Lewis the pace maker

CHINA REVIEW

What the Chinese Grand Prix confirmed was that Formula Oneâ„¢ is now well and truly dominated by Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. The two most popular faces of the current generation. Surprising everyone by signing up for Mercedes from the struggling McLaren and Red Bull Racing teams respectively, both have displayed a keen sense of foresight and fierce ambition for being in the right team at the right time.

A fantastic rivalry is in the making.

08

Another victory for car #44. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

Although it was Nico Rosberg in the other Mercedes who defended P2 successfully from the Ferrari threat, his complaints later about team mate Hamilton suggests he’s not on song with the W06 yet.

Rosberg felt Hamilton unnecessarily drove slowly in the first stint backing him into the clutches of P3 placed Sebastian Vettel who tried in vain to undercut him during the pitstops. Lewis later rejected the claim stating his job wasn’t to “drive for Nico’s race”!

A war of words and mind games within the Mercedes squad reminded us of the squabbling and eventual run-in last year. But this year the German in the Ferrari and it’s amazing recovery to winning form is providing an exciting parallel story.

Elsewhere down the field a new star emerged in the form of 17yr old Max Verstappen. His ability to smoothly overtake rival cars making the manoeuvres stick almost effortlessly has won him applauds up and down the paddock. With Martin Brundle of Sky Sports even touting him to be the next Senna or Schumacher! Unfortunately for Max his Renault powered Toro Rosso didn’t see the chequered flag.

 

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A Vettel masterclass

Red Vet

Vettel back on top! Image Copyright © Danish Ravi

MALAYSIA REVIEW

They don’t call him Baby Schumi without reason. The confidence and self belief that he could triumph again with a win-less Scuderia is all very reminiscent of the great German seven-time champion.

Sebastian Vettel is back. And so is Ferrari. They both took the top step at Sepang while the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg for once, had no answer.

Hamilton and Rosberg were heard asking over the radio what the strategy was because they couldn’t understand it!

The SF-15T’s tyre management was far superior to the Mercedes W06. The Mercs had to stick to the more durable but slower primes on a three-stop strategy whereas the Ferrari was kind to the options which meant they could run the faster tyre on Sunday.

Sauber’s Markus Ericsson spun and stalled his car to bring out the Safety Car as early as Lap 3. This led to cars who were three stopping peel into the pit lane. Vettel stayed out and was followed by Hulkenberg, Grosjean, Sainz and Perez behind the Safety Car all on two stops.

Kimi Raikkonen in the other Ferrari saw his lap-down-deficit to the field wiped clean post the Safety Car period. He earlier clashed with the Sauber of Felipe Nasr, the front wing puncturing his left rear tyre.

Clearly both Ferrari’s gained from the Safety Car period while the Mercs had all to do post it. McLaren Honda were again nowhere close to being competitive. Alonso retiring his MP4-30 on lap 21 with an ERS overheating problem. And Button on lap 41 with a turbo failure. In the paddock interviews later Fernando firmly stuck to his decision about moving to McLaren even though the team he just quit had won!

One wonders if the Fernando Alonso-McLaren partnership was ever meant to be?
He seems to be signing up to the right teams at the wrong time.

To watch the Red Bulls suffer an inglorious defeat to their sister B team was entertaining for the fans but clearly not what Christian Horner would’ve envisioned same time last year! The searing track temperatures of almost 60 degrees celsius saw the RB12s emit more carbon brake dust than any other team down into braking at Turn 1. However Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen were involved in a right royal battle through out with Max ending up victorious in this battle-of-the-bulls. He now holds the record for youngest ever point scorer in F1â„¢ at the age of 17 finishing in P7.

A record that belonged to Sebastian Vettel.

The fact that the German has now won Grand Prix in three different teams is testament to the amazing talent that he is. The boiler at Sepang may have just played into Ferrari’s hands thanks to their James Allison-led technical team who’ve penned a machine with no cooling issues and suffers minimal tyre degradation. But in Seb they have a four-time world champion who is hungry for more.

In Lewis Hamilton Mercedes too have a lead driver who is hungry for more. For the fans this can mean only one thing. It’s game on 2015!

