Vettel has a better chance to race Mercedes this time

2015 Malaysian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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“It would be good if they can come a bit closer”, said Nico Rosberg in the press conference after the Australian Grand Prix when talking about whether Ferrari could close the gap to Mercedes in the near future.

“Do you really hope so? Seriously” a sceptical Sebastian Vettel responded. After today’s qualifying session, Rosberg might appreciate what Vettel was getting at.

For the second year in a row Vettel took advantage of a wet qualifying session at Sepang and managed to bump Rosberg’s Mercedes off the front row. But will he be able to stay there?

The run to turn one at Sepang is one of the longest and widest on the calendar. It has seen several controversial collisions and super starts – notably Rosberg’s brilliant launch from fourth on the grid into the lead six years ago.

Last year Rosberg was able to use the Mercedes’ superior grunt and acceleration to out-drag Vettel’s Red Bull to turn one. But while last year the Renault engine in Vettel’s Red Bull had a 13kph straight-line speed deficit to the Mercedes, this year his Ferrari had a 4kph advantage in qualifying. If he can get off the line well, Vettel stands a better chance of keeping Rosberg at bay to begin with at least.

Pole sitter Lewis Hamilton would probably not be too concerned if he saw Vettel’s red Ferrari instead of Rosberg’s silver Mercedes in his mirrors at the end of lap one. While Ferrari are undoubtedly in better shape in Malaysia that they were two weeks ago – particularly in the hot conditions seen during practice – they don’t yet look to have the pace to threaten Mercedes over a race distance.

Ferrari have looked particularly strong on the medium tyres compared to Mercedes. Unfortunately for them, the hard tyre is likely to be the preferred race tyre – Mercedes avoided using them in Q1 so they would have an extra fresh set for the race. However the opening phase of the race when Vettel and the Mercedes drivers are all on the medium tyres they used in Q2 could be very interesting.

The abrasive nature of the Sepang track means there tends to be a wide gap in performance between new and old tyres. This means the effect of pitting early and gaining the ‘undercut’ is very powerful. In Melbourne we saw Vettel do the reverse of an undercut, gaining a position by pitting several laps later than a rival, but that is less likely to be possible here.

As the race starts an hour earlier than last year drivers can expect hotter conditions than in recent seasons, resulting in the kind of slippery conditions we saw in second and third practice. But of course you can never take for granted what the weather will do at Sepang – more rain is entirely possible.

From fourth and fifth on the grid Red Bull look likely to enjoy a more competitive race. The Williams drivers share row four and will be expecting to press on towards the top five if the race stays dry – but they still don’t seem to have cracked wet weather performance yet.

McLaren have clearly taken a step closer to the rest of the midfield but even if they are able to get ahead of a few of their rivals at the start they are likely to be vulnerable on the straights. As for Manor, tomorrow’s race is likely to be the first of many in which every other car in the field is capable of lapping them at least once.

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Qualifying times in full

Driver Car Q1

Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’39.269 1’41.517 (+2.248) 1’49.834 (+8.317)
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1’39.814 1’39.632 (-0.182) 1’49.908 (+10.276)
3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’39.374 1’39.377 (+0.003) 1’50.299 (+10.922)
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1’40.504 1’41.085 (+0.581) 1’51.541 (+10.456)
5 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull 1’40.546 1’41.665 (+1.119) 1’51.951 (+10.286)
6 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso 1’40.793 1’41.430 (+0.637) 1’51.981 (+10.551)
7 Felipe Massa Williams 1’40.543 1’41.230 (+0.687) 1’52.473 (+11.243)
8 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1’40.303 1’41.209 (+0.906) 1’52.981 (+11.772)
9 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1’40.249 1’40.650 (+0.401) 1’53.179 (+12.529)
10 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1’40.340 1’41.748 (+1.408) 1’53.261 (+11.513)
11 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1’40.415 1’42.173 (+1.758)
12 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1’40.361 1’42.198 (+1.837)
13 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1’40.830 1’43.023 (+2.193)
14 Sergio Perez Force India 1’41.036 1’43.469 (+2.433)
15 Carlos Sainz Jnr Toro Rosso 1’39.814 1’43.701 (+3.887)
16 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1’41.308
17 Jenson Button McLaren 1’41.636
18 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1’41.746
19 Roberto Merhi Manor 1’46.677
20 Will Stevens Manor

