The second race of the season, and after a rain soaked qualifying we find the Mercedes of Hamilton on pole yet again, while most notably the Red Bull of Vettel stands besides him, and the revelations of Australia, Williams, are far in the back. This has to do with their bit lacking rear aero package, and that is one factor very important in the rain...
Before the race, we had a 1 minute silence for the drama of the Malaysian Airlines Boeing.
Now, how would this race tunr out? Can Williams stage a comeback to the front? Can the Caterham`s that are driving a home race take at least a 13th spot to equal prime rivals Marussia? And how will the Red Bulls hold up in a dry race in the high humidity and temperatures of the asian country?
Even before we start, we already have a retirement in the person of Sergio Perez and a software issue on his Force India. With team mate Hulkenberg far outqualifying him in 7th, the mexican is currently being seriously overwinged by his team mate. At the start itself, Rosberg immediatly takes the measure of Vettel and storms to second, the start of the Mercedes show today. Ricciardo also passes his team mate, but he can straighten this situation in the first laps, while further in the back Bianchi and Maldonado come to contact, resulting in a stop and go penalty for the frenchman.
Lap 2: Raikonnen suffers a puncture just passed the pitlane and falls way back to last place, ruining his race. Even though he will finish, he won`t be playing any role and end in a disappointing 12th place in the end. In the meantime, both Williams cars have already steamed into the points with Massa and Bottas at places 9 and 10 respectively.
Lap 6: As Hamilton steams further away from the pack, he puts in the fastest lap.
Lap 7: Maldonado is called in, an issue on the Renault engine causing an early retirement for the Lotus, in order to save the power source from further damages.
Lap 10: Magnussen comes in for a nose change, as he has been the culprit for Raikonnen's puncture in lap 2, and is awarded a stop and go penalty on top for this. The first of the three estimated rounds of pit stops has started, but don`t cause to many shifts, bar Bianchi who retires from the race.
Lap 13: Hamilton is taking half a second on team mate Rosberg, and a full second on the rest of the field per lap.
Lap 15: Yay, as he hasn`t pitted yet, Kobayashi is running in an 8th place... pity there is no way bar a lot of retirements he can probably keep this up.
Lap 19: It is funny to see Ericsson in the other Caterham fight it out with Vergne in the Toro Rosso and Raikonnen in the Ferrari for position, and even doing it so succesfully. This guy is way better then those two blokes that had a wheel at Caterham`s last year and where basically `moving chicanes`.
Lap 20: Vergne has to retire, and that already makes the second Renault powered car before half race. At red Bull it seems they have solved most issues with the engine as they are running 3rd and 4th, but the other teams seem to be still on the backburner.
Lap 22: ALREADY the order is given at Mercedes to go into `Engine Saving Mode` and control the pace of the race, so complete is their dominance in the first half of the race.
Lap 25: Again driving above the capabilities of his car, Hulkenberg is catching up on Alonso`s Ferrari.
Lap 28: The second round of pit stops is in full swing, but nothing really shifts in the rankings.
Lap 31: Reports of chance on very light rain start coming in...
Lap 34: Sutil's Sauber comes to a halt on the start finish straight, as Hulkenberg comes in for his second pit stop. It seems that on the contrary to all other teams, he is the only one on a 2 stop strategy instead of 3. A gamble as he will definitly be losing grip later on!
Lap 35: In the the furthest corners of the circuit a light rain starts to fall, leading to Vettel believing Rosberg`s Mercedes is leaking some sort of fluid, but this is soon set straight by his team.
Lap 37: As Gutteriez retires his Sauber in the pits with seemingly a breaking problem, the rain issue seems to be certain and most teams are going to gamble not pitting for the harder tyre compound, as Wet conditions overrule the regulations of having to drive on both compounds during a grand prix.
Lap 39: Alonso is starting to put pressure on Ricciardo... who will from now on become the focus on the race.
Lap 41: As the final round of pitstops gets underway, the sympathetic aussie comes in. However, his front left wheel isn`t connected very well and he rolls to a stop within the pit lane. The team pushes him back and attaches the wheel properly... only to release him unsafely what will yield a 10 second stop and go penalty. To add more insult, within two laps he has to return to the pits as his front wing got disconnected by hitting a curve. His race ruined, he will resume the race until retiring in lap 52, as this would allow them a gear box change without a grid penalty in the next race and he had 0 chance to score any points today. With the issues of Melbourne and the team screw up today, he has been driving great for 2 races, yet still has a 0 behind his name in scored points.
