Driver Ratings: Russian Grand Prix

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Credit: Mercedes-Benz

Nico Rosberg extended his lead at the top of the drivers’ standings to 43 points after a seventh straight win at Russia, but whose driving most stood out in Sochi?

44) Lewis Hamilton (8/10)*** – Relegated to tenth after power unit gremlins in qualifying, Hamilton took advantage of the first lap chaos to climb to fifth before passing Massa, Raikkonen and Bottas on track. Water pressure problems denied him a shot at the win.

6) Nico Rosberg (8/10) – Yet again left with all of the cards in his favour as his rivals fell by the wayside, Rosberg took full advantage to record a fully deserved seventh win of the season and further extend his lead at the top of the standings.

5) Sebastian Vettel (N/A) – He may have been criticised for lampooning Daniil Kvyat following the Chinese Grand Prix, but Vettel would have had every right for deploying a similar tactic against the Red Bull driver in Sochi after the Ferrari was an innocent victim of the Russian’s first lap shenanigans.

7) Kimi Raikkonen (7/10) – Raikkonen is looking like a much improved driver compared to the last two years and the Finn delivered another impressive drive in Russia to comfortably beat countryman Bottas into the final podium place.

77) Valtteri Bottas (7/10) – After three ordinary races, Bottas finally showed what he was capable of in Sochi. Drove well to keep Hamilton at bay throughout the opening stint but ultimately his Williams just lacked the speed to clinch a podium spot.

19) Felipe Massa (6/10) – A solid if unspectacular drive from the Brazilian, who lacked a couple of tenths compared to his teammate throughout the weekend en route to fifth place.

3) Daniel Ricciardo (7/10) – Innocently knocked out of contention on lap one following his teammate’s collision with Vettel, Ricciardo fought back well with a damaged car and only missed out on a point as a result of a poor call by Red Bull to fit his car with medium tyres.

26) Daniil Kvyat (3/10) – A home Grand Prix to forget for Kvyat, who clumsily hit Vettel not once, but twice, in a dreadful first lap showing. The Russian limped home in a sorry 15th place after a day that will do little to convince Red Bull bosses that he is worth keeping ahead of Max Verstappen in 2017.

11) Sergio Perez (8/10) – After suffering a first lap puncture, Perez drove two extremely strong stints on soft tyres to claw his way back into contention and take his first points of the season. Only an equally impressive drive from Grosjean in the Haas stopped him finishing higher up.

27) Nico Hulkenberg (N/A) – Hulkenberg is yet to fully get going this season, a pattern that continued after he was an innocent victim of the first lap crash caused by Gutierrez.

20) Kevin Magnussen (9/10)* – An assured and consistent drive by Magnussen to take seventh place in a Renault lacking the grip or horsepower of many of this rivals. Undoubtedly the Dane’s best performance since his debut podium in Australia in 2014. Driver of the Day.

30) Jolyon Palmer (6/10) – After running in the points early on, Palmer slipped back as he struggled to match the speed of his rivals in superior machinery. A solid enough drive, but will have to up his game if he is to remain in Renault’s thinking beyond 2016.

33) Max Verstappen (8/10) – A strong start catapulted the Toro Rosso into a sixth place position that he would undoubtedly have held had his car not given up the ghost. A mature display that will only strengthen his case to be promoted to the Red Bull team next year.

55) Carlos Sainz Jr (5/10) – A disappointing drive for the Spaniard as he struggled to match Verstappen’s speed throughout. Lost any chance of a points finish when he earned a time penalty for a clumsy chop on Palmer.

12) Felipe Nasr (5/10) – Nasr looks a shadow of the driver that impressed in his rookie season, and after finally getting the upper hand on Ericsson in qualifying after reporting feeling happier with a new chassis, he flattered to deceive once more on Sunday.

9) Marcus Ericsson (6/10) – Sauber has been reduced to fighting with the Manors as a result of the team’s struggles so far this season, but Ericsson is doing all he can on the track, and once again beat Nasr in Russia despite having to make a first lap pit stop.

14) Fernando Alonso (9/10)** – Alonso showed that he is still up there with the very best after a storming drive to sixth place. Never looked like being threatened after he benefitted from the first lap chaos and set the fifth fastest lap after deciding to “have some fun” late on. McLaren’s best race since its reunion with Honda.

22) Jenson Button (6/10) – Sochi will be a case of what might have been for Button, who could finish no higher than tenth after spending much of the race stuck behind Sainz’s Toro Rosso.

94) Pascal Wehrlein (6/10) – Wehrlein enjoyed an eventful first half of the race as he was left slugging it out with the Saubers, before a problem in the pits that left him stationary for nearly half a minute consigned him to last place.

