Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, Sepang International Circuit, 2014

Rain offers best chance of victory for Mercedes’ rivals

2014 Malaysian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Sepang International Circuit, 2014For the second race running a rainy Saturday meant a shake-up of the usual qualifying order. But of course this is only the second race of the season, so exactly what ‘the usual’ is in 2014 is not entirely certain.

What is clear is that it does involve a pair of silver cars going quite a bit faster than everyone else. So when Lewis Hamilton aborted his second run in Q3 that presented an opportunity for Sebastian Vettel – who had been just 0.055s slower on their first runs – to capitalise.

But he missed his chance. Heading into the last corner to begin his final lap Vettel was surprised to find Nico Rosberg on his inside. he backed off and didn’t get across the start line in time. Rosberg inadvertently helped his team mate towards pole position, afterwards he was under the mistaken impression he hadn’t been involved.

So as in Australia Hamilton will head the field on the grid with his team mate in his wheeltracks and a Red Bull separating the pair – Vettel this time instead of Daniel Ricciardo.

But does the world champion have a realistic chance of taking the fight to two cars which had up to a second per lap in hand at the first race?

The weather

While the local weather system has certain strongly defined characteristics – such as the regular afternoon storms – it is also volatile. Today’s heavy showers developed very quickly and instead of a brief downpour they lingered over the circuit, periodically topping up the track with more rain.

The threat of rain remains for tomorrow’s race and for most of Mercedes’ rivals it represents their best chance to get on terms with the W05s. The silver cars remained a full second faster than anything else on track in the dry final practice session – in the rain the other cars might at least have a sporting chance.

While Red Bull are patently at a disadvantage to Mercedes when it comes to top speed (see below) the RB10 wants for little in terms of downforce – as you’d expect. That’s the strongest card Vettel and Ricciardo have to play at the moment.

Red Bull’s lack of straight line speed is partly why they’re challenging the sport’s governing body over the fuel flow rate rules. If they have a repeat of the problem Ricciardo had in Australia Christian Horner is prepared to defy the stewards again – which could lead to another post-race disqualification.

The start

Start, Sepang, 2013Vettel is not too disappointed in taking second on the grid as he believes it could put him on the more advantageous side of the grid. The racing line crosses the grid hatchings at Sepang and the pole sitter starts on the right, while the line cuts across to the left-hand side of the track for turn one.

Pole position was on the left-hand side of the grid until 2011, when it was switched to the right. The pole sitter hasn’t been beaten to turn one since then, but in 2011 and 2012 he was given a hard time by the driver who started second.

In 2011 pole sitter Vettel blocked Hamilton’s attempt to get down the inside, leaving him vulnerable to the Renault of Nick Heidfeld. Hamilton may want to extract some revenge for that as the roles are reversed for tomorrow’s start.

The looping first turn and tight second corner can be the scene of first-lap destruction. Last year Alonso sowed the seeds of an early retirement from the race by nudging Vettel’s car with his front wing.


Felipe Massa, Williams, Sepang International Circuit, 2014Assuming the race stays dry the high temperatures are likely to push drivers towards a three-stop strategy. The medium tyres are significantly faster than the hards, but they were degrading quickly during the searing heat of Friday afternoon practice.

The possibility of rain during the race will also act as an incentive for drivers to start on the medium tyres (everyone has free choice of tyres again due to the wet qualifying session) and continue using them for the first stints. Taking on the hard tyres early is a risk because is rain arrives and everyone has to use wet weather tyres, the obligation to use both types of slick is removed and any time spent on the slower hard tyre will have been wasted.

In terms of fuel consumption the race should not be as demanding as Melbourne. Of course in the event of a Safety Car period drivers will consume less fuel, and to a lesser extent that is also true of driving in wet conditions.

One scenario which is likely to play out as long as one team has a significant performance advantage over its rivals is how they handle team orders between their drivers – particularly when the need to conserve fuel and tyre life is pressing. It’s something Mercedes had to deal with last year, and they are most likely to be the ones who need to confront it again.

Despite the shake-up of the new rules and the vagaries of the weather, circumstances have conspired to give us a similar situation on the grid to what we saw two weeks ago: A Mercedes-Red Bull contest at the front, with Ferrari not far behind and Williams needing to make up ground after a poor qualifying session.

Whether tomorrow’s race is wet or dry could make the difference between another Mercedes rout and a much closer contest.

