Hamilton goes wire-to-wire to win first Malaysian GP

9 Comments

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.

Behind the scenes of how the biggest story in racing was kept a secret

1 Comment

In a world where nobody is able to keep a secret, especially in auto racing, legendary business leader and race team owner Roger Penske and INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles were able to keep the biggest story of the year a secret.

That was Monday morning’s stunning announcement that after 74 years of leadership and ownership of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Hulman George Family was selling the track, the Indianapolis 500 and INDYCAR to Penske.

In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports.com on Thursday, Miles revealed the extreme lengths both sides went to so that nobody found out about this deal ahead of time. That included meeting with Penske at his Detroit offices early on Saturday mornings and late on Sunday nights.

The most important way of keeping it confidential was containing the number of people who were involved.

“We thought it was important to keep it quiet until we were ready to announce it,” Miles told NBC Sports.com. “The reason for that is No. 1, we wanted employees and other stakeholders to hear it from us and not through the distorting rumor mill.

“That was the motivation.

“We just didn’t involve many people. For most of the time, there were four people from Roger’s group in Michigan and four people from here (IMS/INDYCAR) involved and nobody else. There were just four of us. We all knew that none of the eight were going to talk to anybody about it until very late.”

Even key members of both staffs were kept out of the loop, notably Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles, who admitted earlier this week he was not told of the impending sale until Saturday when he was at Texas Motor Speedway for the NASCAR race.

Both Penske and Miles realize the way a deal or a secret slips out is often from people far outside of the discussions who have to get called in to work to help set up an announcement.

Miles had a plan for that scenario, too.

“On Saturday, we had to set up a stream for Monday’s announcement,” Miles said. “We came up with an internal cover story so if anybody saw what was going on, there was a cover story for what that was, and it wasn’t that announcement.

“The key thing was we kept it at only those that needed to know.”

It wasn’t until very late Sunday night and very early Monday morning that key stakeholders in INDYCAR were informed. Team owner Bobby Rahal got a call at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Racing legend Mario Andretti was also informed very early on Monday.

At 8 a.m. that day came the official word from Hulman & Company, which owns the Indianapolis 500, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and INDYCAR as well as a few other businesses, that Penske was buying the racing properties of the company. It was an advisory that a media conference was scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It was a masterful move by both Penske and Miles.

Penske is already famous for keeping one of greatest secrets in racing history in 1993 and 1994. That is when his famed racing team along with Ilmor Engineering created “The Beast” – a 209 cubic-inch, pushrod engine that was designed, developed and tested in total secrecy. A small, select group of Team Penske mechanics were involved in the top-secret project and were told by Penske that if word of the engine leaked out, “it would be like cutting your paycheck.”

Nobody talked.

History repeated itself with the biggest racing story of the 21st Century, the sale of the world’s most famous race course that hosts the largest single-day sporting event in the world – the annual Indianapolis 500.

When INDYCAR held its “Victory Lap” award ceremony on Sept. 26 in Indianapolis, Miles told the crowd of an impending announcement that would be big news for the sport.

Was he coming close to giving away Monday’s announcement?

“No, that was about a sponsor announcement that will be coming along later,” Miles said on Thursday night.

Penske is one of America’s greatest and most successful business leaders. He is also the most successful team owner in auto racing history with 545 wins in all forms of racing including a record 18 Indianapolis 500 wins, a record 16 NTT IndyCar Series championships as well as two Daytona 500 wins and two NASCAR Monster Energy Cup championships just to name a few.

Penske was not the only bidder, but he was the one who made the most sense to the Hulman George Family, because it was important to find an owner who believed in “stewardship” of the greatest racing tradition on Earth more so than “ownership” of an auto racing facility and series.

“There were a number of parties that were engaged in thinking about this with us,” Miles revealed to NBC Sports.com. “There were a couple that got as far as what I call the ‘Red Zone.’

“Then, Tony George reached out to Roger Penske on Sept. 22.

“Price and value were always important, but the thing that nobody could match was the attributes that Roger could bring to the table, in terms of his history of the sport, his knowledge of the sport, combined with his business sense.