88) Rio Haryanto (N/A) – Blameless in the first lap collision that also ended Hulkenberg’s race, an early retirement meant we will never know whether the Indonesian could have joined teammate Wehrlein in taking the race to the Sauber drivers.

8) Romain Grosjean (8/10) – After a low key race in China, Grosjean was back on form in Sochi to climb into the points as a result of the opening lap melee and calmly held off Sergio Perez on much fresher tyres in the closing stages of the race to take a deserved eighth place.

21) Esteban Gutierrez (4/10) – The sister Haas endured a wretched afternoon as he caused the collision that ended the races of Hulkenberg and Haryanto, earning him a drive-through penalty that left him unable to recover to higher than 17th place.

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These scores will be added up throughout the season and will be used to calculate both mid-season and end of season driver rankings. To take into account individual performances, the driver of the day will receive an additional three points, the second best driver two points and the third best driver one bonus point. These are signifed by the number of asterisks next to their names.

After the Russian Grand Prix, my top five drivers of the season so far are as follows:
=1) Romain Grosjean (Haas-Ferrari) – 36 points
=1) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) – 36 points
3) Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull-Tag Heuer) – 32 points
4) Kevin Magnussen (Renault) – 30 points
=5) Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) – 22 points
=5) Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 22 points
=5) Pascal Wehrlein (Manor-Mercedes) – 22 points

Driver Ratings: Chinese Grand Prix

Nico Rosberg

Credit: Associated Press

A thrilling Chinese Grand Prix saw several drivers fight back through the field after a number of early setbacks, but up front it was a serene afternoon for Nico Rosberg as he kept out of trouble to take his third straight win in 2016.

But whose performances stood out most in Shanghai?

44) Lewis Hamilton (7/10) – Strong fightback from Hamilton after losing his front wing in the first lap melee. Could have finished higher up with a better strategy call, but the world champion would have taken seventh after turn one.

6) Nico Rosberg (9/10)* – Driver of the Day.A simply dominant race by Rosberg to notch up his sixth win in the row. Never looked back once Ricciardo was out of the way and finished in a different postcode to the rest. At this rate, it’s going to be tough for Hamilton to catch him in the championship race.

5) Sebastian Vettel (7/10) – Not entirely blameless in the first corner crash that left Raikkonen in trouble, but fought back strongly after a front wing change to take a deserved second place finish.

7) Kimi Raikkonen (8/10)*** – An innocent victim at the start, Raikkonen was given a lifeline by the early safety car but worked his way back through the field with a different strategy to the other frontrunners and thoroughly deserved his fifth place.

77) Valtteri Bottas (6/10) – Another low key performance for Bottas, who was outperformed by Williams teammate Massa and faded in the closing stages as the Toro Rossos breezed past him.

19) Felipe Massa (8/10) – Running as high as second at one point in the early race chaos, Massa continued his impressive start to the season with a fine drive to sixth place. Did an exceptional job to fend off Hamilton in the closing stages.

3) Daniel Ricciardo (9/10)** – After taking the lead at the start, Ricciardo was desperately unlucky to suffer a puncture as Rosberg went past him. Showed characteristic determination to fight back to fourth and take more than ten seconds out of teammate Kvyat in the final stint.

26) Daniil Kvyat (7/10) – Unfairly blamed by Vettel for the collision between the Ferraris at the start, Kvyat took advantage of the chaos around him to keep out of trouble and take a deserved second career podium.

11) Sergio Perez (6/10) – A clean race for Perez, but he will be disappointed to leave Shanghai without a point after the Toro Rossos demoted him to 11th in the final stint.

27) Nico Hulkenberg (5/10) – Fastest lap is little consolation for Hulkenberg, whose poorly judged decision to hold up the pack as he pitted under the safety car earned him a penalty and ensured his thoroughly mediocre start to the campaign carries on.

20) Kevin Magnussen (6/10) – After an impressive qualifying which saw him beat teammate Palmer by nearly a second, the Dane was hamstrung by a hugely uncompetitive Renault and finished a lowly 17th.

30) Jolyon Palmer (4/10) – Palmer has struggled to reach the heights of his impressive debut in Melbourne, and suffered the ignominy of finishing the race 22nd and last. Work to do.

33) Max Verstappen (7/10) – Another strong race for the teenage Dutchman, whose eighth place finish was probably the maximum on a day in which bulletproof reliability ensured that no-one could benefit from the misfortune of others.

55) Carlos Sainz Jr (6/10) – After outqualifying Verstappen on Saturday, Sainz failed to match his Toro Rosso teammate in the race but enjoyed a solid afternoon to record his seconds points finish of the season.

