Vettel claims shock win for Ferrari in Malaysia as Mercedes pays for strategy mistake


Sebastian Vettel has claimed a shock victory in just his second race for Ferrari at today’s Malaysian Grand Prix after outplaying Mercedes with an inspired two-stop strategy in the heat of Sepang.

The four-time world champion opted not to pit under an early safety car, giving himself the chance to stop just twice and get the upper hand on the three-stopping Mercedes drivers of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

Hamilton proved to be Vettel’s biggest challenger for the race win, but the high tire wear of the Mercedes Wo6 Hybrid meant that neither Hamilton nor Rosberg could challenge the Ferrari driver, finishing some 8.5 seconds behind at the checkered flag.

The start saw Hamilton make a clean getaway to remain ahead of Vettel and Rosberg, with the latter failing to make a move down the inside at turn one as he had planned on Saturday. Felipe Massa picked up a couple of positions off the line to move into fifth, whilst teammate Valtteri Bottas dropped outside of the top ten.

Both of the Sauber drivers made a good start on the first lap as Ericsson moved further up into the top ten, but the Swede soon brought his race to an early end by spinning off the track at turn one when attempting an overtaking move. With his car beached, the safety car had to be deployed.

This sparked a mad rush into the pits, with a number of teams opting to double stack their drivers to get the tire changes made. Both Hamilton and Rosberg dived in, but Vettel opted to stay out, giving himself the lead of the race upon the restart ahead of Nico Hulkenberg and Romain Grosjean.

Hamilton and Rosberg quickly looked to make up the positions they had lost by stopping for prime tires, but it was Vettel who was setting the pace at the front in clean air. While Hamilton was able to easily pick off the drivers ahead to soon move up into second place, Rosberg struggled to find a way past the likes of Massa and Daniel Ricciardo, costing him time. When he did eventually move up into third behind Hamilton, the gap between the two Mercedes stood at nine seconds.

After pitting for the first time, Vettel emerged from the pits in third place and just ten seconds down on Hamilton in the lead. Putting his fresh tires to good use, the Ferrari driver eased past Rosberg for second place just a few laps into his stint before setting his sights on Hamilton in the lead. The Briton was suffering with high degradation, particularly on his rear tires, forcing him to pit just seconds after Vettel had retaken the lead of the race.

With a fresh set of tires on his car, Hamilton moved up into second place after Rosberg pitted and soon began to put the hammer down in a bid to catch Vettel towards the end of the race. Ferrari planned to stop just twice, but Vettel would be at risk of losing out to Hamilton in the final stint when the Mercedes driver fitted another set of mediums.

Further back, Ricciardo found himself battling with brake problems, leaving him at risk of falling outside of the points. Although Hulkenberg and Daniil Kvyat did manage to pass the Australian, contact between the pair saw them both lose out. The Force India driver received a ten second penalty for causing Kvyat to spin at turn two, dropping him down to P15.

McLaren’s difficult start to the season continued as Fernando Alonso was forced to retire from the race after 21 laps. However, the Spaniard remained upbeat, having fought with the Red Bulls earlier in the day. He was eventually joined by Jenson Button on the sidelines after a problem emerged on his car with 12 laps to go.

With 19 laps to go, Vettel made his final pit stop from the lead, releasing Hamilton into first place after the Briton had reduced the gap down to 14 seconds. The defending world champion led by 10 seconds, but with his car still chewing up its tires, he had to pit just one lap after Vettel, taking on another set of primes.

As a result, Hamilton found himself in third place, 14 seconds behind Vettel with just 16 laps to catch and pass the Ferrari. The pace advantage Mercedes had hoped for in the final stint was lost as the only other set of option tires the team was able to use had already been worn in qualifying on Saturday. It seemed to be a strategic error that Hamilton had to overcome.

However, the damage had already been done. Despite closing on Vettel in the final stages of the race, without the pace advantage of the medium tire, the Briton was unable to catch the German driver in the dying stages of the race as Mercedes had planned.

