Key Strategic Moment
Undoubtedly the turning point of the Malaysian Grand Prix was the safety car on lap four, which the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS and Scuderia Ferrari teams tackled differently.
Confident of its superior tyre life and with nothing to lose, Ferrari left Sebastian Vettel out on his medium tyres, while Mercedes pitted Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg and switched them onto the hard compound tyres, as they had planned before the race. This committed them to a three stop race, while the three laps behind the safety car allowed Vettel to stay out to lap 17 and make a two stop plan work.
Mercedes struggled to find its usual dominant pace in the 60 degree track conditions and Vettel delivered a champion’s drive to execute the strategy and win Ferrari’s first race since 2013.
Race Strategy Briefing
There are many challenges at Sepang. The start is always critical here; the distinctive first corner turns right and then left and always results in a big change of field order. The intense heat and humidity of Malaysia pushes the cars’ cooling systems to the limit. If a team is in trouble, they are often forced to open the bodywork to improve cooling, which will hurt their aerodynamic performance and the stability of their car in the corners. This hurts tyre life too. The new Pirelli tyres are more consistent than before, but this track has high energy corners, so I think we will see two stops as the default strategy.
In collaboration with James Allen
March 29 | 15:00 local time, 09:00 CET
Since its inauguration in 1999, the Sepang circuit in Malaysia has come to be regarded as one of the toughest for teams and drivers as very hot and humid conditions stretch the competitors to their physical extreme. Due to cockpit temperatures of 50°C it is not strange for a driver to lose three kilograms during the race, through sweat alone. As the first of a now extensive portfolio of Hermann Tilke designed Grand Prix circuits, it follows his trademark style of long straights followed by a heavy-braking zone, which allows for slip-streaming and out-braking manoeuvres. The 1999 race saw the return to fitness of Michael Schumacher following his leg-break at Silverstone earlier in the year and after dominating the race he handed victory to Ferrari team-mate and title contender Eddie Irvine. Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso have three wins apiece here, with Vettel’s 2013 victory proving controversial for him and Red Bull as the German disobeyed team orders and forced his way past team-mate and race leader Mark Webber.
Circuit length 5.543 km
Race distance 310.408 km
2014 race winner Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)