Lewis Hamilton has won the Malaysian Grand Prix for the first time with a faultless performance at the Sepang International Circuit today.
The British driver went wire-to-wire on Sunday afternoon as he eased his car home by 17 seconds ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg, marking Mercedes’ first one-two finish since returning to the sport as a works team back in 2010. Sebastian Vettel claimed Red Bull’s first points of the season in third place, but teammate Daniel Ricciardo endured a luckless race as a pit stop error and front wing failure denied him a near-certain fourth place finish.
The start of the race saw Nico Rosberg make a good start to get past Sebastian Vettel and up into second place behind his teammate, who held onto the lead from the line. Daniel Ricciardo also made a good start to pass both Ferraris and move up into third place ahead of Vettel. Both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen struggled at first as they lost positions to Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen respectively, but Raikkonen soon hit trouble as a puncture forced him to crawl back to the pits and make an unscheduled stop. Jean-Eric Vergne and Jules Bianchi also had to pit early on due to problems, but Felipe Massa – searching for his first points of the season – was looking quick as he fought for position with rookie Kevin Magnussen.
Not wishing to be upstaged by his new teammate, Vettel soon found a way past Ricciardo to move up into third place. However, at the front, Hamilton had already forged a five second lead ahead of Rosberg, suggesting that Red Bull could face an uphill struggle to wrestle the race away from Mercedes.
Lotus’ poor start to the season continued as Pastor Maldonado was forced to retire his car after just seven laps, whilst Valtteri Bottas began to complain over the radio that Williams teammate Massa was too slow behind Magnussen. The McLaren driver was forced to pit due to front wing damage, but the stewards lay blame with him for causing Raikkonen’s puncture, and handed him a five second stop/go penalty.
With most drivers set to utilize a three-stop strategy, the majority of drivers made their first stop between lap ten and fifteen. Alonso – after re-passing Hulkenberg – was the first front-runner to take on fresh tires, with Ricciardo following the Spaniard’s example just one lap later. The two drivers were side by side at pit exit, and fought cleanly for position through the first few corners until Alonso was finally forced to yield and back off. This brief battle gave Vettel more breathing space in the fight for third position, and all three managed to find a way past Bottas who was going further into the race before stopping. Both Hamilton and Rosberg pitted without losing net position, but Nico Hulkenberg – by pitting later – managed to take the lead of the race for half a lap before the Briton easily passed the Force India.
After the first round of stops, Hamilton still enjoyed a healthy lead, but Rosberg began to struggle with his new set of tires, allowing Vettel and Ricciardo to close. The German driver was given the call to increase his pace and widen the gap to Vettel, and Ricciardo was keeping his teammate in sight to try and get in the running for a podium finish. Bottas rekindled his form from Australia as he fought his way up into the top ten after starting 18th, but Vergne’s day came to an early end when he was forced to retire on lap 19.
Hamilton’s lead was so great that – even before half distance – the team was able to turn down his engine and simply monitor his lead. After being told to push, Rosberg dropped Vettel to enjoy a three second lead over the Red Bull, but the champion team did report that there had been a fuel sensor failure on Ricciardo’s car. Further back, Kamui Kobayashi was running well for Caterham to battle his way into the top ten after some of his rivals stopped for fresh tires, but he was soon pushed out of the points by rookie Daniil Kvyat. However, he refused to keel over, and entered a spirited battle with Romain Grosjean for position
Once again, Alonso was the first of the front-runners to pit for fresh tires, and he was soon joined in the pits by Ricciardo. The Red Bull driver took on the harder tire in an attempt to shake-up his strategy and try to catch his teammate, who moved onto the softs. Rosberg pitted one lap later, but the gap to Vettel had shrunk to just 1.2 seconds. Hamilton had no such problems though, pitting for a new set of mediums and coming back out still in the lead.