For Vettel, it was a perfect day. The four-time world champion crossed the line to claim his first win for Ferrari in just his second race for the team, having out-thought and outplayed both of the Mercedes drivers on Sunday, underpinning this with an impressive pace that simply proved to be too great for the Silver Arrows.

In second, Hamilton was clearly disappointed, but the heat had proved too much for Mercedes as the car destroyed its tires. The team did contemplate stopping him for a fourth time, but the Briton eventually crossed the line in second place, just 3.7 ahead of Rosberg who completed the podium.

Despite suffering an early puncture, Kimi Raikkonen managed to rally to finish a comfortable fourth for Ferrari, proving the pace of the SF15-T. He finished 14 seconds clear of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa in fifth and sixth, with the former picking up his first points of the season.

Max Verstappen became the youngest driver in the history of Formula 1 to score a point by finishing an excellent seventh in Malaysia, pulling off some impressive overtaking moves on Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo, who finished eighth and tenth respectively. Daniil Kvyat won the intra-team battle at Red Bull to come home ninth.

After qualifying, Vettel said that he had hopes of winning the race on Sunday if more rain hit Sepang to help cut the gap to Mercedes. In the end, even in dry conditions, Ferrari managed to perfect its strategy to secure its first win since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix in what was an important milestone at the start of the Vettel era at Maranello.

For Mercedes though, defeat came as a bitter pill to swallow. Throughout pre-season, its wariness of Ferrari was seen by most as the team downplaying its own pace. In truth though, it appears that both the Prancing Horse and Sebastian Vettel may be back in 2015 with a point to prove.

Strong rebounds for Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi amid some disappointments in the Indy 500


INDIANAPOLIS – Alex Palou had not turned a wheel wrong the entire Month of May at the Indy 500 until Rinus VeeKay turned a wheel into the Chip Ganassi Racing pole-sitter leaving pit road on Lap 94.

“There is nothing I could have done there,” Palou told NBC Sports. “It’s OK, when it is my fault or the team’s fault because everybody makes mistakes. But when there is nothing, you could have done differently there, it feels bad and feels bad for the team.”

Marcus Ericsson was a master at utilizing the “Tail of the Dragon” move that breaks the draft of the car behind him in the closing laps to win last year’s Indianapolis 500. On Sunday, however, the last of three red flags in the final 16 laps of the race had the popular driver from Sweden breathing fire after Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden beat him at his own game on the final lap to win the Indianapolis 500.

Despite the two disappointments, team owner Chip Ganassi was seen on pit road fist-bumping a member on his four-car team in this year’s Indianapolis 500 after his drivers finished second, fourth, sixth and seventh in the tightly contested race.

Those are pretty good results, but at the Indianapolis 500, there is just one winner and 32 losers.

“There is only one winner, but it was a hell of a show,” three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and Chip Ganassi Racing consultant Dario Franchitti told NBC Sports. “Alex was very fast, and he got absolutely caught out in somebody else’s wreck. There was nothing he could have done, but he and the 10 car, great recovery.

“Great recovery by all four cars because at half distance, we were not looking very good.”

After 92 laps, the first caution flew for Sting Ray Robb of Dale Coyne Racing hitting the Turn 1 wall.

During pit stops on Lap 94, Palou had left his stall when the second-place car driven by VeeKay ran into him, putting Palou’s Honda into the wall. The car sustained a damaged front wing, but the Chip Ganassi crew was able to get him back in the race on the lead lap but in 28th position.

Palou ultimately would fight his way to a fourth-place finish in a race the popular Spaniard could have won. His displeasure with VeeKay, whom he sarcastically called “a legend” on his team radio after the incident, was evident.

“The benefit of being on pole is you can drive straight and avoid crashes, and he was able to crash us on the side on pit lane, which is pretty tough to do, but he managed it,” Palou told NBC Sports. “Hopefully next year we are not beside him. Hopefully, next year we have a little better luck.”

Palou started on the pole and led 36 laps, just three fewer than race leader Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren Racing.

“We started really well, was managing the fuel as we wanted, our car was pretty good,” Palou said. “Our car wasn’t great, we dropped to P4 or P5, but we still had some good stuff.