“He was viewed as the leader from a legacy or stewardship perspective, which was a very important factor.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

McLaren IndyCar boss breaks down team’s first test since missing Indy 500

Arrow McLaren Racing SP Photo
Leave a comment

McLaren Sporting Director Gil De Ferran left Sebring International Raceway last Tuesday with a much happier outlook than when he left the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 19.

That was when McLaren and famed two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway ill-prepared. They failed to make the 33-car starting lineup for the 103rd Indianapolis 500.

That day in May, De Ferran vowed that McLaren would return.

Last Tuesday, what is now known as Arrow McLaren Racing SP after purchasing into Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, De Ferran was back to evaluate the team’s NTT IndyCar Series effort.

Instead of Alonso in the cockpit, it was the team’s recently named full-time drivers for 2020 at the test. That included 20-year-old Pato O’Ward of Monterrey, Mexico, the 2018 Indy Lights champion and 22-year-old Oliver Askew of Jupiter, Florida, the 2019 Indy Lights champion.

O’Ward was in the car for the test with Askew watching from the pit area.

“Pato did a great job, did not put a foot wrong, got on to it straight away and it was all good,” De Ferran told NBC Sports.com. “It was a positive day on all fronts. To work together, to build the team together and embark on this team together was very positive.”

De Ferran is a two-time CART champion with titles in 2000 and 2001 when he was with Team Penske. He also won the 2003 Indianapolis 500 for Team Penske before retiring as a driver at the end of that season.

Since then, he has been involved in numerous Formula One, IndyCar and Sports Car efforts. As McLaren’s Sporting Director, De Ferran is involved in both Formula One and IndyCar.

Arrow McLaren Racing SP also includes partners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson. Arrow also has a financial stake in the team in addition to serving as sponsor.

The chance to work with two young drivers is something that has De Ferran excited.

“They are both very young, but they have been around for a while,” De Ferran said. “It’s not like these guys are completely clueless about racing. They have been racing ever since they were kids. Generally speaking, as a trend in motorsports, they start much younger than I did. They move to cars at a younger age and tend to reach this level of the sport at a younger age then when I was coming up.

“Although they don’t have a lot of experience in IndyCar, several members of the team can help in their development. These guys are very accomplished and top-level guys. They have won a lot of races and championships before getting the nod from our team.”

Last week’s test was part of INDYCAR’s evaluation of the new aeroscreen that will be on all cars beginning in 2020. Arrow McLaren Racing SP is a Chevrolet team. Honda team Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser and Sullivan also participated in the test with four-time Champ Car Series champion Sebastien Bourdais as the driver.

This was the only test that Arrow McLaren Racing SP will conduct in 2019. Testing time is severely limited De Ferran said it won’t be back on track until the 2020 regulations take effect.

Arrow McLaren Racing SP has already experienced some controversy after the team said several weeks ago that popular driver James Hinchcliffe would not be driving for the team. He remains on the payroll and is expected to be at the track in a public relations capacity.

That has angered many IndyCar fans who are huge fans of the popular Canadian driver.

“I have nothing more to add to this than what was said at the time,” De Ferran told NBC Sports.com. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s head-down. We have to go racing. We are on a journey here together with this partnership and two young drivers that are very accomplished and have a lot of talent. Our job is to deliver the results on the track.

“That is where my focus is. I’m completely focused on improving every aspect of everything that we do trackside.

“One thing I guarantee you, whatever we start, to have that focus to improve everything that we do we will continue to move forward. It was like that when I was driving, and it was like that throughout my professional career away from the cockpit. We will keep looking for opportunities to improve.

“Eventually, good things will happen.”

It was just Day One on the track, but after seeing this team struggle at last year’s Indianapolis 500, McLaren took its first step in returning as a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team.

“This is the beginning of a journey that we embarked on several months ago now and you do a lot in the background,” De Ferran said. “The guys from SPM and us have put a lot into this partnership. Behind the scenes, we have been working hard together.

“We’re all racers, man. We want to see cars on track. This has been like a little check off the box and it feels good that we were on track.

“We have a long journey ahead, but it’s good to be working together, at the race track, how the car is handling, the engine is working and how the drivers do.

“First day on the track for Arrow McLaren Racing SP. It’s a good day.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500