Adrian Sutil’s race came to an early end when his Sauber C33 stopped on the inside of turn 17, but it did not require a safety car to be recovered. Teammate Esteban Gutierrez lasted just three laps longer as the Mexican driver came into the pits and was parked up. Mercedes informed its drivers that rain was falling not too far from the circuit and could hit towards the end of the race, whilst Raikkonen also reported a bit of light rain at the back of the circuit.
Daniel Ricciardo’s superb race weekend took a turn for the worse when, after making his third and final stop, his car came to a stop just outside of his pit box. Red Bull’s mechanics managed to wheel him back to his box and correct the error on his front-left tire that had not been fitted properly. The team did get him back out on track, albeit having lost a lap and way down the order in 14th place. One lap later, his day got even worse as his front wing failed and began to rub along the ground, forcing him to pit yet again for repairs. He was then made to return to the pits for a stop/go penalty due to the unsafe release in the pit stop. Red Bull eventually retired the car with five laps to go.
In the battle for sixth place, Massa began to catch Button on fresher tires, and the two veterans entered a spirited battle for position. The Brazilian driver could not find a way past though, and was eventually given the call to let his teammate, Valtteri Bottas, past as he was faster, rekindling memories of Ferrari’s pit call at the 2010 German Grand Prix. However, Massa ignored team orders and eventually finished the race in seventh place.
Nico Hulkenberg – on a two-stop strategy – found himself being caught by Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso in the dying stages of the race, and ultimately lost out to the Spanish driver.
In order to use both sets of tires and adhere to the regulations, Hamilton, Rosberg and Vettel pitted for the hard compound Pirellis with just a handful of laps to go. None of the front three encountered any problems in the pits, though, and managed to hold their podium positions.
Come the end of the race, there was no stopping Lewis Hamilton. The British driver claimed his first career ‘grand slam’ – pole position, fastest lap, race win and lead every lap – to win the Malaysian Grand Prix for the first time. With Rosberg in second place, it also marked Mercedes’ first one-two finish since the 1955 Italian Grand Prix, and put the team into the lead of the constructors’ championship. In third place, Sebastian Vettel picked up Red Bull’s first points of the season, and marked the team’s return to form after a difficult winter.
Mercedes Formula 1 engine chief Andy Cowell has warned against underestimating the threat of Honda despite its ongoing power unit struggles, tipping the Japanese manufacturer to bounce back in the near future.
Honda returned to F1 as a manufacturer in 2015, supplying V6 turbo power units to the McLaren team, but has struggled for either performance or reliability through that period.
The struggles have led McLaren – currently sat bottom of the constructors’ championship – to consider cutting ties for 2018 given how far adrift compared to the other three engine suppliers Honda has been.
Mercedes has been the benchmark for engine performance since the change in regulation for 2014, but Cowell feels that Honda could make up ground quickly, with the removal of the token system for 2017 helping performance to converge through the field.
“I think collectively we’ve helped with convergence in Formula 1 in the opening season, performance development through the year,” Cowell said.
“But then the opportunity to do a big change with Honda coming in, we all agreed that Honda could have that same opportunity to change everything in the first year and then the request came from manufacturers in addition to Honda saying ‘please can we take this crazy token table away because it’s bad for the sport?’
“It’s bad if somebody can’t train to get better and so we agreed, yeah, take the table away because it’s better for the sport because it means that you can innovate, you can introduce whatever you like.
“I think none of us should underestimate the technical prowess of Honda and of McLaren and I think my money is on that combination coming good and coming good pretty quickly. No pressure…”
Williams is happy to “hold off” on making a decision on its Formula 1 driver line-up for 2018 as it focuses on improving its on-track displays after a tough start to the season.
Williams currently fields Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll, a mix of experience and youth, but has failed to keep up with midfield front-runner Force India through the first half of the year.
Force India sits fourth in the constructors’ championship with more than double the points of Williams, who leads a tight-knit group down to Renault in eighth place, 15 points adrift.
