Malatsia: the plot thickens

Malatsia: the plot thickens

Postby meteorite » Sat Sep 30, 2017 6:17 pm

As the number of remaining races - and available points - declines the championship race tightens in sequence. In Singapore Hamilton's win and Vettel's crash gave Lewis a 28 point advantage and all but ended Vettel's hopes. And then came qualifying at Sepang, and during his warmup lap in first qualifying Vettel called into the pits to report a massive lack of power. He was told to limp it home. The car never reappeared. This resulted in a grid that looks like this:


29 Sep 01 Oct 2017 Sepang International Circuit, Kuala Lumpur

Starting grid

Pos No Driver Car Q1 Q2 Q3 Laps
1 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:31.605 1:30.977 1:30.076 18
2 7 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:32.259 1:30.926 1:30.121 14
3 33 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer 1:31.920 1:30.931 1:30.541 12
4 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer 1:32.416 1:31.061 1:30.595 16
5 77 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:32.254 1:30.803 1:30.758 17
6 31 Esteban Ocon Force India Mercedes 1:32.527 1:31.651 1:31.478 17
7 2 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren Honda 1:32.838 1:31.848 1:31.582 18
8 27 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1:32.586 1:31.778 1:31.607 17
9 11 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes 1:32.768 1:31.484 1:31.658 18
10 14 Fernando Alonso McLaren Honda 1:33.049 1:32.010 1:31.704 17
11 19 Felipe Massa Williams Mercedes 1:32.267 1:32.034 12
12 30 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1:32.576 1:32.100 14
13 18 Lance Stroll Williams Mercedes 1:33.000 1:32.307 14
14 55 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:32.650 1:32.402 14
15 10 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 1:32.547 1:32.558 14
16 8 Romain Grosjean Haas Ferrari 1:33.308 8
17 20 Kevin Magnussen Haas Ferrari 1:33.434 6
18 94 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber Ferrari 1:33.483 9
19 9 Marcus Ericsson Sauber Ferrari 1:33.970 9
NC 5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari DNF 2

Q1 107% Time - 1:38.017 Note - Vettel failed to set a time within the Q1 107% requirement, races at stewards' discretion.

All through the early practices sessions the Ferraris were dominant, as Mercedes' recent problem of squirrelly handling plagued Hamilton and Bottas. But by qualifying time both had got far enough around it to stay fairly competitive. And then Vettel broke.

One can wonder but no one is going to tell us if the failure was contributed to by an overused engine engine hiting the late end of its limited life, or Ferrari's recent performance gains being the symptom of tuning tighter that an engine liked. Either way it quit and Vettel must start dead last.

Adding to the guessing Raikkonen has stayed hotly competitive with no powerplant problems despite a hard challenge from the two Red Bulls, which now have a much upgraded engine. Bottas was with them within thousandsths of a second so that grouping is as much chance as anything else. the sudden ascension of Force India and McLaren-Honda into the final ten is a definite promotion, while Hulkenberg continues the make the case that Renault will be formidible in 2018, too. Looks like this race will be more about the future than the past.

And of course, it always may rain.

So who's going to win? for a change, there's room for surprises in the finishing list. Stay tuned.
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Re: Malatsia: the plot thickens

Postby meteorite » Sun Oct 01, 2017 5:56 pm

Turns out the first surprise was the starting list. Everyone made the formation lap, but Kimi Raikkonen never made the start as his engine died (turbo trouble, it appears, though Ferrari were saying little). Word was passed to the tower in time to hold the start sequence until the Ferrari crew could come and push it into the pit lane; luckily its grid position was the best placed of all to make this move quick and easy. This left Hamilton alone on the front row and gave him the jump on the Red Bulls when the lights went out.

This was a no-surpriser. Hamilton took off through the first turns with Verstappen, Ricciardo and Bottas, then the rest of the field stringing out behind, a few bouncing off each other as usual. Hamilton led till DNS was enabled and Verstappen predictably zoomed past. Hamilton had seen the Red Bulls' performance in qualifying, knew the wonky handling of his own car could not match it, and did not give the Dutchman a fight that might imperil his finish and hazard Hamilton's championship points. The only one who was going to get a fight from Hamilton was Vettel, and he could not make it up from his dead-last starting position in time to challenge. Vettel was massively delayed by a battle-minded Bottas which wore down his tires to the point that when did did get to take a run at Ricciardo he met a sufficiently aggressive resistance that he backed off while he still had tire tread left to finish the race. The final finish order was:


29 Sep 01 Oct 2017 Sepang International Circuit, Kuala Lumpur

Race result

Pos No Driver Laps Time/Retired Pts
1 33 Verstappen 56 1:30:01.290 25
2 44 Hamilton 56 +12.770s 18
3 3 Ricciardo 56 +22.519s 15
4 5 Vettel 56 +37.362s 12
5 77 Bottas 56 +56.021s 10
6 11 Perez 56 +78.630s 8
7 2 Vandoorne 55 +1 lap 6
8 18 Stroll 55 +1 lap 4
9 19 Massa 55 +1 lap 2
10 31 Ocon 55 +1 lap 1
11 14 Alonso 55 +1 lap 0
12 20 Magnussen 55 +1 lap 0
13 8 Grosjean 55 +1 lap 0
14 10 Gasly 55 +1 lap 0
15 30 Palmer 55 +1 lap 0
16 27 Hulkenberg 55 +1 lap 0
17 94 Wehrlein 55 +1 lap 0
18 9 Ericsson 54 +2 laps 0
NC 55 Sainz 29 DNF 0
NC 7 Räikkönen 0 DNS

If outside of Vettel's charge the front was pretty much a parade of drivers who knew their cars and their competitors performance and settled into the best places they could gain and maintain, lots was going on behind. The new kids were going great. Perez was showing his veteran skills and savvy to Esteban Ocon, his Force India teammate, who had a couple of spinouts attributable to inexperience but handled well. Between them, Stoffle VanDoorne was making it a great day for the Dutch, finishing well into the points in a greatly improving McLaren, and ahead of his stellar teammate Fernando Alonso, who didn't. The williams team, Stroll and Massa, took turns jousting with him and each other, the Canadian newcomer just edging his veteran partner. Behind others scored as shown.

A sideshow of escalating significance is the championship points race. Notice how the values of the positions differ. There are five races remaining. Thus if Vettel were to run the table on these he would win the championship regardless of what Hamilton accomplished. Five wins add (5 x 25 = 125) points to Vettel's total, so (5 x 18 = 90) would be the best Hamilton would have available, and Hamilton's edge at the moment is 34 points.

But likely neither Vettel nor Hamilton will win all the remaining races. Ferrari may actually be faster in race trim, but to finish first, first you have to finish and Ferrari has not been good at that of late. And whatever Hamilton sc ores, Vettel must score an average of seven points more in each race or it's over. Kimi Raikkonen can help him, by blocking Hamilton out of high point places, and playing rolling chicane within the race, but Bottas can do the same for Hamilton. The suddenly fierce Red Bull team may prove to be spoilers for either or both. And there are the random factors of botched pit stops, inconvenient safety cars, blown tires, rain, stray animals, other competitors' accidents, brain fade, and more. The Honda engines might suddenly come good, or Renault might suddenly stumble across the ultimate demon tweak, suddenly adding Toro Rosso and themselves to the puzzle. Hedge your bets; there are no slam-dunks in this game yet. And remember it''s only one week to Suzuka.
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