12) Felipe Nasr (5/10) – Nasr has reported trouble with his Sauber chassis, and another completely forgettable race to 20th place – well behind teammate Ericsson – will do nothing to kickstart his campaign.

9) Marcus Ericsson (6/10) – In an uncompetitive car, Ericsson is quickly working his way into the team leader role at Sauber and another consistent drive will do him no harm.

47) Fernando Alonso (6/10) – Still work for McLaren to do to challenge the leading teams on the evidence of his race. Alonso ran as high as fourth after the safety car but spent the rest of the race looking in his mirrors as he slipped back to 12th.

22) Jenson Button (6/10) – Also hampered by a lack of pace that saw him fending off the challenges of others for most of the afternoon. McLaren have made a clear step forward from last year, but another big step is needed for the Woking squad to challenge.

93) Pascal Wehrlein (6/10) – Held his own in the top ten for several laps after not pitting during the safety car, and Wehrlein rebounded well from his qualifying crash to enjoy a trouble-free race.

88) Rio Haryanto (6/10) – Lacks the outright speed of Wehrlein, but the other Manor driver enjoyed a solid afternoon and beat the faster Renault of Palmer on merit.

8) Romain Grosjean (5/10) – After the fairytale of the opening two rounds, it was back to reality for Grosjean and Haas. The Frenchman suffered damage on the first lap and was overshadowed by teammate Gutierrez for the remainder of the afternoon.

21) Esteban Gutierrez (6/10) – The Mexican will be relieved to see the chequered flag for the first time this season, and with nobody else falling by the wayside, his 14th place finish was probably the best Haas could have hoped for during a weekend in which they struggled for speed.

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Credit: Associated Press

These scores will be added up throughout the season and will be used to calculate both mid-season and end of season driver rankings. To take into account individual performances, the driver of the day will receive an additional three points, the second best driver two points and the third best driver one bonus point. These are signifed by the number of asterisks next to their names.

After the Bahrain Grand Prix, my top five drivers of the season so far are as follows:
=1) Romain Grosjean (Haas-Ferrari) – 28 points
=2) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) – 28 points
3) Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull-Tag Heuer) – 25 points
4) Pascal Wehrlein (Manor-Mercedes) – 23 points
5) Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) – 22 points

Stephen D’Albiac

Driver Ratings: Bahrain Grand Prix

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Credit: Formula1.com

Under the lights of Bahrain, we were treated to a fine spectacle as plenty of dicing in the midfield more than compensated for a rather sedate affair up front. But how did the drivers fare in the third night race at Sakhir?

44) Lewis Hamilton (6/10) – Lost the initiative to teammate Rosberg at the start. Was not at fault for the first lap collision with Bottas but would have been out of harms way with a quicker getaway. Decent recovery to third.

6) Nico Rosberg (8/10) – Flawless drive to a fifth straight win. Beat Hamilton off the line and never looked back as his rivals hit trouble to record a convincing win.

5) Sebastian Vettel (6/10) – A day of wretched misfortune for Vettel, who didn’t even make it to the start after the German’s engine blew on the formation lap, robbing him of the chance to challenge for victory.

7) Kimi Raikkonen (7/10) – A strong drive for Raikkonen who bounced back strongly from his non-finish in Australia to record a deserved second place. Consistent speed meant he was never under huge threat from Hamilton.

77) Valtteri Bottas (5/10) – The Finn ruined his race with a lunge at Hamilton that earned him a drive-through penalty. Battled back to ninth place, but could and should have been so much better.

19) Felipe Massa (6/10) – That the other Williams of Massa finished eighth was through little fault of the Brazilian, who was hamstrung by a poor decision from his team to run two stints on the medium tyres.

3) Daniel Ricciardo (7/10) – An entertaining race from the Australian as he found himself involved in good battles throughout the race. The speed of the front three meant fourth was the best he could have hoped for.

26) Daniil Kvyat (7/10) – The Russian recovered well from a dismal qualifying performance to take seventh from Massa on the final lap, with some exciting battles as he recovered through the field. Quickly needs to improve his speed on Saturdays.

11) Sergio Perez (5/10) – A day to forget for Perez, who made contact with Carlos Sainz Jr’s Toro Rosso on lap two and was forced to pit for a new front wing. Wound up a disappointing 16th.

27) Nico Hulkenberg (5/10) – Hulkenberg’s race proved as inauspicious as Perez’s, with the German also forced to change his nose after first lap contact, condemning him to 15th place.

20) Kevin Magnussen (6/10) – A respectable job from the Dane, who finished just one place outside the points after a pit lane start. A good effort in a Renault that was clearly lacking in speed.