While Stroll looks set to continue with Williams and Massa has hinted he may look to continue through to 2018 despite initially planning to retire at the end of last season, deputy team boss Claire Williams has confirmed that no decision about next year’s line-up will come any time soon.
“There’s a lot of talk already isn’t there, about drivers across the paddock. For us, we’ve decided we’re going to hold off a bit on our driver decision,” Williams said.
“We’ve got a fight on our hands on the race track at the moment and to be distracted by those kinds of conversations isn’t something that we want to be happening at the moment.
“[Force India’s] got a nice points haul on us at the moment we need to focus on, rather than anything else.”
Rosberg was previously offered a scholarship to study engineering at Imperial College London when he was younger, only to turn it down in order to embark on a racing career. He also reportedly holds the highest ever score on Williams’ engineering aptitude test.
Should Nico sign up to a course at Stanford, we imagine he’d take things one class at a time…
RED HOOK, NY – Standing on the grid ahead of last Saturday’s Formula E race, it was difficult not to appreciate the enormity of the event that was taking place.
On a grid featuring 20 of motorsport’s top names, Moonlight star Naomie Harris, Hollywood power couple Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas, and billionaire businessman Richard Branson, among others, you may have thought it was hard to know where to look.
But my eyes were firmly set on just one thing: the Manhattan skyline.
For that view had been the dream for a great number of racing series throughout the years. But it was finally happening.
“I’m delighted that at last this is going to happen in New York,” then-FOCA president and Brabham team owner Bernie Ecclestone said.
‘It’s happening 10 years later than it should have. The three proposed sites are all excellent, close to transportation and restaurants, a factor that was missing at Watkins Glen.”
The race ultimately never happened, although CART did manage to get to Meadowlands for 1984, the race lasting until 1991 when the money dried up and the fans stopped coming.
Another attempt to get a race in New York City itself followed, with an event on the streets of Manhattan planned for 1992. It was ultimately canned over a dispute between Marlboro owner Philip Morris, who was due to bankroll the race, and city mayor David Dinkins, the latter not willing to make concessions on his anti-tobacco advertising stance.
As Joseph Siano of the New York Times put it at the time: “Everyone who couldn’t believe there would ever be an Indy car race through the streets of Manhattan can keep on disbelieving.”
The disbelief continued through to 2010 when, now as F1’s ringmaster, Ecclestone announced plans for a ‘Grand Prix of America’ to be held at Port Imperial in New Jersey.
But it all came to naught. Questions over funding led to delays and multiple postponements before the project ultimately faded away. The Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas ensured F1 had some kind of standing in the United States, the grand prix returning in 2012 and going from strength to strength. But a second race remained a dream that wasn’t coming to fruition anytime soon.
F1’s new owner, Liberty Media, has made its intentions clear when it comes to forming future calendars. New F1 CEO Chase Carey is keen on “destination cities”, with New York being high on his list, but the reality remains that staging a motor race in the city is a mammoth task.
But it is one that Formula E managed last weekend.
HOW DID THE RACE COME TO BE?
One of the newest championships established by the FIA back in 2014, the all-electric Formula E series has quickly become of significant interest for figures and manufacturers within motorsport.
Formula E stages events in cities – where electric cars are most needed – that bring the future of automotive technology to the masses. Beijing, London, Paris, Hong Kong and Buenos Aires are just five of the major locations the series has already visited, making New York a natural choice for series CEO Alejandro Agag.
“Alejandro came in to see me before season one, before they’d ever done a race. I’ve known of Formula E for quite some time,” explains Michael Hopper, a former sports commissioner for New York City and adviser to Formula E for the race, heading up its organization on the ground.
“There is no easy way to get an event of any size or stature done in New York. I was part of New York’s bid for the Super Bowl, and it took us a great many years to get that one here. It takes time, it takes a proven track record, and it takes some creativity by a lot of parties to get an event done for New York.
“So I know New York has always been near the top of Alejandro’s list after our initial meetings before season one. He always had a glimmer in his eye. He wanted to be here in New York.
