The Rain came…show got better and better: Qualifying Malaysian Style

Sound? Who has time to complain about the sound when for a second time this year qualifying was weather-affected? What a nail biter. As much as I don’t like the rain during a Grand Prix weekend, I will say this much, it makes the racing exponentially more exciting.

The feeling when the rain shows up is that planning, set-up work, and performance go right out the window. This could not have been made clearer than during qualifying for the Malaysian GP. It would be an oversimplification to say there were winners and loser, but clearly some benefitted from the rain and some did not.


Lewis Hamilton was just behind his teammate in the second and third practice sessions and seemed to be just missing that extra tenth or two against Nico Rosberg. The smile on Hamilton’s face said it all after Q3 and confirmed what most viewers were seeing on the monitors, the conditions were very treacherous which suited him just fine. Hamilton makes it two in a row and matched Jim Clark’s record of 33 pole positions. If I were Vettel I would be looking over my shoulder this year in the pole department.

Sebastian Vettel and the RB10 had what can only be considered a fantastic run to P2 for the start of tomorrow’s race. Started Friday practice in eighth just under a second down from the Mercedes of Hamilton, then moved up to third in Friday’s second practice just shy of the pace setting Rosberg. However, on Saturday Mercedes put the hammer down and the closest Vettel could get was fourth behind the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen and a whopping second and three-tenths behind Rosberg. Enter the rain, which neutralized the Mercs’ advantage and Vettel almost nicked pole away from Hamilton. Five hundredths of a second separated the top two drivers when all was said and done.

Fernando Alonso has been chasing teammate Raikkonen all weekend but like Hamilton and Vettel made the most of the changing conditions and out-qualified Raikkonen for the second race in a row (just in case anyone is counting) and was provisionally one of the top three finishers right up until Rosberg put in a last ditch effort and displaced the Spaniard by a little over a tenth. This however was not in the least upsetting to the Ferrari driver who was just thankful to have made it into Q3 and said this was the biggest smile he has had when starting fourth in a GP.

Having come together with rookie Daniil Kyvat, it actually looked as though Alonso was at fault until one considered there was probably zero visibility. The effort from Ferrari to repair the damaged steering arm and get Alonso back out in Q2 so he could continue was great work and why F1’s image is as the pinnacle of the Motorsport exists.

Did Not Benefit

Without doubt, Kimi Raikkonen who has been extremely fast all weekend and finished practice three only behind the Mercedes and well in front of his teammate Alonso was robbed and must be feeling a bit disappointed. On this proper F1 track, when in the dry, it was clear the F-14T is showing more pace than its last outing in Melbourne, and Raikkonen looked like a completely different driver. If his complaint was the car was not to his liking in Melbourne it was just the opposite here in Malaysia. Until the rain came and upset that apple cart. Here is what Raikkonen had to say:

“The rain made this qualifying very difficult. I knew that in the wet it would not be easy, but I didn’t expect to have so many problems. I had poor traction and on top of that, with the Extreme Wet, for some reason I was losing grip after the first lap. Now we have to find out why, as it will be useful for the coming races. Clearly, I’m not happy with sixth place, but given the circumstances, I cannot say I’m surprised and now I only want to think about doing well tomorrow. It will be a tough race with particularly high temperatures, but I am reasonably confident, because we have gone better here than in Melbourne and if we don’t have any problems, we can think in terms of getting a better result. Overall, my feel for the car is improving and even if there is still a way to go, we are working in the right direction.”

Stating from sixth is not the end of the world. Malaysia is a long race and if it is dry tomorrow I expect Raikkonen to be very fast, overtake some cars and even challenge his teammate.

Both McLarens for some unknown reason are off the pace, add to that the trouble with a faulty sensor which was shutting the engine off one lap at a time in final practice and Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen were playing catch up in all three qualifying sessions. The team did not help matters with a couple of bungled tire choices, however Button did ‘fess up and admit the decision to go with intermediates in rain-drenched Q3 was his call. The MP4-29 with its one-race sponsor Esso has not looked that racy in either the dry or the wet so podiums don’t look likely, but Sunday will be unpredictable, there is always a chance.

What has happened to Williams? The season started out with such promise. Williams suffered the most from the rain because once it showed up, any performance that Felipe Massa and Valterri Bottas had was gone. This is something that will not go away, there will be other races when the rain comes calling so Williams has their work cut out for them. Here are the drivers’ thoughts:

Felipe Massa: “In dry conditions we are normally fighting for a top six position and the car feels good, but when it is wet the car lacks grip and can feel unstable with lots of sliding which is something we need to address. It’s a shame as this qualifying result is not really reflective of where we should be. The good thing is that the cars seem to be very close in terms of lap time so that will help us overtake tomorrow, and I’m hoping that we have very different weather conditions as the car feels completely different in the dry.”
Valtteri Bottas: “It was a difficult qualifying session for us today and it was very reminiscent of our qualifying in Melbourne. The more water there was on track the more we struggled with the rear grip of the car. We tried both the intermediates and the wets but we just couldn’t get the grip we needed from either tyre. The wet conditions highlight where our weaknesses are, so we have a clear direction for where we need to improve the car. I still think we have a chance of fighting for some points though if we have a dry race.”

The Rest Of The Field

Toro Rosso continues to impress me. It would appear they have made a genuine step up the grid and there are signs already that rookie Daniil Kyvat has the goods to compete at this level. His race will be interesting and if he can collect more championship points in his second outing that will be very impressive.

Another impressive outing was by the other Nico, Hulkenberg that is. Leigh Diffy of NBC Sports Network mentioned that Hulkenberg has returned to his former team and it seems like he never left. Constantly in the top ten and at times putting in qualifying laps good enough for P4, P5 or P7, if his car is strong for the race he will be a nuisance for the top drivers and teams.

Sauber, Caterham and Marussia are becoming the also-rans, not for lack of effort but in all these teams it is clear to see how difficult this new era and formula is to master. There is really nothing more these teams can do except just get on with the program and make incremental steps each and every time the cars are on track and see where it all shakes out as the season progresses.

Lotus. Well, what can be said that has not been said already? This weekend has also been one of great difficulty and one that underlines the troubles of the team so far this year. Resources and a compromised PU package from Renault have really put this team behind. As I mentioned in another post I have a bad feeling one or both cars will not see the finish line and if this does indeed happen two races in a row it would seem to me the team might have to completely re-think and re-design a large part of their car.

Last Thoughts

I have not heard any rumblings over the FIA fuel sensor issue except from Christian Horner who thinks racing would be better without them. Of course you do Mr. Horner. No word as of yet if Red Bull will run with their own settings regarding fuel flow. I guess we will all know soon enough. I hope they don’t. I also hope that everyone will just put aside the new sound of F1 conversation, I’m tired of what amounts to an irrelevant issue distracting us from the point. THE RACING.

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