Sector times

Driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton 25.252 (7) 33.845 (2) 40.172 (1)
Sebastian Vettel 24.890 (1) 34.077 (6) 40.176 (2)
Nico Rosberg 25.006 (2) 33.508 (1) 40.215 (3)
Daniel Ricciardo 25.276 (8) 34.081 (7) 40.869 (9)
Daniil Kvyat 25.365 (13) 34.239 (11) 40.869 (9)
Max Verstappen 25.518 (16) 34.073 (5) 40.846 (8)
Felipe Massa 25.325 (10) 34.410 (13) 40.808 (7)
Romain Grosjean 25.142 (4) 34.118 (8) 41.034 (14)
Valtteri Bottas 25.211 (6) 34.176 (9) 40.717 (6)
Marcus Ericsson 25.132 (3) 34.200 (10) 41.008 (12)
Kimi Raikkonen 25.297 (9) 34.381 (12) 40.667 (5)
Pastor Maldonado 25.146 (5) 33.908 (3) 41.307 (18)
Nico Hulkenberg 25.402 (14) 34.471 (14) 40.957 (11)
Sergio Perez 25.407 (15) 34.600 (16) 41.029 (13)
Carlos Sainz Jnr 25.363 (12) 33.982 (4) 40.469 (4)
Felipe Nasr 25.352 (11) 34.581 (15) 41.194 (16)
Jenson Button 25.639 (18) 34.623 (17) 41.287 (17)
Fernando Alonso 25.522 (17) 34.651 (18) 41.154 (15)
Roberto Merhi 26.578 (19) 36.431 (19) 43.491 (19)

Speed trap

Pos Driver Car Engine Speed (kph/mph) Gap
1 Felipe Massa Williams Mercedes 326.8 (203.1)
2 Pastor Maldonado Lotus Mercedes 325.4 (202.2) -1.4
3 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari 325.4 (202.2) -1.4
4 Valtteri Bottas Williams Mercedes 325.2 (202.1) -1.6
5 Marcus Ericsson Sauber Ferrari 324.1 (201.4) -2.7
6 Romain Grosjean Lotus Mercedes 323.3 (200.9) -3.5
7 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari Ferrari 322.6 (200.5) -4.2
8 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes 322.0 (200.1) -4.8
9 Nico Hulkenberg Force India Mercedes 321.9 (200.0) -4.9
10 Felipe Nasr Sauber Ferrari 321.3 (199.6) -5.5
11 Nico Rosberg Mercedes Mercedes 318.4 (197.8) -8.4
12 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Mercedes 318.3 (197.8) -8.5
13 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull Renault 318.2 (197.7) -8.6
14 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Renault 315.8 (196.2) -11.0
15 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso Renault 315.6 (196.1) -11.2
16 Carlos Sainz Jnr Toro Rosso Renault 315.4 (196.0) -11.4
17 Jenson Button McLaren Honda 313.1 (194.6) -13.7
18 Fernando Alonso McLaren Honda 313.0 (194.5) -13.8
19 Roberto Merhi Manor Ferrari 304.9 (189.5) -21.9

Over to you

Will Rosberg blast past Vettel at the start again? Can Williams bounce back from a disappointing qualifying session?

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

2015 Malaysian Grand Prix

Browse all 2015 Malaysian Grand Prix articles

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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46 comments on “Vettel has a better chance to race Mercedes this time”

  1. Vettel has no chance tomorrow and we all know it

    1. I don’t…
      anyone think of an FP2 last season when the Mercs were the Mercs were getting matched/outdone in an FP2 long stint?

      I can’t really remember one to be honest, although it’s an easy thing to forget.

    2. If James Allison managed to design another car as easy on its tyres as was the Lotus E21, they can put on a challenge on some tracks, yes. Mostly the hotter ones, like this.
      And diferently from Lotus, Ferrari has the budget to keep updating the car till the end.