“It’s a conversation we’ve had on and off through the years. When they started to look at season three and what that calendar would look like, it was time to add New York to that schedule.”
The ‘where’ had always been the problem with previous attempts to get a race in New York, but Red Hook emerged as a suitable location for a number of reasons, including the backdrop it offered.
“From the Statue of Liberty to New York harbor, Lower Manhattan and even downtown Brooklyn, there are portions along this course where you really have some amazing imagery where people really understand the location of where this race is,” Hopper explains.
“It only takes one picture or one image to know that is the skyline of Lower Manhattan, or the Brooklyn Bridge.
“Then from kind of a scheduling and disruption perspective, this area in Red Hook is a cruise terminal, that’s its normal operations, they’ve got cruises that go in and out of there every few weeks.
“So from a disruption standpoint, it actually provided us a really clear window to be able to do the works we needed, get the course prepared, do the race and move back out of there in a way that has a low impact on the business community, on the residential community, while really affording Formula E the ability to build a great, exciting course within the five boroughs of New York City.
“This isn’t one of the events where it takes place in New Jersey and they call it New York – this is New York City.”
The ease with which Formula E can get in and out without causing major disruption or any road closures was one benefit that Hopper thinks gave it an edge over a series such as F1 in the race to New York.
“I think there’s some differences in the series in general, whether it’s the length of the circuit, how many days you would need the circuit for,” Hopper says.
“Formula E’s schedule of practice, qualifying and the race all in one day is certainly an attractive proposition to different cities. And I think really when it comes down to it, the number one question you get from residents with a racing location such as either New Jersey or New York is the sound.
“I think that it’s a real leg up for Formula E when they start to branch out into other portions of their calendar to be able to provide the performance they do and the spectacle for the fans they do with that really limited introduction.”
THE REALITY OF RED HOOK
When it came to the race weekend itself, the on-track spectacle was an interesting one. The track layout itself was subject to private criticism from some of the drivers prior to the weekend, yet both races were filled with action.
The ease with which the Formula E paddock can be put together was obvious in Red Hook. The teams operated out of the usual tent garages, giving the pit lane a look like any other race. Fans were able to sample the eVillage, an important center for spectators on the race weekend with plenty of entertainment options, as well as checking out many of Red Hook’s offerings.
Red Hook itself was a curious mix of scruffy, degenerated streets and some up-and-coming new shops, pointing to the ongoing gentrification of the area. Something that really caught my eye was a Tesla dealership just a few blocks from the track, a nod to a message of sustainability that Hopper believes made Red Hook an ideal location for the race.
“If you think about Red Hook, it was a community that really suffered some damage or repercussions to the Hurricane Sandy that hit New York City a few years ago,” Hopper explains.
“That community is really at the forefront of thinking about sustainable energy, thinking about renewable infrastructure, and really hallmarks of Formula E.
“When you start to think about neighborhoods, if you pick any neighborhood in New York City to hold a Formula E race in, Red Hook would have already been near the top of that list. So I think it reflects the community really well.
“If you take a walk in Red Hook, a lot of the local businesses have had signage up in their windows promoting the race. There’s a gelato shop in Red Hook that created a specific flavor and named it after Formula E. There’s really cool local interest in it. They’ve bought in and want to be a part of it.”
Even when leaving the track and returning to Manhattan, Formula E’s presence was felt. The Empire State Building was lit up in the red and purple colors of the DS Virgin Racing team, an act that got tongues wagging an ocean away in the F1 paddock at Silverstone over the British Grand Prix weekend: “Why aren’t we doing that?”
But did it really feel like you were racing in New York City?
“Not at all. I just saw walls with the advertisements on, that was it,” said a to-the-point Jean-Eric Vergne after the first race on Saturday.
Alas, the enormity of racing in New York was not lost on all of the drivers, with Sam Bird – winner of both races – speaking particularly warmly about the event.