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PODIUM

Vettel –  Ferrari 1hr 41m 05.793s
Hamilton –  Mercedes AMG Petronas
Rosberg – Mercedes AMG Petronas

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Hamilton rambles on

Lewis Hamilton

Continuing the strut. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

MELBOURNE REVIEW

“Ramble on, and now’s the time, the time is now, to sing my song…” – Led Zeppelin

Lewis Hamilton charged to a lights-to-flag victory at Albert Park unchallenged.

He’s on song to become a triple world champion this year. And if his father Anthony’s prediction is accurate, ‘as early as mid-year’.

At Melbourne, round 1 of the 2015 FIA Formula 1™ Championship could easily have been mistaken for round 21 of 2014. Hamilton and Rosberg in familiar fashion blitzed away from the entire field when the lights went off. The chasing pack ultimately had Sebastian Vettel finish in P3 with his new Ferrari SF15 – albeit a full 30 seconds adrift from the Mercedes pair.

Behind him two Brazilians made it home. Felipe Massa for Williams and Felipe Nasr for Sauber. The impressive rookie star gave the Swiss team their first points since 2013 on his F1 debut.

Only 11 cars saw the checker in the Australian Grand Prix. And only the top 6 were on the same lap as the leading W06s!

Vettel made a sluggish start and new team mate Kimi Raikkonen almost overtook him through Turn 1. But he forced Raikkonen wide. Behind them Nasr and Maldonado clashed with the Venezuelan hitting the barriers and ending Lotus’ hopes of a good start to it’s campaign.

Raikkonen went backwards to P8 while Vettel chased Massa’s Williams for the first half of the race. Massa later attempted to hold on to his podium place but the four-time World Champion eased home ahead.

Daniel Ricciardo finished in P6 having been lapped by the Mercedes right at the end of the race. Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg held on to P7 and team mate Sergio Perez grabbed the last available points ahead of a woeful performance from newly formed partnership McLaren and Honda with Jenson Button.

Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jnr. took P8 on his debut. His team mate Max Verstappen, the youngest starter in F1 history ended his run prematurely when his STR10 started smoking and had to be retired.

More bad luck for Lotus, as Romain Grosjean joined Maldonado in retirement on the opening lap with mechanical problems. Raikkonen after his second stop had a problem with this left rear which was not properly attached. His team Ferrari are under investigation for unsafe release.

While everyone else seemed to experience trouble with at least one of their cars or drivers, Mercedes were in a class of their own. They lead both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships.

Hamilton leads Rosberg with 25 points to 18, with Vettel third on 18 and Massa fourth on 12.

In the constructors’, meanwhile, the Silver Arrows have stolen a scary march over their rivals as they are on 43 points, with Ferrari and Sauber on 15 and 14 respectively.

Is this the year Lewis Hamilton equals his idol Ayrton Senna’s, world titles? And can Ferrari overhaul the technological advantage Mercedes have? One cannot rule out dramatic turnarounds in Formula One. However a lot depends on Nico Rosberg to reign in his world famous team mate and take it down to the wire.

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PODIUM

Hamilton –  Mercedes AMG Petronas 1hr 31m 54.067s
Rosberg – Mercedes AMG Petronas
Vettel –  Ferrari

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Hamilton’s 7th heaven

SINGAPORE REVIEW

If your title rival, your nearest threat, your intra-team nemesis, your thunder-stealer begins to suffer your share of bad luck will you feel satisfied? Will you feel the world and it’s populace isn’t really on your case? Will you rediscover the real you?

It appears that Lewis Hamilton has begun to rediscover his genius. The genius that brought him into this massive spotlight called F1â„¢. At Singapore a few nights ago his stride had a bounce in it. A proper fashionista swagger. Alighting from his shiny chauffeur-driven AMG he walked unescorted towards the Paddock gates and responded to a fan’s ‘you all right Lewis?’ with a ‘Yeah I’m great, thanks!’.

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Hipster Hamilton arrives at the Marina Bay. Image Copyright © Ajit Devadason

Fresh from the feisty conquest at the temple of speed, Hamilton revelled in another completely dominating weekend leaving Rosberg trailing by 3 points in the Championship.