Qualifying times in full


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’57.2021’59.041 (+1.839)1’59.431 (+0.390)
2Sebastian VettelRed Bull1’57.6541’59.399 (+1.745)1’59.486 (+0.087)
3Nico RosbergMercedes1’57.1831’59.445 (+2.262)2’00.050 (+0.605)
4Fernando AlonsoFerrari1’58.8892’01.356 (+2.467)2’00.175 (-1.181)
5Daniel RicciardoRed Bull1’58.9132’00.147 (+1.234)2’00.541 (+0.394)
6Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’59.2572’01.532 (+2.275)2’01.218 (-0.314)
7Nico HulkenbergForce India1’58.8832’00.839 (+1.956)2’01.712 (+0.873)
8Kevin MagnussenMcLaren2’00.3582’02.094 (+1.736)2’02.213 (+0.119)
9Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso2’01.6892’02.096 (+0.407)2’03.078 (+0.982)
10Jenson ButtonMcLaren2’00.8892’01.810 (+0.921)2’04.053 (+2.243)
11Daniil KvyatToro Rosso2’01.1752’02.351 (+1.176)
12Esteban GutierrezSauber2’01.1342’02.369 (+1.235)
13Felipe MassaWilliams2’00.0472’02.460 (+2.413)
14Sergio PerezForce India2’00.0762’02.511 (+2.435)
15Valtteri BottasWilliams1’59.7092’02.756 (+3.047)
16Romain GrosjeanLotus2’00.2022’02.885 (+2.683)
17Pastor MaldonadoLotus2’02.074
18Adrian SutilSauber2’02.131
19Jules BianchiMarussia2’02.702
20Kamui KobayashiCaterham2’03.595
21Max ChiltonMarussia2’04.388
22Marcus EricssonCaterham2’04.407

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton28.609 (2)41.280 (1)46.939 (1)
Sebastian Vettel29.073 (8)41.552 (3)47.029 (2)
Nico Rosberg28.537 (1)41.483 (2)47.076 (3)
Fernando Alonso28.982 (5)42.297 (6)47.524 (5)
Daniel Ricciardo29.076 (9)41.890 (4)47.750 (8)
Kimi Raikkonen29.045 (7)42.257 (5)47.577 (6)
Nico Hulkenberg28.808 (4)42.389 (7)47.412 (4)
Kevin Magnussen29.003 (6)42.909 (11)48.122 (13)
Jean-Eric Vergne29.216 (13)43.073 (12)48.631 (17)
Jenson Button29.188 (12)43.347 (17)47.960 (11)
Daniil Kvyat29.293 (14)43.120 (13)48.204 (15)
Esteban Gutierrez29.506 (17)43.141 (14)48.178 (14)
Felipe Massa29.124 (10)42.774 (10)47.947 (10)
Sergio Perez29.158 (11)43.287 (16)47.586 (7)
Valtteri Bottas28.763 (3)42.510 (8)47.848 (9)
Romain Grosjean29.391 (16)42.572 (9)47.966 (12)
Pastor Maldonado29.656 (18)43.351 (18)48.756 (18)
Adrian Sutil30.015 (20)43.213 (15)48.404 (16)
Jules Bianchi29.348 (15)43.610 (19)49.611 (22)
Kamui Kobayashi29.838 (19)44.474 (21)49.239 (19)
Max Chilton30.141 (21)44.465 (20)49.506 (20)
Marcus Ericsson30.326 (22)44.484 (22)49.580 (21)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Felipe MassaWilliamsMercedes305.0 (189.5)
2Valtteri BottasWilliamsMercedes304.3 (189.1)-0.7
3Sergio PerezForce IndiaMercedes303.4 (188.5)-1.6
4Nico HulkenbergForce IndiaMercedes303.0 (188.3)-2.0
5Nico RosbergMercedesMercedes301.9 (187.6)-3.1
6Kevin MagnussenMcLarenMercedes301.2 (187.2)-3.8
7Jenson ButtonMcLarenMercedes300.7 (186.8)-4.3
8Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes299.5 (186.1)-5.5
9Daniil KvyatToro RossoRenault299.5 (186.1)-5.5
10Kamui KobayashiCaterhamRenault298.0 (185.2)-7.0
11Fernando AlonsoFerrariFerrari297.2 (184.7)-7.8
12Jean-Eric VergneToro RossoRenault297.0 (184.5)-8.0
13Pastor MaldonadoLotusRenault296.6 (184.3)-8.4
14Kimi RaikkonenFerrariFerrari295.9 (183.9)-9.1
15Romain GrosjeanLotusRenault295.1 (183.4)-9.9
16Max ChiltonMarussiaFerrari293.7 (182.5)-11.3
17Marcus EricssonCaterhamRenault293.3 (182.2)-11.7
18Esteban GutierrezSauberFerrari292.8 (181.9)-12.2
19Jules BianchiMarussiaFerrari292.0 (181.4)-13.0
20Adrian SutilSauberFerrari291.5 (181.1)-13.5
21Daniel RicciardoRed BullRenault289.7 (180.0)-15.3
22Sebastian VettelRed BullRenault288.5 (179.3)-16.5

Over to you

Will Hamilton make up for his Australian Grand Prix disappointment in Malaysia? Which of Mercedes’ rivals has the best chance to beat them?