30) Jolyon Palmer (5/10) – After an action-packed debut in Melbourne, it was back down to earth with a bump for Palmer, who pulled in and retired from the race at the end of the formation lap with technical troubles.

33) Max Verstappen (7/10) – After flattering to deceive in Australia, Verstappen bounced back in Sakhir with a strong drive to sixth, Toro Rosso’s first ever points finish in Bahrain.

55) Carlos Sainz Jr (5/10) – A thoroughly forgettable time under the lights for the Spanish driver, who suffered a puncture in a collision with Perez early on and endured a botched pit stop before he retired from the race.

12) Felipe Nasr (5/10) – Sauber have clearly dropped back in performance over the winter and it looks like the Brazilian has suffered the same fate. An almost anonymous drive to 14th place.

9) Marcus Ericsson (6/10) – The Swedish driver looks to have gained the upper hand on teammate Nasr, with 12th place the best he could have achieved in what is clearly a dog of a car.

47) Stoffel Vandoorne (8/10)*** – Having only found out he would be making his Grand Prix debut on Thursday, the Belgian hotshot announced himself to Formula One in style with a mightily impressive drive to the final points finish in tenth, having outqualified world champion teammate Button the day before.

22) Jenson Button (5/10) – A weekend to cause nightmares for Button, with his outqualification by Vandoorne and early power unit failure sure to result in questions about his McLaren future beyond the end of this season.

93) Pascal Wehrlein (8/10)** – Another eye-catching performance from the German youngster, who outperformed his Manor all weekend with a fine drive to 13th after a superb qualifying display.

88) Rio Haryanto (6/10) – Although overshadowed by the mercurial Wehrlein, the Indonesian drove a solid, clean race on his way to a first Formula One finish.

8) Romain Grosjean (9/10)* – Driver of the Day. The Frenchman’s move to Haas looks even more inspired now after an astonishing drive which bettered his fairytale sixth place finish in Melbourne.

21) Esteban Gutierrez (6/10) – An encouraging performance by the second Haas driver, who would surely have scored his first points since 2013 had car failure not ended his race after just ten laps.

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Credit: Clive Mason/Getty Images

These scores will be added up throughout the season and will be used to calculate both mid-season and end of season driver rankings. To take into account individual performances, the driver of the day will receive an additional three points, the second best driver two points and the third best driver one bonus point. These are signifed by the number of asterisks next to their names.

After the Bahrain Grand Prix, my top five drivers of the season so far are as follows:
1) Romain Grosjean (Haas-Ferrari) – 23 points
2) Pascal Wehrlein (Manor-Mercedes) – 17 points
3) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) – 16 points
=4) Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull-Tag Heuer) – 14 points
=4) Jolyon Palmer (Renault) – 14 points
=4) Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) – 14 points

Stephen D’Albiac

 

Performance Podium: Bahrain

The Bahrain Grand Prix turned out to be a race in which some rather unexpected names stood out, making this the Performance Podium of the ‘unusual suspects’.

But in which order did the stars of Sakhir end up in performance terms? Keep reading, and you’ll find the answer.

1) Sergio Perez

Sergio Perez answered his critics in fine fashion in Bahrain with a highly impressive drive to sixth place.

The McLaren driver had been criticised for not defending hard enough when battling with other cars in China, but Perez came back brilliantly in Bahrain, getting stuck into fights with other drivers throughout the race, most notably with teammate Jenson Button, with whom the Mexican tussled in a thrilling duel that lasted many laps.

Perez got the better of his McLaren sparring partner late on in the race, before passing Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber in the closing laps and also demonstrating his renowned tyre management by getting to the end on three stops, in a race where Button was forced to make four visits to the pit lane.

The challenge now is for Perez to continue to produce drives of this nature, and if he manages to do so, he will more than begin to repay the faith McLaren showed in signing him to replace Lewis Hamilton.

2) Romain Grosjean

Romain Grosjean was another man slightly under the cosh before this weekend. The Frenchman hadn’t driven particularly badly, but had failed to show the speed he had often demonstrated in 2012.

It was perhaps apt, then, that Grosjean produced by far his best performance of the season so far in Bahrain, the scene of his maiden Formula One podium last year, making best use of a three-stop strategy to take third place.

Having spent the first part of the race mired in a battle with the McLarens, Grosjean came alive in the second half, using his fresher medium tyres at the end to pass Paul di Resta in the closing stages and claim his first podium finish since Hungary last year.

Grosjean has managed to keep his nose clean so far this season, and if he can build on the speed he found this weekend, then the Frenchman could well become a regular podium challenger throughout the year.

3) Paul di Resta

Paul di Resta made best use of an extremely quick Force India to match his career best finish of fourth in Bahrain.

di Resta moved up to fourth on the opening lap, and when Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg began to drop back, for a time was running in an incredible second place on merit.