Rosberg suffered a start-line nightmare when his steering wheel all but failed. He couldn’t engage the clutch and his paddles were double-shifting. While the rest set off on the formation lap Mercedes #6 was wheeled away into pit lane.

When the lights went out, Hamilton floored it to perfection taking T1 well before the chasing pack. Behind him Alonso jumped both Red Bulls from P5 with no real intention of braking to make the corner! He went off but came back onto the racing line holding onto P2. Which he decided to give back to a fast-starting Vettel who in turn capitalised on Rosberg’s empty Mercedes grid slot ahead of him.

On Lap 4, positions 1,2 and 3 were held by champions. All past winners of all the Singapore Grand Prix. Meanwhile the pit-lane-starting Championship leader Rosberg, was making no impression on the Caterhams and Marussias running ahead of him. His MGP W05 was truly in a lot of pain and woefully out of pace. The street circuit notorious for lack of overtaking space wasn’t helping either.

Between him and the leading trio a train of battles ensued between Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Massa, and further back Button, Bottas and Magnussen. The Toro Rosso team mates duelled too – Vergne getting the better of Kvyat while on Lap 10 Rosberg was still in P20. Three laps later Vettel, Alonso and Ricciardo all pitted in succession. Hamilton, by this time had built a large enough gap to Vettel that he exited ahead of the German after his first pit stop.

On Lap 14 Rosberg came in for his pit stop but the steering trouble was terminal.
A big moment for the Championship shoot-out had just unfolded at Singapore! Mercedes’ boss Toto Wolff was later quoted as saying “…we have built a missile but we must make it more reliable”.

In the next successive laps Ricciardo, Hamilton and Alonso traded fastest laps with each other and Alonso, closed in rapidly on Vettel. It was soon time for the second round of pit stops and Alonso, Vettel and Raikkonen dived in for fresh rubber. This left Hamilton out in front ahead of Ricciardo by 17 seconds. By the time he and Ricciardo made their second stops the gap to P2 was down to 7 seconds.

An incident between Force India’s Perez and Sauber’s Sutil wrecked the Mexican’s front wing and strewed debris all over the track. Considering how the Pirellis can shred nowadays, the Safety Car was deployed as is inevitable on a street circuit.

The race wasn’t going to remain as straight forward as it initially appeared. The long Safety Car period meant tyre strategies needed re-thinking! Red Bull and Williams believed they could stick with a two-stop strategy to catch Mercedes whose big lead was reduced to nothing. Mercedes however required to pit again for prime tyres! This meant Hamilton had to build a gap of over 27 seconds to Vettel. He did so. Lapping almost 2 seconds faster than anyone else at times, he began a relentless chase to the finish line. He stopped and exited just behind Vettel on fresh tyres. In the space of a lap and a half he overtook the German aggressively through T7 and secured a deserving win for Mercedes amidst spectacular fireworks.

For the seventh time this year.

PODIUM

P1 Hamilton – Mercedes AMG 2hr 00m 04.795s
P2 Vettel  – Red Bull Racing
P3 Ricciardo – Red Bull Racing

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The agony…

Could this be an award-winning film writer’s ultimate script?

The season, once seemed to appear a totally predictable one, in which the main protagonists run away into history, with all of the champagne and glory. Ending Red Bull Racing’s utter 4-year dominance.

The Mercedes works cars are the class of the field so far and barring a few issues in the race at Canada and qualifying at Austria, they’ve been untouchable. Splitting wins between them. It still looked quite predictable.

Then this. The British Grand Prix, it’s unpredictable weather and the two ‘characters’, one a German serious-faced intellectual, the other an Englishman who runs on high emotions.

Is Lewis Hamilton playing to a fantasy story line where his title conquest sees him go through the ups and downs of a people’s hero? Are the FIA making the final-race-double-points relevant by forcing this drama?

Or has Nico Rosberg rattled him, big time.

Sunday the 6th of July 2014, could be Hamilton’s last chance to hang in there.
To taste some ecstasy…

P6 at Silverstone Q3. Image Copyright Mercedes AMG.