“On the pit stop, the 21 (VeeKay) managed to clip us. Nothing we could have done there. It was not my team’s fault or my fault.

“We had to drop to the end. I’m happy we made it back to P4. We needed 50 more laps to make it happen, but it could have been a lot worse after that contact.

“I learned a lot, running up front at the beginning and in mid-pack and then the back. I learned a lot.

“It feels amazing when you win it and not so good when things go wrong. We were a bit lucky with so many restarts at the end to make it back to P4 so I’m happy with that.”

Palou said the front wing had to be changed and the toe-in was a bit off, but he still had a fast car.

In fact, his Honda was the best car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway all month. His pole-winning four lap average speed of 234.217 miles per hour around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a record for this fabled race.

Palou looked good throughout the race, before he had to scratch and claw and race his way back to the top-five after he restarted 28th.

In the Indianapolis 500, however, the best car doesn’t always win.

“It’s two years in a row that we were leading the race at the beginning and had to drop to last,” Palou said. “Maybe next year, we will start in the middle of the field and go on to win the race.

“I know he didn’t do it on purpose. It’s better to let that pass someday.”

Palou said the wild racing at the end was because the downforce package used in Sunday’s race means the drivers have to be aggressive. The front two cars can battle for the victory, but cars back in fourth or fifth place can’t help determine the outcome of the race.

That is when the “Tail of the Dragon” comes into the play.

Franchitti helped celebrate Ericsson’s win in 2022 with his “Tail of the Dragon” zigzag move – something he never had to do in any of his three Indianapolis 500 victories because they all finished under caution.

In 2023, however, IndyCar Race Control wants to make every attempt to finish the race under green, without going past the scheduled distance like NASCAR’s overtime rule.

Instead of extra laps, they stop the race with a red flag, to create a potential green-flag finish condition.

“You do what you have to do to win within the rules, and it’s within the rules, so you do it,” Franchitti said. “The race is 200 laps and there is a balance.

“Marcus did a great job on that restart and so did Josef. It was just the timing of who was where and that was it.

“If you knew it was going to go red, you would have hung back on the lap before.

“Brilliant job by the whole Ganassi organization because it wasn’t looking very good at half-distance.

“Full marks to Josef Newgarden and Team Penske.”

Franchitti is highly impressed by how well Ericsson works with CGR engineer Brad Goldberg and how close this combination came to winning the Indianapolis 500 two-years-in-a-row.

It would have been the first back-to-back Indy 500 winner since Helio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002.

“Oh, he’s a badass,” Franchitti said Ericsson. “He proved it last year. He is so calm all day. What more do you need? As a driver, he’s fast and so calm.”

Ericsson is typically in good spirits and jovial.

He was stern and direct on pit road after the race.

“I did everything right, I did an awesome restart, caught Josef off-guard and pulled away,” Ericsson said on pit lane. “It’s hard to pull away a full lap and he got me back.

“I’m mostly disappointed with the way he ended. I don’t think it was fair and safe to do that restart straight out of the pits on cold tires for everyone.

“To me, it was not a good way to end that race.

“Congrats to Josef. He didn’t do anything wrong. He is a worthy champion, but it shouldn’t have ended like that.”

Palou also didn’t understand the last restart, which was a one-start showdown.

“I know that we want to finish under green,” Palou said. “Maybe the last restart I did, I didn’t understand. It didn’t benefit the CGR team.

“I’m not very supportive of the last one, but anyway.”

Dixon called the red flags “a bit sketchy.”

“The Red Flags have become a theme to the end of the race, but sometimes they can catch you out,” Dixon said. “I know Marcus is frustrated with it.

“All we ask for is consistency. I think they will do better next time.

“It’s a tough race. People will do anything they can to win it and with how these reds fall, you have to be in the right place at the right time. The problem is when they throw a Red or don’t throw a Red dictates how the race will end.

“It’s a bloody hard race to win. Congrats to Josef Newgarden and to Team Penske.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500