The Scot lost out to Kimi Raikkonen on lap 34, but then ran solidly in third place, and looked set for a maiden F1 podium before Romain Grosjean’s charge bumped him down to fourth in the closing stages.

Despite missing out on the podium, di Resta will be delighted with his weekend’s work, and with Force India fighting it out at the front on merit so far this season, a top three finish may not be too far away.

HM) Sebastian Vettel

It would be hard not to find a place in this Performance Podium for Sebastian Vettel, who even by his standards produced a storming drive in Bahrain.

A stunning overtake on Fernando Alonso on the first lap put him second, before his swift pass on Nico Rosberg gave him an early lead which allowed him to streak clear at the front.

From that point Vettel never looked like being beaten, and comfortably drove out the rest of the race to take his second win of the season and cement his place at the top of the drivers standings.

HM) Fernando Alonso

It’s a testament to Fernando Alonso’s driving ability that he recovered from two DRS failures to secure eighth, and a good haul of points from today’s Grand Prix.

Two unscheduled stops in the early part of the race, put him on a compromised pit strategy, and with no DRS to make his way through the field, he was forced to make up lost ground with a significant speed disadvantage.

Despite the lack of DRS making him defenceless against Sergio Perez in the closing stages, Alonso will be happy to have salvaged some points from this race and minimise the ground lost in the title battle ahead of F1’s return to Europe.

2013 Performance Podium Rankings
1) Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) – 13pts
2) Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus-Renault) – 10pts
2) Mark Webber (Red Bull-Renault) – 10pts
2) Sergio Perez (McLaren-Mercedes) – 10pts
5) Adrian Sutil (Force India-Mercedes) – 5pts
5) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) – 5pts
5) Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso-Ferrari) – 5pts
5) Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Renault) – 5pts
9) Jenson Button (McLaren-Mercedes) – 2pts
9) Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 2pts
9) Paul di Resta (Force India-Mercedes) – 2pts
12) Jules Bianchi (Marussia-Cosworth) – 2pts
13) Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull-Renault) – 1pt

The Performance Podium rankings are calculated depending on where each driver places in each race. 1st place receives 10 points, 2nd place = 5pts, 3rd place = 2pts and an Honourable Mention = 1pt

Stephen D’Albiac

Rampant Vettel takes dominant win in Bahrain

Sebastian Vettel cruised to his second win of the season as he romped to victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix.

After losing second to Fernando Alonso at the start, Vettel produced a stunning overtaking manouevre to reclaim second at turn five on the opening lap, before passing polesitter Nico Rosberg on lap three to take a lead he never looked like losing.

Kimi Raikkonen came second after using a two-stop strategy to come through the field, while his Lotus teammate Romain Grosjean took his first podium of the season by finishing third, passing the Force India of Paul di Resta in the closing stages of the race.

di Resta’s fourth place underlined the improvement Force India have made over the winter, whilst Lewis Hamilton, the hugely impressive Sergio Perez, Mark Webber and the luckless Alonso, who had to pit twice in the opening laps after his DRS got stuck open, rounded out the top eight.

Poleman Rosberg and Jenson Button completed the points, with both struggling to preserve their tyres throughout the race and the pair had to make four stops to get to the end.

Everyone got away cleanly at the start, with Rosberg making it to the first corner from pole position, ahead of the dicing Alonso and Vettel.

Alonso made it out of turn three in second place, but Vettel then used his KERS to great effect on the exit of the fourth corner to blast up the inside of the Ferrari and reclaim his starting position in brilliant fashion.

Now into second place, Vettel clearly had more pace than the Mercedes of Rosberg, and having spent the whole of the second lap threatening a pass, pulled off a move at turn six on lap three to move into the lead.

Alonso then waited his turn behind the Mercedes, and with the help of the DRS made his move on Rosberg to take second at the start of lap five.

However, in passing the Mercedes the Ferrari’s DRS had failed, and the flap on the rear wing of Alonso’s car jammed open, contravening FIA regulations and forcing him to pit on lap seven to get it fixed.

That pitstop dropped the Spaniard way down the order, and instead of hunting down race leader Vettel, he was now staring at the gearbox of Jules Bianchi’s Marussia. He used the DRS to pass the Frenchman into turn 11, but as he did so the Ferrari’s flap stuck open again, forcing a second visit to the pits in as many laps.

With the use of DRS not an option for the remainder of the race, Alonso was forced to make his way through the field without the use of his main overtaking aid, but creditably fought back into the points in the closing stages. He passed Perez to take seventh place, but with no way of using his rear wing to make inroads into the scrapping Webber and Hamilton ahead of him, he became easy prey for the McLaren in the closing laps and the Mexican retook the place to leave Alonso in a still very respectable eighth.

