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GP Week : Issue 198
This was Lewis Hamilton’s day; Lewis Hamilton’s weekend. Pole, fastest lap, unchallenged throughout. Easy. With the unbelievably simple diagnosis of his Melbourne problems (a broken spark-plug rubber protector), Mercedes came to KL as the likely pace-setters and that’s how it turned out to be. The only, brief threat to that dominance came in the final Q3 session where, devoid of the need to have fuel-efficiency, Sebastian Vettel made the most of a wet track to join Hamilton on the front row. That was to be Vettel’s only real sniff of the sharp end. Off the line, he was beaten to the first corner by both Hamilton and Rosberg, then had to cope with an audacious opening few laps from his new team-mate, who briefly stole the show by successfully duking it out with the champ until order was restored. With the Mercedes pair in clear command, Lewis easing clear, skimping on fuel, and Nico seemingly comfortable maintaining a gap back to Vettel, Ricciardo was left to deal with Fernando Alonso, applying pressure with early ‘undercut’ stops – all but sneaking past the RB at the first attempt – the two side-by-side out of Turn 2, with the Aussie just nosing ahead as his tyres warmed to the task. Sadly, Ricciardo’s race was to fall apart during his lap 41 final pit stop. The twitter wags burst into life (“Poor Dan has been given Webber’s car”) as the left-front wasn’t secured properly. Despite stopping a few metres up pit lane for a ‘push-back’ and a securing of the wheel, the damage was done. It got worse: a 10-second stop-go penalty (and later a Bahrain grid penalty); then the front wing broke off one of its mountings. Yup, definitely Webbers car ... The team retired him with five laps to go, to save the power unit mileage. The other star of the race was the now almost perennial achiever, Nico Hulkenberg, Having qualified the Force India a superb seventh in the wet, The Hulk trailed Alonso early on, gambled on a two-stop strategy, and found himself right in the thick of the action late in the race, in fourth – but with a freshly ‘Option’-shod Alonso bearing down on him. Ultimately, he couldn’t resist, but fifth was a great result, nevertheless ... again. Sixth ended up being a late-race tussle between Jenson Button and the Williams team. This time, Jenson got the tyre call right but, late in the race, was faced with pressure from a closing Felipe Massa, with team-mate Valtteri Bottas all over him. Indeed, Felipe was issued with an all too familiar (from his Ferrari days), “Valtteri is faster, let him past” radio call, but seemed to ignore it... A first-lap brush between the front wing of Kevin Magnussen’s McLaren and the left-rear on the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen ruined both driver’s races – Magnussen copped one of the new ‘five-second’ penalties, as well as his damaged nose, and Kimi lost a huge amount of time crawling around to the pits with a blown right-rear Pirelli. Although threatening, rain never came, so, with just five laps to go, Hamilton was able to make his required switch to the Hard tyre and cruise home ... after setting the race’s fastest lap. Ditto for Rosberg (late stop for Hards). It was almost routine; comprehensive. Mercedes are on top for now. Vettel came home 24 seconds behind the leader – consistent with Ricciardo’s deficit in Melbourne. The Red Bulls are infinitely better off than it looked a month ago, but there’s still a fair race-pace margin to find if the championship is not to become a Mercedes duel. 22 GPWEEK.com // 22 GPWEEK.com // F1 >>> MALAYSIA PARTNERS: