Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa gained 14 positions during the race – but used very different tactics to do it.
While Hamilton made several passes on the track, Massa made the same progress with a well-timed pit stop.
As we saw on several occasions last year, Rubens Barrichello made a poor start, falling down the order.
Lewis Hamilton, on the other hand, got away cleanly and picked off seven cars, many of them at turn one. Felipe Massa followed him and gained the same number of places.
At the front of the field Sebastian Vettel made an excellent start and capitalised on Mark Webber’s failure to defend his place to rob him of the lead at turn one. That mistake cost Webber the win.
Hamilton and Massa fight through the field
Hamilton, Massa and Button finished sixth, seventh and eighth having started 20th, 21st and 17th. The chart above shows their progress compared to other relevant drivers, plus Fernando Alonso who made a similar ascent through the field before retiring.
Hamiltons and Massa’s races unfolded very differently after their starts. While Hamilton began picking off the cars in front of him Massa, also on hard tyres, couldn’t make the same progress. Unlike Hamilton, he didn’t have the advantage of an F-duct.
The upshot of this was that by the time Massa made his pit stop on lap 26, Hamilton was over 13 seconds ahead. This meant McLaren didn’t need to react to Massa’s pit stop immediately by bringing Hamilton in. At this point, Hamilton’s problem was Button.
Button had lost position to Hamilton and Massa at the start, then Alonso squeezed past him too. Although he managed to pass Alonso on the track, Button came in for an early change to hard tyres on lap nine.
By lap 29 Button was going quickly enough on his hard tyres to give Hamilton a headache as his rubber deteriorated. Hamilton pitted, getting out just ahead of Button but with five seconds in hand over Massa.
Hamilton caught Sutil at over two seconds per lap but this was a car he couldn’t pass – he got on the radio and told his team the Force India was just too quick in a straight line.
Interestingly, Michael Schumacher had been only two seconds behind Sutil when he dropped out, depriving us of a Hamilton-Schumacher battle for position.
Massa eventually passed Button has the McLaren drivers’ tyres dropped well off the pace. So much so that Fernando Alonso had a good chance of passing him even with his gearbox problem, though he eventually succumbed to a blown Ferrari engine.
After his poor start Rubens Barrichello was the first person to pit but couldn’t make it to the end of the race on his second set of tyres.
Button, on the other hand, pitted on lap nine and completed the remaining 47 laps without another stop – though his tyres were heavily worn by the end of the race. It was not unlike his long stint at Melbourne last week, and is further evidence of his skill in looking after tyres.
The order at the front of the field could easily have been reversed had Mark Webber pitted before Sebastian Vettel. In all likelihood Red Bull (and the other teams) give priority on pitting to whichever driver is leading when they’re racing each other, to prevent arguments.
But could we see a scenario where a driver in Webber’s position takes it upon himself to pit before his team mate does to gain the benefit of being the first to pit?
The race charts below break down the major movement in the race:
Overall race chart
Overall race chart (zoomed to leaders)
Overall race chart (all times compared to leader’s average time)
2010 Malaysian Grand Prix