Perez was one of the standout performers of the race. Having received plenty of criticism over his racecraft since his move to McLaren, he got himself into some cracking battles for position throughout the race, most notably with teammate Button in the second and third stints. The pair made contact on more than one occasion as they fought wheel-to-wheel, and the Mexican got the better of his more experienced teammate, managing to complete the race on one less pit stop.

A fine afternoon for Perez was completed on the final lap when he passed the Red Bull of Webber to take sixth place.

Hamilton was another driver that fought through in the closing stages. The Englishman had endured a subdued afternoon up until the final round of stops and looked set for a place in the lower reaches of the points, but fought through in the closing stages to pass Perez and then Webber right at the end after a thrilling battle that lasted several laps.

By now Vettel and Raikkonen were safely out front, and the big question was as to whether di Resta would be able to claim a place on the podium ahead of Grosjean, who had been forced to visit the pits on three occasions throughout the race.

Having driven a storming race, undoubtedly the finest of his F1 career, it looked as though di Resta was set for his first ever podium finish, but the Lotus of Grosjean made a late charge on the medium tyres and with just five laps remaining, took the place from the Force India on the pit straight to take third place and ensure an exact repeat of the podium standings from last year’s race.

But there was no stopping the dominant Red Bull of Vettel, who comfortably drove his car home to take his second win of the season.

He now leads the world championship on 77 points, ahead of Raikkonen with 67, whilst Hamilton lies third with 50, three clear of Alonso in fourth place.

Classification
1) Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault – 1:36:00.498 secs
2) Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus-Renault – +9.111 secs
3) Romain Grosjean (Fra) Lotus-Renault – +19.507 secs
4) Paul Di Resta (GB) Force India-Mercedes – +21.727 secs
5) Lewis Hamilton (GB) Mercedes – +35.230 secs
6) Sergio Perez (Mex) McLaren-Mercedes – +35.998 secs
7) Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault – +37.244 secs
8) Fernando Alonso (Esp) Ferrari – +37.574 secs
9) Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes – +41.126 secs
10) Jenson Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes – +46.631 secs
11) Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Renault – +1:06.450 secs
12) Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari – +1:12.933 secs
13) Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes – +1:16.719 secs
14) Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Williams-Renault – +1:21.511 secs
15) Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari – +1:26.364 secs
16) Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – +1 lap
17) Charles Pic (Fra) Caterham-Renault – + 1 lap
18) Esteban Gutierrez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari – + 1 lap
19) Jules Bianchi (Fra) Marussia-Cosworth – + 1 lap
20) Max Chilton (GB) Marussia-Cosworth – + 1 lap
21) Giedo van der Garde (Ned) Caterham-Renault – + 2 laps

Not classified
22) Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 41 laps

Stephen D’Albiac

Classic Malaysian Grand Prix: 2012

Kicking off Torque F1’s build-up to this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix is the second in the new Classic Grand Prix feature, which looks at the best races to have occurred at each circuit on the Formula One calendar.

Keeping firmly with tradition for this feature (although seeing as this has only been done once before I’m not sure tradition is the right word) it was the turn of the Malaysian Grand Prix to be put to Twitter for people to vote for their favourite race at the Sepang circuit.

Despite an extremely close run vote, which ended up with a tie between the 2001 and 2012 races, I honourably discounted my vote for 2001 to eliminate bias from the equation, making last year’s race the winner.

The sodden Sepang circuit served up a treat for F1 fans last year

Having dominated the opening round of the 2012 season in Australia, McLaren arrived in Sepang as firm favourites for victory in Malaysia. Jenson Button had taken a dominant victory in Melbourne, whilst teammate Lewis Hamilton had finished third having taken pole position on the Saturday.

It was a trend that continued throughout qualifying as Hamilton once again took pole from Button, making it the second all-McLaren front row in as many races. Michael Schumacher qualified his Mercedes third, while the Red Bulls of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel rounded out the top five.

Further back, Fernando Alonso started eighth in a Ferrari that was quite clearly not up to the task, whilst Sauber’s Sergio Perez lined up an impressive ninth. Kimi Raikkonen had set the fifth fastest time in qualifying, but was forced to start in tenth after a mandatory five-place grid penalty for changing his gearbox.

The Sepang circuit has a reputation for inclement weather, so it was no surprise to anyone when rain hit the track ten minutes before the start, prompting the teams to begin the race on intermediate tyres. The circuit was deemed safe enough not to require a safety car start, so the field took their grid slots as usual.