P6 at Silverstone Q3. Image Copyright Mercedes AMG.

–

P1 Rosberg – Mercedes AMG 1m 35.766s
P2 Vettel – RBR Renault 1m 37.386s
P3 Button –  McLaren 1m 38.200s

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Ricciardo beats Mercedes

MONTREAL REVIEW

Daniel Ricciardo celebrates. Image Copyright © Red Bull Racing

Daniel Ricciardo celebrates. Image Copyright © Red Bull Racing

Red Bull Racing’s new signing Australian, Daniel Ricciardo, will never forget his debut win. Choking with emotion over the radio on the slow down lap, Formula One’s newest Grand Prix winner could hardly believe what he had just achieved. A fantastic attacking drive from P6 on the grid signalled the end of the Silver Arrow’s domination and granted Ricciardo the podium’s top step in the last two laps!

The bullet-proof W05s finally broke. The Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve is a renowned car-breaker. But in recent times cutting edge technology, together with stringent regulations by the FIA saw F1 cars achieve solid milestones in reliability. However, 2014 and the Turbo Hybrid cars were a brand new story in Montreal.

It looked like a another Mercedes 1-2 in the making, but after about 45 laps of trouble free running, both drivers reported a massive loss in power from their ERS K units. This amounted to a reduction of speed of almost 3 seconds per lap with the hungry pack of Force Indias, Williamses and Red Bulls on full charge pursuing them.

The Canadian Grand Prix finish was certain to be a belter with the top 7 cars all 10 seconds within each other with just 10 laps remaining.

The ERS K failure on Lewis Hamilton’s car meant another DNF for the Briton as his close trailing of Nico Rosberg in the first half of the race led to overheating rear brakes that subsequently refused to work as the energy recovery system shut down. Nico, on the other hand managed to hold on to his injured car and nursed it back astonishingly to take P2 ahead of Sebastian Vettel who looked pleased with the outcome of the race and his own P3 finish.

On understanding Hamilton’s brake issues the Mercedes team were quick to advise Nico to adjust his car’s brake bias as forward as possible so he won’t face his teammate’s woes. It worked. And towards the closing stages Rosberg drove tactfully through sectors 1 and 3 to ensure he was out of the DRS range of the charging Sergio Perez. Although Ricciardo and Red Bull won the race, Rosberg’s relentless drive might prove crucial in his bid to become champion this year.

William’s Felipe Massa at one point looked most likely to take the win after the Mercedes cars called in sick. But his tyre management meant he would have to work real hard for it in the last stint of the race. During his charge back from his second pitstop he found himself nudging a late turning Sergio Perez into Turn 1. What ensued was a spectacular accident which saw both cars hit the barriers at 27G! Thankfully they’re both out of danger. But the Force India driver incurred a five-second penalty for the next round.

Jenson Button overtook both Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso in the last couple of laps to register an exciting drive to P4 after the retirements of Massa and Perez. While Valterri Bottas, Jean Eric Vergne, Kevin Magnussen and Kimi Raikkonen rounded off the top ten points finishers.

It was a dramatic victory for Daniel Ricciardo, though it became a reality only once it was clear the Mercedes cars were nursing technical issues. But when an opportunity presented itself, the young smiling Aussie grabbed it with both hands. True signs of a champion in the making.

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PODIUM
P1 Ricciardo – Red Bull Renault 1hr 39m 12.830s
P2 Rosberg – Mercedes AMG
P3 Vettel – Red Bull Renault

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The smart banker

One would expect Lewis Hamilton to have learnt a lesson from the epic at Monaco a fortnight ago. It was Rosberg’s banker lap in Q3 back then that won him the race on Sunday.

It could yet again tomorrow at the Canadian Grand prix.

Circuit De Villeneuve. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

Circuit De Villeneuve. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

All through the Q1 and Q2 sessions, it was Lewis who held the upper hand over his German team mate. But early into Q3, Nico set a blistering time that became the benchmark to beat for anyone.

No one did. And on his final run he improved marginally – putting it even more out of reach. It was a determined performance that added fuel to the dying flames of his Monaco win. With it he’s rubbished the theory that Montreal belonged to Lewis.
Will he further rub it in tomorrow?