Right up until this point I had Red Bull in mind to be nominated team of the race for me, as with their terrible season build up plagued by issues, they had gotten their act together... but then amateuristically screwed it up here. One wonders though, like before with Webber, why it happens to the `other driver` then Vettel again...
Lap 45: Controlling the race, Hamilton knocks in a fastest lap again.
Lap 46: As Massa starts attacking the McLaren of Button, it dawns that rain won`t be happening, causing a lot of cars to have to come in penultimately for the Hard compound none the less.
Lap 48: The Ferrari does have pace, as Alonso smacks in the fastest lap in his hunt for the 4th place still occupied by the drifting Hulkenberg who is getting grip issues due to his 2 stop strategy.
Lap 50 and 51: The three leading cars all pit for the harder compound, but no real time gains or losses are made.
Lap 52: Alonso overtakes Hulkenbergm but with still a 40 second gap to Button in 6th, the german is sure that if he just keeps his car on the track for those remaining 4 laps he will bring home solid points.
Lap 53: Massa gets team orders to let the faster Bottas pass in order to launch an attack on Button in 6th, but this doesn`t come to pass as the brazilian keeps his position. The first in team war in the making? Hamilton laps a fastest round 2 seconds!!! quicker then all the rest, degrading them to a standers by position, and takes the chequered flag for his first win of the season.
1. Hamilton - Mercedes
2. Rosberg - Mercedes
3. Vettel - Red Bull Renault
4. Alonso - Ferrari
5. Hulkenberg - Force India Mercedes
6. Button - McLaren Mercedes
7. Massa - Williams Mercedes
8. Bottas - Williams Mercedes
9. Magnussen - McLaren Mercedes
10. Kvyat - Toro Rosso Renault
11. Grosjean - Lotus Renault
12. Raikonnen - Ferrari
13. Kobayashi - Caterham Renault
14. Ericsson - Caterham Renault
15. Chilton - Marussia Ferrari
Again, the Mercedes engine outclassed everyone else, putting 7 out of 10 cars of the points scorers with a german engine in their backs. Renault has two scorers, while only a single Ferrari engine entered there where it mattered. Notable is the fact that Kvyat yet again scored a point, as did fellow rookie Magnussen, while with Ericsson all three rookies of this season came to the finish line.
The Caterham team managed to equal the result of Chilton in his Marussia in Australia, a good result for those extra millions, and Grosjean brought a Lotus to the finish, something they can build upon for sure.
In terms of strength after two races, it is clear that Mercedes is high above the rest. I think red Bull, fully supported by Renault, is becoming the number two team already, right above Williams (definitly the best of the non big teams), Ferrari and McLaren.
The midfield for me is Toro Rosso more then Force India as the italians have more consistency then the indian team, but the latter has Hulkenberg, God that really is a great and strong driver and I think he alone is going to nail it for the team.
The lower midfield, is closer nit together. Caterham and Marussia are not as far behind Lotus and Sauber as one might expect, and especcially my favorite green team has a strong line up with on the one hand Kobayashi, who is a good driver, period, and Ericsson who is better then the average `pay driver` you tend to get in those bottom teams. In the end, they all got lapped just about 1 time, where before the midfield tended to lap those two teams regularly as well.
A special mention MUST go to Chilton, who still has NOT to finish a Grand Prix in his career. he isn`t the fastest on the tracks, but he definitly is a reliable driver and not one causing incidents during the overtaking.
Team of the Race: No doubt, that has to be Mercedes. Scoring their first 1-2 finish since Italy 1955 (okay, they are only back for 5 years), they are plucking the fruits of their already 2 years of preparation for this season. I doubt anyone will be able to even slightly threaten them before we get back to Europe and larger updates tend to happen, if even then (not counting Monaco where engine power buys you zilch).
Driver of the Race: Hulkenberg. Give that guy a chance in a better team and he`ll be scoring podiums and even wins by the bucket, believe me...
Next stop of the season will be Bahrein on the 6th of april (aka, next week) in their 10th year jubilee and as a night race for the occassion, hope to see you all then!
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