And it was a clean start for most, as the McLarens got away well and led into the first corner, with Hamilton leading Button. With the first couple of corners navigated safely, it appeared as though the field were going to complete the first lap without incident.

Those hopes managed to survive as long as the next corner, as Romain Grosjean attempted to pass Schumacher into turn four, but in doing so the Lotus clipped the Mercedes and sent both spinning down the field.

The torrential rain caused the race to be stopped for nearly an hour

The rain began to intensify and Perez took the first gamble of the race, pitting for full wet tyres at the end of the opening lap. It was a move that was to prove inspired, as he gained a huge amount of time on the frontrunners, who quickly had to follow him in. As a result, when the rest of the field took the plunge for wets, the Sauber driver found himself in third place behind the McLarens.

The track was beginning to become undriveable, as shown by Grosjean spinning off on lap four and into retirement, and before too long the safety car was deployed. With the rain getting worse, the decision was made to stop the race on the ninth lap.

Nearly an hour later, and enter the 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix, take two. The safety car led the field around for four laps before it peeled off at the end of lap 13 and the race resumed. Alonso made the best of the restart, passing the Red Bull of Webber around the outside of turn one to take fourth place.

Button was the first to take the plunge and change to intermediates at the end of lap 14, and he was quickly followed by Hamilton and Alonso on the next lap. Hamilton had entered the pit lane as the leader, but an awful pit stop by the McLaren team enabled Alonso to get the jump on his former teammate and then leapfrog Button to take a net second place, a position that many had thought impossible for the Ferrari before the weekend.

But things got even better for Alonso when Perez pitted. With the track still damp, the Sauber had no grip when re-joining the track and his car squirmed whilst desperately trying to find traction. Alonso needed no invitation to take advantage, and on the exit of turn two drove clean past the Mexican to take the lead.

Button’s hopes of victory were destroyed when he collided with Narain Karthikeyan and damaged his front wing

But for everything that had gone right for Alonso, things had just gone disastrously wrong for Button. Attempting to pass the HRT of Narain Karthikeyan into turn nine, the Brit got his braking all wrong and clattered the back of the Indian’s car, damaging his front wing and forcing him to make another pitstop.

With the pitstops over, it was Alonso who had the lead, followed by Perez, Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Vettel. On the damp track, the race began to settle down and the leading Ferrari began to pull away from Perez’s Sauber, with the advantage growing to almost eight seconds.

But as the track dried, Perez got quicker. The Mexican, whose best finish in F1 prior to this race was a seventh place, began to close in on Alonso’s Ferrari, and do so quickly. The Sauber driver began to take huge chunks out of the Spaniard’s lead, and by lap 40 the gap had come down to just 1.3 seconds, with Perez just three tenths of a second away from being able to deploy the DRS and challenge for an incredible lead.

Ferrari realised they needed to react quickly, and did so by bringing in Alonso for dry tyres at the end of that lap. However, Perez decided to stay out for another lap and in doing so, lost several seconds to the Spaniard.

As a relatively inexperienced driver with no history of fighting it out at the front, Perez could have been forgiven for giving up on the chance to win and coasting home for what would have been an incredible second place. But the Sauber man wasn’t finished, and in an exact replica of the laps before the pitstops, began to eat into Alonso’s lead once again.

The gap was 7.7 seconds at the end of lap 44, but Perez’s pace was blinding. He took two seconds out of the Ferrari on the next lap, nine tenths the lap after that, seven tenths the lap after that and the gap to Alonso was being evaporated. By lap 50 it was under a second and the Sauber now had the advantage of the DRS for the first time. With six laps to make a move on a vastly inferior Ferrari, a history win was in sight.

But then it all went wrong. Perez, looking for a good run onto the back straight to enable him to get closer to Alonso before the DRS zone, ran wide at the penultimate corner and slid off the track. Alonso had scampered away, the gap had increased to more than five seconds, and with it had gone any chance of Perez claiming an astonishing victory.

Two unlikely contenders in Alonso and Perez fought out a thrilling battle for the win

Behind the leaders, Hamilton still held third with Vettel, Webber and Raikkonen behind him. Vettel had run fourth for the whole of the second half of the race, but in his haste to lap Karthikeyan pulled in too fast after lapping the HRT driver, becoming the second frontrunner of the afternoon to collide with the Indian driver and sustaining a puncture in the process. As a result, the world champion had to pit for repairs and dropped out of the points.

Ferrari had been written off by many before the start of the season. Their car had spectacularly failed to perform throughout testing and the first race, and many gave the Scuderia little chance of finishing in the points, yet alone challenging for race wins.

But incredibly, Alonso had delivered an incredible performance in the Sepang rain and came home to take probably the most unlikely victory of his career, followed by the magnificent Perez and Hamilton.

