The race at Sepang has moved from the early part ofthe schedule to the back of the season. Now, it’s a deciding race in the fightbetween Rosberg and Hamilton for the championship, and it’s the home race oftheir biggest sponsor. Did they manage to take pole position, or would Red Bullinterfere? Find out after the jump.
The track, which has been part of F1 since 1999, wasresurfaced and somewhat altered this year. Hermann Tilke, F1’s go-to architectand original planner of the 1999 layout, gave some corners a slight banking andquicker, more tire friendly asphalt.
As a result, Rosberg’s quickest laptime in FP1 wasalready five seconds faster than what Hamilton did in last year’s FP1. Hamiltonlost half a second to Rosberg and was second, right in front of both Ferraris.The Scuderia introduced an upgrade package to combat Red Bull for P2 in theconstructors. Fernand Alonso and Jenson Button both cracked the top 10 with anew Honda powertrain in the back of the McLaren - Honda finally upgraded to ajet ignition system, just like Renault did in the beginning of the year. It’sanother step for McLaren, and it looks like they could take a few points withthem from Malaysia.
Red Bull meanwhile started the weekend withoutspectacular laptimes but was looking solid all round. The same can be saidabout Force India, who are in a battle of their own with Williams in the constructor’strophy.
The most covered story of FP1 was the fire at Renaultthough: while testing a high pressure fuel system ahead of the Mexican GrandPrix, fuel leaked through an air valve and out of the air box. It sparked arapidly spreading fire which Magnussen, who was sitting in the car at the time,escaped from unharmed. The car actually was more or less fine, expect for somebody parts and cables that fell victim to the heat.
— Formula 1 (@F1) 30. September 2016
With basic setup work done, the teams started to concentrateon long run performance. On a quick lap, the Mercedes seems untouchable. But asthe tires grow older, Ferrari and especially Red Bull get close, if not ahead.
One long run by Max Verstappen should be reason forconcern at Mercedes: on the Medium tire, his advantage over Lewis and Nico wasin the range of half a second per lap. Daniel Ricciardo meanwhile wasstruggling to make his setup work and was nowhere near his teammates pace.
Behind the three big teams, Force India was set foranother great result. McLaren might be quicker on a single lap, but long runpace is still an issue for Alonso and Button. And Toro Rosso was caught upagain by their weak 2015 Ferrari engine.
— Formula 1 (@F1) 30. September 2016
McLaren didn’t bother to send Alonso out for a reallyquick flying lap. As the new engine will cost them a 30 grid spot penalty,there is no sense in Alonso putting miles on the engine. He’ll have to startfrom last place.
Esteban Ocon for the first time outpaced PascalWehrlein. The gap to Sauber was at half a second, so the internal battle atManor was all the drivers could look forward to, and Wehrlein didn’t have thebest of days. The same can be said about Palmer, who couldn’t get into Q2 whileteammate Magnussen was half a second quicker and made it into the next session.With both drivers not under contract yet for next year, a performance like thisis a great way to not have a cockpit in 2017.
Both Saubers also didn’t make the jump into Q2, and itlooks like there won’t be enough upgrades for them to regularly do so for therest of the season. How they are planning to fight Manor and score the bitterlyneeded points is beyond my understanding.
That brings us to Q2 and the battle for the top 10. Nowthat the track cooled down a bit due to overcast weather, Mercedes was in an evenmore comfortable position. It didn’t help Toro Rosso or Haas who both were offpace and out of qualifying. Kevin Magnussen remarkably beat the Toro Rossos,but the Renault is not good enough for Q3 yet. And Jenson Button made the mostout of McLarens single lap pace by going straight into the top 10. That leftthe last three spots of Q3 open between Williams and Force India. Felipe Masse,now on his goodbye-F1 tour, showed that he still has got some speed in him bysending Bottas out of the top 10. Disappointing for the Bottas, now that he’strying to secure a drive for 2017.
As the best 10 drivers were left, the curtain was openfor the battle for pole. Nico Rosberg started with a lap full of errors andoversteer which saw him fall down to P5, with both Red Bulls being quicker.Hamilton delivered a solid lap and was sitting comfortably in first. The secondrun brought an improvement that was enough for P2, but the gap to Hamilton wasstill at over four tenths. With that, Lewis secured the 57th pole ofhis career.
This time, the field is neatly sorted: after the all-silverfirst row, a row of Red Bulls is followed by two Ferraris and the two ForceIndias. Row five is occupied by Jenson Button, who will start the 300thGP of his career from P9, and Felipe Massa.
It might look like the setup for a boring race, butdon’t discount the Red Bulls and Verstappen especially: if Mercedes doesn’t geta good start to the race, the Red Bulls could actually run away from them onpure long run pace. And Ferrari isn’t far.
— Formula 1 (@F1) 1. Oktober 2016