Share your views on the Malaysian Grand Prix in the comments.

2014 Malaysian Grand Prix

Browse all 2014 Malaysian Grand Prix articles

Images © Red Bull/Getty, Pirelli/LAT, Williams/LAT

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Keith Collantine
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18 comments on “Rain offers best chance of victory for Mercedes’ rivals”

  1. If it’s dry I’m expecting another overtaking masterclass by Bottas. I’m expecting Massa to get in on the action too… If it’s wet, who knows??

    1. @craig-o

      another overtaking masterclass by Bottas

      Hitting the wall is sure sign of masterclass. It’s interesting that another Williams’ driver, on the same track, on the same corner, chasing the same guy (Alonso) hit the same wall. Only difference is that Bottas survived, while Maldonado didn’t.

      1. Vettel hit that same wall more than once over the weekend but got away with it, would you compare him to Maldonado too?

  2. Unbelievable…still no full race simulation for Hamilton and vettel so rosberg is the best placed driver …

    1. Why? Hamilton is in the same car as Rosberg so shares some of the benefit of him having completed a race distance. Likewise with Vettel and Ricciardo.

      1. I think he is trying to that Rosberg has a good understanding on how the car will react over a race and has more practice conserving fuel, tyres and reliability. Though not completely blind, Vettel and Hamilton do have a disadvantage.

        1. They’ll have both run stints with various fuel loads where they are told how much fuel to save. They haven’t strung a whole race distance together, but they have experience of all the different stages. I doubt it would hinder them much.

          1. Chris (@tophercheese21)
            30th March 2014, 4:54

            Not to mention the fact that Lewis and Seb both have fresher engines than Nico.

  3. what lap are the sector times chart based on? best lap during the whole of qualy?

  4. I’m hoping for a dry start to the race then a shower (heavy) later on, just to mix things up a bit. It’s clear Sutil doesn’t like the rain and the wet weather tyres but, sorry mate, all that squirming and sliding is extremely entertaining for us TV viewers. The spray and lack of visibility is however, downright scary.
    It would be great to see Bottas and Massa working their way up through the field (just like 77 in Melbourne) so I hope it’s dry for a while.
    Was it just me or did Alonso seem too happy about 4th – is this a measure of what he thinks is possible (or not possible) for Ferrari or maybe he was just glad to beat Raikkonen.

    1. Not too heavy. Enough to thoroughly wet the circuit evenly, with no dry patches, but not so much that it becomes invisible and undriveable. A steady light rain or heavy drizzle, say starting from half the race until the end.

    2. @arki19 After his collision with Kvyat, his suspension needed a quick fix and his steering was strange as he said. So getting a good 4th on the grid was very good in the circumstances.

      1. Yeah, that was great work by the Ferrari mechanics wasn’t it! They will be hoping for some rain during the race.

  5. Will Alonso’s car be fixed completely?
    Will Mercedes impose team-orders? If they do, I sincerely hope both drivers will disobey, give each other a fair race and be proud/defiant afterwards. The season is long and all points can be decisive. The team-orders can be camouflaged as a “save fuel” code, so the driver don’t even know a team order for a team order.
    Have McLaren found some improvement to their deficit in Long runs? They didn’t have much running in FP3, but despite this they managed to reach Q3.
    How many cars will need a “re-start” of the complicated drive train and how much will it affect the race?
    My guess is that those starting 10th or further down will be gifted at least 3 positions before the end.

  6. Rivals, watch out for McLarens tomorrow

    1. Maybe watch for KMag. Button has completely thrown in the towel. Ron Dennis is livid. Button could be sacked at any time.

  7. From the TV feed, it looked like Vettel had backed off well before Rosberg pulled alongside him, probably trying to be the last car on track

  8. Matthew McMahon
    29th March 2014, 23:57

    Tyre wear will be a big factor if it’s dry so it’ll be interesting to see who can manage it best

Comments are closed.