Webber and Raikkonen completed the top five, whilst a highly impressive Bruno Senna took sixth, ahead of Paul di Resta, Jean-Eric Vergne, Nico Hulkenberg and Michael Schumacher, who took home the final point. Following their game of Karthikeyan-bashing, Vettel finished 11th and Button a disappointing 14th.

As a result, Alonso left Sepang as the world championship leader, five points ahead of Hamilton, with Button a further five back.

Alonso could barely contain his excitement at clinching one of the unlikeliest wins of his career

Classification (after 56 laps)
1) Fernando Alonso (Esp) Ferrari
2) Sergio Perez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari
3) Lewis Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercedes
4) Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault
5) Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus-Renault
6) Bruno Senna (Bra) Williams-Renault
7) Paul di Resta (GB) Force India-Mercedes
8) Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra) Toro Rosso-Ferrari
9) Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari
10) Michael Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes
11) Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault
12) Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Toro Rosso-Ferrari
13) Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes
14) Jenson Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes
15) Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari
16) Vitaly Petrov (Rus) Caterham-Renault
17) Timo Glock (Ger) Marussia-Cosworth
18) Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) Caterham-Renault
19) Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Renault
20) Charles Pic (Fra) Marussia-Cosworth
21) Pedro de la Rosa (Esp) HRT-Cosworth
22) Narain Karthikeyan (Ind) HRT-Cosworth

Not Classified
23) Kamui Kobayashi (Jpn) Sauber-Ferrari
24) Romain Grosjean (Fra) Lotus-Renault

Stephen D’Albiac

Vettel takes first pole of 2013 in Australia

New year, same old story. Sebastian Vettel started his third straight world title defence in the best possible fashion as he convincingly took pole for the Australian Grand Prix.

Vettel’s lap of 1:27.407 was four tenths quicker than Red Bull teammate Mark Webber, as the German made the best use of a rapidly drying track to top the times.

Lewis Hamilton produced a good lap on his Mercedes debut and will start third, ahead of the two Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso, with Massa outqualifying his more illustrious teammate for the third race in succession.

Nico Rosberg qualified sixth, but he will be disappointed with his final grid slot after he set the quickest time in both Q1 and Q2, and had looked a real contender for pole until the end of the top ten shoot-out.

The Lotus pairing of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean share the fourth row, with Paul di Resta and Jenson Button rounding out the top ten.

In the first qualifying session to be split over two days since the 2005 Monaco Grand Prix, the water that had saturated the circuit and caused Saturday’s effort at finding the polesitter to be abandoned after Q1 remained on Sunday morning, with the cars taking to the track on intermediate tyres.

With the track drying rapidly towards the end of Q2, the times tumbled in the final minute of the session. Nico Hulkenberg crossed the start-finish line at just the wrong moment, denying himself the chance of an extra lap and will start 11th. He shares the sixth row with compatriot Adrian Sutil, whilst the Toro Rosso’s of Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo start 13th and 14th.

Sergio Perez fell victim to a disastrous strategic call by McLaren to put him onto slick tyres too early, with 15th place being an incredibly disappointing performance for the Mexican on his debut for the Woking squad. He shares row eight with Williams rookie Valtteri Bottas.

On Saturday Pastor Maldonado and Esteban Gutierrez had become the two bigname casualties of the first part of qualifying, with Jules Bianchi, Max Chilton, Giedo van der Garde and Charles Pic joining them on the sidelines on Sunday morning.

The Grid
1) Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault – 1:27.407
2) Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault – 1:27.827
3) Lewis Hamilton (GB) Mercedes – 1:28.087
4) Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari – 1:28.390
5) Fernando Alonso (Esp) Ferrari – 1:28.393
6) Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes – 1:28.523
7) Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus-Renault – 1:28.738
8) Romain Grosjean (Fra) Lotus-Renault – 1:29.013
9) Paul di Resta (GB) Force India-Mercedes – 1:29.305
10) Jenson Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes – 1:30.357
11) Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari – 1:38.067
12) Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes – 1:38.134
13) Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 1:38.778
14) Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 1:39.042
15) Sergio Perez (Mex) McLaren-Mercedes – 1:39.900
16) Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Williams-Renault – 1:40.290
17) Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Renault – 1:47.614
18) Esteban Gutierrez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari – 1:47.776
19) Jules Bianchi (Fra) Caterham-Renault – 1:48.147
20) Max Chilton (GB) Marussia-Cosworth – 1:48.909
21) Giedo van der Garde (Ned) Caterham-Renault – 1:49.519
22) Charles Pic (Fra) Caterham-Renault – 1:50.626

Stephen D’Albiac