got ahead of Vettel to run second, while Ricciardo also passed his Red Bull team-mate, so that the order was Hamilton, already pulling out from Rosberg, then Ricciardo, Vettel with Fernando having dropped one place to fifth and about to be passed by Hulkenberg. Kimi was in trouble with a puncture to a rear tyre and had to pit, the Finn having been clipped by Magnussen’s McLaren. Fernando soon retook fifth place on lap 2, with Kimi rejoining down the back as Vettel passed Ricciardo on lap 3.
By lap 8, Hamilton already had a massive 5.2 second lead over Rosberg, with Vettel 3.4 down on the German, followed by Ricciardo at a second and Fernando 1.1 off the Australian. A three-stopper was the favourite strategy and Fernando came in for fresh Mediums on lap 11. Ricciardo came in next time round and the Ferrari and Red Bull ended up wheel to wheel for a few corners, before the Australian pulled ahead for seventh place. Fernando fought his way past Bottas for sixth on lap 14, as the two Mercedes made their stops. Hulkenberg, the only one of the lead group not to have changed tyres was second, with Fernando sixth behind Ricciardo, with Kimi still unable to make headway in nineteenth.
The middle part of the race saw little change to the order. Everyone was aiming for a very long penultimate stint, as the threat of rain meant that a costly extra stop for dry tyres was to be avoided. Fernando closed on Ricciardo’s Red Bull so the gap was half a second on lap 37 when the rain began to fall at Turns 9 and 10, but it would never be heavy enough for anything but slicks. Fernando made his final stop from fourth place on lap 42 but with Hulkenberg on a two-stopper, the Spaniard lost a place dropping to fifth. However, undaunted, he set off in pursuit of the Force India, the gap standing at 9.1 with 9 laps to go. He took 2 seconds out of that next time round, setting a race fastest lap.
In the closing stages, Kimi had a crowd-pleasing battle with Grosjean’s Lotus, trying to take eleventh off the Frenchman but to no avail. The Finn’s car had floor damage after the Magnussen incident, which meant downforce was lacking on the F14 T. After a wheel to wheel battle through several corners, Fernando passed Hulkenberg to secure fourth spot with a few laps remaining.
“We cannot be happy with today’s result, because even if, on the one hand we managed to claim a fourth place that sees Fernando stay third in the Drivers’ classification, on the other hand, Kimi failed to score points when they were well within his grasp, but for the accident with Magnussen on the opening lap. Even if there have been improvements on the performance front, the gap to Mercedes is still significant and that should motivate the whole team, at the track, but especially back in Maranello, to improve the car in every area. We know what areas we need to work on and we must try and do that as quickly as possible. The championship has only just begun and we know just how quickly things can change in Formula 1.”
“The points scored today are the result of a trouble free weekend, in which the small improvements on the car worked as we had expected and it ran very reliably. We definitely have a lot more work to do, because while we are moving forward, the others are doing the same. Everyone in our team is doing their utmost to close down the gap. There’s still a lot to learn in these early races, but it’s no secret that we definitely need to improve our top speed, as could be seen from my duel with Hulkenberg. I was able to get him thanks to fresher tyres, but we definitely need to up our performance right from the very next race. It will be very hot in Bahrain and the tyre compounds are softer. This might be an advantage to us, because on the harder tyres we are sliding a lot. Also, from the data we gathered there during winter testing, we might be able to extract more of our potential, but that will apply to everyone.”
“I am very disappointed with how this race turned out, because I got a good start, but then the collision with Magnussen damaged my right rear tyre, which meant I had to make an extra stop. That wiped out any chance I had of fighting for a good finish. After the accident, the car’s handling was not the same, as the tyre had caused damage to the floor, which led to a loss of downforce. On my first set of tyres, I had some difficulties and it was only after the final stop, when I fitted the Mediums that it went better, but by then it was too late. Hard to say how things might have gone without that problem, because our rivals were very quick, but maybe I could have finished close to Fernando. It was a really unlucky day, but overall we managed to improve our performance and now we must concentrate on the positive aspects of this weekend and work to improve starting already next week in Bahrain.”
“A race of mixed fortunes today, because while Fernando managed yet again to give his all, Kimi’s race was compromised right from the start. With the former, it was a case of managing the traffic and tyre performance: while we were trying to bring forward the stops to pass Ricciardo, at the same time, we had to defend from Hulkenberg, who was behind Fernando but on a different strategy. As for Kimi, he was hit by Magnussen and had to do an entire lap at a very slow pace to get back to the pits and change tyres. Despite the different outcomes, both of them drove at a good pace, reasonably similar to that of the cars grouped behind the Mercedes. The F14 T continues to make progress and has proved to have good reliability, but we know this is not enough. We know we are working in the right direction, but if we want to reduce the gap to the leaders, we need to make a major step forward. Bahrain looks like being one of the hardest races of the season, where managing fuel consumption will definitely play a very important role.”