      But most of all, the unfreeze on the PUs helped Ferrari immensely. It alone made Alonso’s decision to leave from a good one (Ferrari would be stuck with its weak 2014 PU, while Honda would have one at least on par with Mercedes 2014) to a career killer joke.

      1. I think you misunderstand… Ferrari were never going to be stuck with the 2014 spec power unit for 6-odd years – all manufacturers were always able to change an amount of the PU using a weighted token system each winter.

        The big controversy was to do with the FIA making a mistake in the 2015 sporting regulations that effectively said any changes under the token system did not have to meet the FIA homologation deadline, meaning the engines can be developed across the year, albeit still according to the token limit.

    3. If everything goes nice and smoothly, probably not. But you never know. Rosberg could get desparate to pass Vettel and have an incident on turn one. He could have a bad start and be passed by a car or two, having to struggle to get past them and giving Vettel a chance to pull away a little. There’s always the chance of rain, mechanical failures, incidents, strategies… We’ll see.

    4. iAltair (@)
      29th March 2015, 9:19


    5. @wil-liam I disgaree… :-)

    6. @wil-Liam… What was that again?

    7. @wil-liam

      Vettel has no chance tomorrow and we all know it


    8. Hahaha! How’s that egg on yor face?

  2. I think Nico needs to worry about Seb’s use of tyres. He used to trash Webber sometimes on that alone, and the Ferrari looks very kind to them as well. Or if it’s wet Vettel’s pretty handy too of course.

    1. well, he didn’t do a very good job last year managing his tires, and we all know Vettel was #1 (during Renault’s heyday) at RBR, meaning he got a lot more attention so far as setup.

      1. @pcxmerc

        that’s not true as 2014 pointed out. Also, RIC did a better job managing tires his tires than VET. Hamilton did a better job with his tires than Nico last year.

        1. he = Vettel. Since he was the ‘subject’ of the previous post, I thought that was a safe assumption.

  3. The decision by Ferrari to go with less downforce and more straight line speed will help them in the race. They will be more difficult to pass even with DRS. That and if they are easier on tires as expected gives Vettel in particular a good chance for 3rd or maybe even better. Vettel needs a good launch to stay ahead of Rosberg and maybe catch Hamilton at the start to make things interesting.

    Kimi needs to get past Ericsson at the start to have a chance to move forward.

    Barring equipment failure or driver error I don’t think Rosberg has a chance to get past Hamilton to win this race.

    It will be interesting to see if Bottas and Massa can move past Ricciardo and Kvyat given their superior straight line speed.

    Should be a fascinating race.

    1. If he can stay ahead by T1 he has a chance but in the end I fear they’ll just pit Rosberg one lap earlier or later and on one lap the Merc still can close a gap of 1 second if they wish…

      1. “Merc still can close a gap of 1 second if they wish” LMAO,The last part made the spill my drink

        1. @wil-liam Why? I’m afraid I don’t understand.

          1. They were running like this last year and probably this year too :)


        2. We haven’t seen the W06 under pressure from another team’s car yet, so for all we know the power unit’s been running far from full power and they might unleash all 930hp of it for Rosberg for a single lap, meaning (on new tyres) he could be a second a lap faster. Obviously all hypothetical but it’s possibly true.

  4. HamiltonNumber1
    28th March 2015, 18:05

    All year last year people said it it is unfair i see the silence is deafaning this year as ferrari and Sauber are superfast. Merc were kings in the middle sector. Merc have a great chassis which people refuse to acknowledge saying Rbull is the best car. Merc are the best in virtually everything but now they are even with Ferrari on the engine. Sauber are unbelievable this year ina Ferrari engine.

    1. Merc can run more df on their car because of engine power, this doesn’t mean chassis is better, just more downforce able to be run…..

      1. Correct me if I’m wrong, but just running more downforce isn’t necessarily a good solution. It can mess with the dynamics of the car if it is not accounted for everywhere else as well. A car needs a good chassis to deal with this, and I believe that is what Merc has.

      2. pastaman (@)
        28th March 2015, 23:08

        Exactly. Put a low-downforce Merc next to a low-downforce Ferrari and see what happens.

