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F1 2014: Malaysia GP Review – Mercedes Asserts Dominance

Not a lot of people were delighted when news broke towards the end of 2012 that Lewis Hamilton would become a Mercedes driver. The gutsy decision went a long way towards being justified as Hamilton dominated the 2014 Malaysian grand prix.

A single victory in Hungary was all Hamilton had to show for his first season with the Silver Arrows. He remained patient in the building of this new relationship and when the all silver Mercedes hit the track in Jerez on the first day of testing it was starting to pay off.

After retiring from the Australian grand prix two weeks ago Lewis Hamilton showed up in Malaysia with the single goal of scoring twenty-five points on Sunday. A second consecutive pole ensured the best possible starting position for Hamilton who shared the front-row of the grid with Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel. Nico Rosberg rounded out the top three with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso in fourth place on the grid.

Lewis Hamilton comfortably maintained the lead of the race over teammate Rosberg and ran untroubled for the rest of the afternoon. One of the few battles during the Malaysian GP transpired at the start of the race as Rosberg and the two Red Bulls jockeyed for position.

malaysian-gp-2014Sebastian Vettel finished in third place overall after getting within one second of Rosberg’s Mercedes. It has been a tremendous recovery for the Red Bull team who looked in dire straits two months ago. A podium finish proves that the RB10 is a fundamentally quick car and that should Renault get on top of their issues that Red Bull will be a serious factor in this championship battle.

Daniel Ricciardo was supposed to follow Vettel home in fourth place but a disastrous final pit stop totalled the Australian’s race. An improperly secured front-left tyre forced Ricciardo to stop in the pitlane before being pushed back to his pit box. Eventually released, he was given a ten second stop/go penalty for an unsafe release. As if to add insult to injury the Aussie was forced back into the pits with a damaged front-wing which appeared to have been caused by the front-jack during his stop.

Ricciardo failed to finish the race and was subsequently handed a ten-place grid penalty for this weekend’s Bahrain GP. It is rather extreme to double up on the punishment butDaniel Ricciardo the 2014 rule concerning unsafe releases is clear-cut in the application of two penalties. Clearly, Ricciardo has taken over Mark Webber’s rotten luck as well as his race seat at Red Bull.

Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso battled for fourth place on the road with the Ferrari driver winning the close contest. Hulkenberg underlined his class with a solid performance on a tricky two-stop strategy. The Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen showed a marked improvement throughout the practice sessions but an overzealous Kevin Magnussen left the Finn with a right-rear puncture at the start of lap two. After limping around the circuit Raikkonen made it to the pits but had lost seventy seconds to the frontrunners.

Jenson Button confirmed post-race that his McLaren struggled in the high-speed corners but still salvaged sixth place. A spicy fight for seventh between Felipe Massa and Valterri Bottas resulted in some inter-team controversy. In the closing stages of the race Massa was given the instruction to let his teammate past. However, amongst several messages to the Brazilian was “Felipe, Valtteri is faster than you.” This message was a near exact carbon-copy of the one given to Massa during the infamous 2010 German GP. For a split second the former Ferrari driver must have felt like he never left the Italian squad. Massa’s engineer will do well in the future to pick his words more carefully. Team boss Claire Williams diffused the situation by claiming that no team orders were imposed on either driver. Rookies Kevin Magnussen and Daniil Kvyat rounded out the top ten.

Lewis Hamilton_MalaysianGPIt’s bad enough not seeing the chequered flag at the end of the race but it’s exponentially worse when a driver does not even make it onto the starting grid. Force India’s Sergio Perez, struck with software issues, was such a driver. Lotus retired the car of Pastor Maldonado as the turbo was in the process of failing while Sauber suffered a double retirement. Seven cars in total failed to see the chequered flag.

In seven previous attempts Hamilton had never won the Malaysian GP but Sunday’s dominant display resulted in his first victory around the Sepang circuit. The absence of significant pressure from behind allowed Hamilton to set a modest pace. It is clear that underneath him he has a Mercedes that is the class of the field at the moment and, if needed, has quite a lot more speed to call on.

It isn’t a case of if but rather when Red Bull, Ferrari and perhaps McLaren will catch up. The gap will be closed. However, Mercedes is making some serious hay while the others are scrambling – and this is ominous. Trust that this team will be working as hard to maintain their pace advantage. And they’re already ahead there too. While others struggle with their power units Mercedes already has the strongest and most reliable engine. At this stage other teams are trying to solve problems and combat issues that Mercedes have long since overcome.  The mindset of the Mercedes team isn’t how to fix problems it’s how to go even faster.

About Natalie Le Clue

Natalie Le Clue is an F1 aficionado of the most dedicated vein. And, true to form for any F1-enamoured junkie, she readily admits to crying the first time she saw a F1 car, calling it an ‘overwhelming moment’. Natalie has won the 2010 gSport Woman In Media award, the 2015 Woman In Media Print award, and has been named as one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in South African Sport by the Department of Sport and Recreation. Natalie is currently serving as SAfm's F1 correspondent. Follow Natalie on Twitter @nlc27

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