Vettel is in P3 to add to Hamilton’s tensions.

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P1 Rosberg – Mercedes AMG 1m 14.874s
P2 Hamilton – Mercedes AMG 1m 14.953s
P3 Vettel – RBR Renault 1m 15.548s

 

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Battle of the Benzes

BARCELONA REVIEW

Rosberg rejoined the track 4.8 seconds behind Hamilton with 20 laps remaining. On the faster option tyre. Suddenly the Spanish Grand Prix had come alive and memories of the Sakhir thriller were revisited.

Lewis at times was so anxious with his race engineers that it seemed he was suspecting the team’s strategy and finishing preferences. The pit wall crew calmed him down and let him know exactly where he was losing time to the German. He demanded more info and pit-stop rationale constantly, knowing Nico was gaining on him rapidly.

The gap was down to .663 of a second on the penultimate lap! He had the AMG Hybrid W05 #6 car filling his mirrors menacingly. It wasn’t clear if he was panicking to keep his winning streak intact or whether he felt Nico’s superior car set-up would comfortably clinch the race. Or did he not want to tangle again, banging wheels to decide P1?

But he held on stoically. Win number 26 was his. And fourth on trot from his teammate.

In the post-race conference the mind games were evident. Lewis reiterated that Nico had the better and faster car in Spain. Yet he won. Rosberg insisted he would’ve had Hamilton if there were one lap more. But that’s his theory. If it were one lap shorter Lewis would’ve probably been even more difficult to beat.

Meanwhile team Mercedes AMG Petronas are earning the respect of Formula One fans for allowing their racers to race. That’s as important for the brand as the transfer of technology to their road cars.

LH44 surrenders in victory. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

LH44 surrenders in victory. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

Behind the Mercedes intra-team mind games and on-track strategic battles, Red Bull Racing showed first signs of waking up to take the fight. Daniel Ricciardo drove a lonely calculated race to cover any threat from Williams driver Valterri Bottas to record his first podium finish. He finished 49 seconds behind Hamilton and about 27 seconds ahead of his charging World Champion team mate.

Vettel begins to recover. Image Copyright © RBR

Vettel begins to recover. Image Copyright © RBR

Sebastian Vettel drove a fighting race of recovery after being shifted down to start at P15 by the stewards. His car lacking straight-line speed and not working perfectly to his corner-entry preference the four-time champ is making slow but sure progress back to the top. The lack of testing pre-season courtesy Renault’s engine woes has hurt him big time.

We’re experiencing a precision racer being put to the test. It was interesting to watch him make quick work of both the Ferraris and Bottas’ Williams. The RBR10 might come back to him before the season is out but most certainly will not help him fight for the championship with the Silver Arrows, who are in a class of their own. Atleast for now.

At Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen expressed concern about the team’s strategy to pit Fernando Alonso first although he was behind on track position. But the more telling quote from him post-race was “…we cannot be happy with sixth and seventh places, because we are a long way off where we want to be.” The Italian team’s updates at Barcelona weren’t making a visible difference. They could, however take consolation from the fact that their traditional arch rivals McLaren are deeper in performance trouble with Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen finishing P11 and P12 respectively. The Force India’s rounded off the bottom of the top ten finishers with Sergio Perez overcoming Nico Hulkenberg once again.

If there’s one race on the calendar where any of the top six teams have a fairly reasonable shot at victory it is Monaco.

The tight twisty street circuit offers very few overtaking opportunities, so all emphasis will be on qualifying. Both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are now residents of the principality. A win would impress the neighbours mightily. It’s no secret who has the momentum for pole position on Saturdays. But on race Sundays the armco barriers at Monaco have historically taken no prisoners.

Mercedes versus the chasing pack. It’s going to be a classic street fight.