        1. It’s called a Williams.

          1. pastaman (@)
            29th March 2015, 4:38

            Funny :) But probably applied more last year than this year

  5. Ferrari being quicker than the Mercs in a straightline, is no different to that of Williams last season.

    We saw races last season the Merc team being slower than both RBR and Ferrari as well. The Mercs too are also good on preserving their tyres, so I think we all know what the result will be in the end.

    1. We didn’t.

  6. I would love to see Q1 sector times and top speeds if anyone has a link.
    Based on history we know that Seb can start like a rocket and get out of DRS. Can he do it in this Ferrari? If Nico has a less than optimum start, maybe.
    Looking back at last year, the Mercs struggled to overtake the Williams in Austria due to the top speed advantage of the Williams. Also Lewis couldn’t overtake a Williams in Germany, said it was “too fast on the straights.”
    It all depends on the start. Nico will get by with DRS but maybe get stuck behind if he can’t get within activation. Sector 2 looks like being the key to this. Close up and keep the gap in sector 3 for activation, which then allows Seb a chance to re-overtake on the second DRS. Maybe we will see multiple swaps for P2.
    I love Lewis’s driving but races are always better when he starts from behind! Someone mess his RS mode up!!

    1. Are you forgetting that his tyres were shot by the time he caught up to Bottas? Hence why he couldn’t pass. But he sure did pass Massa at Monza.

  7. According to Ted Kravitz, Honda had a really bad MGU-K malfunction recently (can’t remember if he said when) meaning they had to redesign the part and reposition it etc, which is of course allowed as it is intended for reliability over performance. I was wondering if this is the reason why the McLaren sounded so rough in qualifying, or if it was just badly set up for whatever reason?

    1. It always sounded rough.

  8. I want what Vettel is smoking.

    1. Go on. Maybe you’ll win a race. ;)

  9. He might be able to keep Rosberg behind him, but no chance of a race win for Vettel. Actually, Rosberg will probably get past Vettel by the end of lap 3.

    1. Aaron Noronha
      30th March 2015, 13:03

      You were saying???

  10. Call me crazy….. but i think (if they can rely on the car, and with a wet race) Verstappen could amaze us all and head for a top3 finish. i am dutch so maybe im not seeing it clearly right now, but i have a strong feeling. i know HE is capable already

    1. I love the enthusiasm of the Dutch (at least most of the time)!

  11. Well, I’m saying Vettel could catch Mercedes, but their car suits Malaysia and I think for me, the Mercedes could be the favourites to win here and Hamilton. I’m hoping for the home race win for Mercedes. But we will see what it will fit for Vettel. He can win any race in 2015, who cares?

  12. I’m expecting Vettel to hold position of the line, arrive side by side with Lewis at the braking point, Lewis will then outbrake Vettel and disappear down the road and we’ll get to see a few laps of Rosberg and Vettel scrapping.

    From past form I wouldn’t put it past Vettel to come out of that ahead though, especially if Rosberg squares his tyres.

    We have an interesting prospect for some racing but it all depends on that first corner.

  13. Yes Vettel might be on par with long race stints, but, in terms of outright speed, the Mercs have it in them to blitz the field, I don’t believe they’re showing their hand in practise sessions. However, Vettel’s attitude is great and this is forming some pressure on the Merc guys, even if its minor.

    Last year early on I thought Rosberg was mentally tougher than his teammate, but Lewis proved me wrong in the end, and after Spa, Rosberg fell apart. So perhaps the pressure will chip away at Rosberg, not just for this weekend, but some way down the track.

  14. its been refreshing to see Vettel a little more humble over last season, so hopefully he doesn’t blow that as soon the opportunity arives.

    Has the potential to be an interesting race tomorrow, although I suspect that Ferrari have been going for headlines so far this weekend as they have done in the past, while Mercedes are just running their normal program. Lets wait and see.

    1. fully agree, was a pleasant surprise listening to him talk his way through how he felt about his car and qualifying plus conditions,
      big change to his attitude, which i liked personally, i am not a fan of his but this new approach could grow on me,
      anyway having him split the Merc’s can only be good for F1 spectators,
      this will also shut RB up because now they have two teams which need curbing , wounder how Homer will react to that?
      let the racing begin, should be a cracker..

  15. Raikkonen on Podium :)

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