F1 Malaysian Grand Prix: Steady As She Goes

f1-2014-malaysia-hamilton-victoryTesting isn’t the complete story but it certainly does give you an insight into how the season will play out. The Red Bulls weren’t expected to be in the same timezone as the Mercedes-powered cars but they’re running for podiums. However, the insight that said that Mercedes GP would be blindingly fast proved to be right as Lewis Hamilton led the team home in a 1-2 finish.

Saturday’s qualifying session was a wet mess thanks to the typically monsoon-ish Malaysian weather. The result was a jumbled grid as we found out who could make the new cars work in the wet. This helped Sebastian Vettel make it to second on the grid to Lewis Hamilton. Unfortunately, the rain held off on Sunday and deprived us of what could have been an interesting race.

f1-2014-malaysia-hamilton-startHamilton led cleanly off the line and Rosberg got another blistering start to jump to 2nd. Daniel Ricciardo was able to get ahead of his teammate though that was only temporary and the top four remained that way for most of the race.

The only real excitement from this race was courtesy Daniel Ricciardo and the Red Bull pit crew. On his third stop, Ricciardo was released without his left-front wheel attached. He stopped in the pit lane and was retrieved but lost a whole lap in the process. The stewards gave him an unsafe release penalty to add insult to injury. And his day was capped off by a front wing failure that left him nursing the car around for a replacement. He eventually retired because he wasn’t anywhere close to the points.

Now, there was some excitement as the Williams cars were able to work their way up the field. Neither Massa or Bottas had great cars in the wet but they were great on a dry track. However, their climbs up the field early weren’t shown on camera so it doesn’t really count as exciting if you can’t see it happen.

f1-2014-malaysia-podiumThe Hamilton win and Rosberg second place marked the first time since 1955 that the Mercedes team had a one-two finish. Granted, they also went 55 years out of Formula One from 1956 to 2010 when they took over Brawn GP so going almost 60 years between one-two finishes is understandable.

Vettel scored what is Red Bull’s first official podium of the season by crossing the line third. He got to Rosberg’s rear wing at one point but couldn’t get by to no one’s surprise.

Fernando Alonso led the non-podium finishers home in 4th. He made a late pass on Nico Hulkenberg who was nursing his car home on a two-stop strategy that left him in 5th. Jenson Button was the beneficiary of Williams’ in-fighting and salvaged a 6th. Felipe Massa was told to let Valtteri Bo77as by him but disobeyed team orders. The result was Massa in 7th and Bottas in 8th. Kevin Magnussen overcame a stop-and-go penalty to finish 9th. Daniil Kvyat rounded out the top ten with his second straight points finish.

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I caught an interesting tidbit of information the other day. Red Bull motorsport boss Helmut Marko said in an interview that the Renault turbo V6 was down 80 horsepower on the Mercedes power plant.

We’re used to hearing that the Renault is the most underpowered of the engines in Formula One. That was the party line during the V8 era as well. Considering that the engines are estimated to have a peak power output of about 600 hp, that’s a sizeable gap between engines. To be able to compete at all, those RBR cars have to be pretty good. Adrian Newey must still be the best in the world but even he can’t work miracles.

So the question now becomes what Renault can do about it. I don’t think there’s much they’re allowed to do during the season to make up the power deficit. During the offseason, they’re typically allowed to make a change to “improve reliability.” That often comes with power increases. Hopefully the FIA allows the engine manufacturers to upgrade their engines for the sake of parity. The last thing anyone wants to see is one dominant team but that’s what we’re shaping up to get right now.

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It’s not a surprise when something controversial happens in Formula One but usually it’s not a crossover episode with a major international news story. However, that’s exactly what happened when the teams landed in Malaysia for the Grand Prix.

You’ve probably heard about the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 but you may not have known that the airline was keeping them in the Sama Sama hotel. That’s the same hotel booked by many F1 teams, sponsors and other F1 personalities. It’s been booked solid for Grand Prix week since the provisional schedule came out last fall.

The story goes that Formula One forced the families of MH370 passengers out of the hotel but that’s a very inflammatory way of putting it. The long and short of it is that F1 had the rooms booked, the hotel needed those rooms to fulfill prior commitments and Malaysia Airlines moved the families to another hotel. It’s very clean and very straight forward.

I’m usually the first person to take Formula One to task for anything that can be interpreted as remotely moronic. The thing is that if you booked a hotel room, you’re going to want that hotel room when you arrive. It’s inconvenient when you have to find alternate arrangement for four people. Imagine how hard it would be for 40 or more.

But the circumstances surrounding MH370 and the big corporate conglomerate that is Formula One makes this situation an easy target for the press. The big, evil, multibillion dollar corporate empire makes for a great villain in what is a non-story. Usually F1 deserves the crap it gets. For once, I’m on their side.

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And now for a story where I’m not siding with the teams. Much to no one’s surprise, Red Bull is appealing Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification from the Australian Grand Prix.

The reasons for the appeal aren’t likely to help their cause. Red Bull asserts that their fuel flow measurement formula and data show that the fuel flow was at the correct amount at all times. Their formula reportedly shows a maximum rate of 96 kg/hr which is 4 kg/hr below the maximum and results in an 8 hp power loss. The FIA’s position is that the fuel flow sensor indicated repeated and consistent fuel flow above the legal limit which resulted in a performance advantage.

Not only is Red Bull making an appeal but they’re also playing the reconsidering F1 card. Much as Mercedes did last year during Tyregate, Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz hinted that an adverse decision at the appeal would result in him reconsidering his investment in F1.

Last year, I suggested that the FIA wasn’t going to blink at Mercedes’s threats but they did and let them off with hardly a penalty. I imagine that the FIA is going to try to meet Red Bull halfway since they do have four cars of a 22 car grid under their banner. Look for Ricciardo’s points to be reinstated while Red Bull Racing doesn’t receive Constructors’ Championship points.

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f1-2013-china-trackThe next round of the 2014 Formula One World Championship takes place next week. Maybe it’s just me but the early schedule it a bit hard to keep track of. One week on, one week off, two weeks on, one week off, one week on, two weeks off. A bit of consistency wouldn’t hurt anyone. However, asking for common sense in F1 is often asking for too much.

Anyway, the next race is the Bahrain Grand Prix. It will be the 10th running of the race and the 900th Formula One World Championship event. It will also be the first Bahrain GP run under the lights. I don’t know why they’re doing this but at least it’ll be cooler weather for everyone. It’ll also be easier viewing in North America with an 11:00 AM EDT start rather than the usual early morning starts.

Given how dominant that Mercedes has been, you have to tip them to be at the head of the field again. It’s likely to be Hamilton that leads away again, too. Red Bull isn’t doing too badly considering they have a hamster in a running wheel for an engine. Given that running is going to be dry all weekend, this may be Williams’ best chance to capitalize and make the podium.

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