“The first thing to say is congratulations to everyone involved putting this event on. I can’t imagine how difficult it was to put this event on,” Bird said after his victory.
“It’s been an amazing week so far. It’s my first visit to New York, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and this race made it a lot better.”
The reality was that a race in Manhattan, while remaining the dream for any racing series, is not really viable. Red Hook offered a solution that, while still hard to pull off, was possible. The drivers on-track may not have felt like they were racing in New York once their visors were down, but few circuits on the Formula E calendar achieve that.
Those attending the event were under no illusions, though: all you had to do was gaze across the East River.
AN ELECTRIC FUTURE AND LEGACY
After working so hard to get a race in New York City, Formula E wasn’t going to let this be a one-and-done event. If it was going to roll into town, it needed to know that it could be a yearly visit.
“That was one of the main points of our conversations with the local authorities. We didn’t want this to be a one-off,” says Hopper.
“We wanted to make sure that Formula E would be in New York for a long time to come, and that is the scope of our agreement and our conversations, that this is going to become a fixture on the New York City calendar every summer.”
The location of the race is very helpful in making this happen. While a number of other cities that have hosted Formula E have faced pressure over the event and been forced to either relocate or, in London’s case, scrap the race altogether, the lack of disruption caused to Red Hook should prevent this happening.
Formula E is also looking to make a lasting legacy in the cities it visits. The New York City ePrix was the first event for the series that ran with zero-emissions, bringing clean, renewable energy to a major capital. The after-effects work for both the championship and, in Hopper’s eyes, the city too.
“I think when you think about the main points of Formula E’s brand, racing in city centres and racing in the biggest cities in the world is one of them, so New York needs to be on that list, so I’m glad that they’ve achieved that and they are going to be here for a while,” Hopper says.
“On the city side, I think there’s going to be a lot of interest in the electric vehicle portion of it from our local elected officials to community organizations, as well as a sustainability portion of it.
“Formula E’s goals to be carbon-neutral is really setting the standards for other US sports and New York sports and sports teams. So I think there are a lot of different takeaways that can come from both sides of this.”
From a racing point of view, though, history has already been made: Formula E has won the race to New York City.
“I give Alejandro a lot of credit on that,” Hopper says. “This has been a focus of his. From early on when we spoke, I think he understood what it was going to take to be able to get a race approved in New York City.
“He knew New York was where Formula E needed to be, and he’s made a lot of right steps and a lot of right decisions to be able to race here.”
Speaking after the race weekend, Agag made no secret of his pride of having got the race off the ground and finally managed what so many other series chiefs had tried and failed to do.
“Formula E has a habit of breaking new ground. This weekend in New York was yet another example of achieving what many thought was impossible,” Agag said.
“We managed to bring international open-wheel racing to New York for the first time in history, this is something that sets Formula E apart from any other series, bringing electrifying motorsport to the world’s leading cities.
“The race in New York was a defining moment in the series and years in the making. We worked tirelessly with the local authorities to find the right location. It couldn’t be Central Park and Liberty State Park wasn’t an option either.
“I actually thought it wasn’t going to happen, I didn’t lose hope but I wasn’t certain we’d get Formula E to New York… it hadn’t happened before in any form of open-wheel racing – then we found the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. It was the most viable option and it also meant we didn’t need to close any streets.
“But, best of all, we still had the most spectacular view of New York. I had a similar feeling on the grid as at our first-ever race in Beijing. We’d done it, and the race proved to be a resounding success in front of a sell-out crowd.
“As the saying goes, if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere!”
Formula E may still be growing as a series, but its achievements last weekend must not be understated. Sure, it wasn’t the biggest global motorsport event in history, nor did it get its cars speeding around the streets of Manhattan.
But it broke ground and laid good foundations for the future. Formula E didn’t talk about having a race in New York City; it had an actual race in New York City.
Actions speak louder than words. And in the city that never sleeps, Formula E was able to make motorsport’s long-held dream a reality.