PODIUM
P1 Hamilton - Mercedes AMG 1hr 41m 05.155s
P2 Rosberg - Mercedes AMG
P3 Ricciardo – Red Bull Renault

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Win #23, Car #44

MALAYSIA REVIEW

Team celebrations at Malaysia. Image Copyright © 2014 Ajit Devadason

Team celebrations at Malaysia. Image Copyright © 2014 Ajit Devadason

When the chequered flag brought the 16th edition of the Malaysian Grand Prix to an end an interesting statistic developed. The last time Mercedes finished a race in P1 & P2 respectively was way back in 1955! As a works team that is.

Ferrari, a fully-fledged works team too, must be frustrated. Alonso finishing in P4 has become a common sight in recent years. His battle with the Mercedes powered Force India of Hulkenberg kept the fans at Turns 1,2 & 3 in Sepang enthralled. But the fact that he was nowhere close to the Bulls or Mercedes in true pace was telling. Raikkonen had his work cut out by a fighting Lotus in the hands of Grosjean. Both drivers finishing out of the points eventually. The Scuderia believe they’ll have an advantage at the circuits that consume more fuel as their engine is more efficient but somehow that doesn’t sound like a convincing way to go challenging for a championship.

Felipe Massa and Valterri Bottas raced intensely for Williams Martini Racing to P7 & P8. Whether or not Felipe should have let his teammate through to attack the McLaren of Jenson Button for P6 is to be seen. Malaysia once again, throws up the controversy of team orders and the disobeying of them!

In the other Red Bull RBR10 it’s all turning into a game of luck for Daniel Ricciardo in 2014. After all he has gotten into the seat of another Australian famed for bad luck. How the best crew for fastest, most-efficient pit stops last season could release him from his box without securing a wheel nut is anyones guess. Then his front wing played up on a kerb. And finally retirement. A DNF after a DSQ. Poor Dani.

Hamilton on fresh rubber. Image Copyright © 2014 Ajit Devadason

Hamilton takes on fresh rubber. Image Copyright © 2014 Ajit Devadason

The champion’s RBR10 however, held on together nicely. At one point even challenging the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg for P2. Has Sebastian Vettel finally got a car that’s there, but not really there? And will he have to dig deep to hold on to his crown? Whether he likes that or not, the fans all over are relishing a good fight. Nobody wants predictable dominance. Unless of course you’re Toto Wolff.

Watching his team take a dominant win with Lewis claiming pole, setting fastest lap and leading every lap from start to finish, followed home by Nico, one wonders how things are going to develop towards the end of the season. If Mercedes AMG Petronas can keep on winning like this with a 25 second advantage over the field and dominate all proceedings like they have done in rounds 1 & 2, which driver will they back for ultimate honours.

And most importantly how will they go about it?

It could get louder than the engines of 2014 for sure. Bring on Bahrain!

PODIUM
P1 Hamilton - Mercedes AMG 1hr 40m 25.974s
P2 Rosberg - Mercedes AMG
P3 Vettel – Red Bull Renault

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Trading times

Front wing

Aero efficiency at Sepang. Image Copyright © 2014 Ajit Devadason

Their relationship comes across as genuine comradeship, the laughter and the asides in public, the friendly jabs on social media, the brand-conscious teammates looking out for each other, for the team.

But one look at the time sheets of the Malaysian Grand Prix makes you wonder. It’s almost like a heavy-weight title bout. Both fighters not giving in. Both trading massive blows. Friday FP1 and Lewis topped the times. Nico came back in FP2 confirming Mercedes’ current form.

The bout continued into Saturday with the German signalling his intentions. To knock out. FP3 was his. Then in a delayed-due-to-rain Q1, he shows what he’s got. But in Q2 Hamilton shows he means business by going fastest. Then to add even more drama in Q3, nature plays its part. Heavier rain. But by then Lewis had beaten Nico to it.

Rosberg now found himself battling for P2 with the defending world champion. The Red Bull driver using rain as a leveller managed to shock the top steps of the podium.

What must be running through each of the top three qualifier’s minds is disguised by the brand commitments and etiquette of present day Formula 1 in the TV interviews.

All eyes on the start. There can only be one winner at Sepang. Come rain or sunshine.

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P1 Hamilton – Mercedes AMG 1m 59.431s
P2 Vettel – RBR Renault 1m 59.486s
P3 Rosberg – Mercedes AMG 2m 00.050s

 

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