Ron Dennis: “It’s challenging at the moment…”

Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button both retired from the Malaysian GP, but McLaren chairman Ron Dennis says that nevertheless it was a positive weekend for the team and Honda.

Prior to stopping the drivers had at least demonstrated that the cars were closer to the pace of those ahead, and in addition they ran a respectable amount of laps in practice.

“Both drivers were extremely complimentary about high-speed cornering performance, and braking characteristics,” Dennis told this writer. “A whole range of positives came out of the weekend. I think we’re very strong in certain parts of the circuit. Clearly we aren’t where we want to be with the engine, and nor is Honda, but we are getting there.

“The retirement reasons were slightly related but not identical. The primary engines have not been damaged, because we stopped. They’ll be the engines for the next Grand Prix, albeit with some reliability components changed.”

Dennis has no regrets about committing to the Japanese manufacturer, and says it’s just a matter of time before things come together.

“We have a steep learning curve, and of course we want to win races, but we want to be on a path to World Championships. And to do that you need the complete support, and focussed support, of an OEM. Yes it’s challenging at the moment, but we’re working hard with Honda and we will get there sooner than people realise. It goes step by step. It will be Europe before we’ll have a pace we can measure.”

Regarding the return of Alonso he said: “It’s great, I think he’s done a great job all weekend, in every way.”

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Toto Wolff: “We need to increase the pace of our development…”

Toto Wolff admits he was surprised at how Ferrari caught up with Mercedes in Malaysia – and says that the team must now ramp up development in response to the threat from Maranello.

That could include fast tracking new parts as well as using up power unit tokens sooner rather than later to improve the performance of the next batch of engines.

“We didn’t expect it to happen at that pace,” he said of Ferrari’s improvement. “We were pretty confident in Melbourne, and we’re always a little bit sceptical about our own advantage. And we always believed that we have to keep sharp and keep developing in order not to be caught out. Within two weeks you’re actually caught up by a Ferrari and you lose the race fair and square on track is a bit of a surprise, but equally a bit of a wake-up call, which is good for us.

“If I want to be optimistic I would say that Malaysia was a difficult one last year and the temperatures and were pretty exceptional and we suffered from those temperatures, but then that would be a bit naive. I think they’ve done a great job, they have a good car, good engine and great drivers, and we just have to analyse in the next couple of days what went wrong, where we need to improve, do we need to take some developments forward, put them on the car quicker, what are we doing about engine number two, and assess that properly. But definitely we need to increase the pace of our development.”

Wolff said he had no regrets about strategy decision the team took in Malaysia.

“It is always easy to regret and say in hindsight that we could have done this better or that better, but we are taking these decisions altogether, and we haven’t done any strategic mistakes in the last two years that I can recall, and thus is why it doesn’t make sense to point the finger to a single event. We need to find out why we were struggling on long run pace in these hot conditions. I think that is the main point to look at.

“We’ve had completely different conditions here. When you remember last year we were struggling against Ricciardo in the race, and I guess one of the explanations of the day is the extremely high ambient and tarmac temperatures, and that probably we’ve gone a bit too aggressive on set-ups. That pushed us into a direction of a three stop, which was pretty clear, all the algorithms showed that. And then we were struck in traffic after the pit stops, we damaged the tyres following cars, and here you’re not able to catch it up any more.

“Today strategy is not gut feelings any more or gut decisions, it is algorithms and it is ots of scientific research, and you add that little bit of racing spirit. We have the best guy in the paddock in terms of strategy, and today we relied on information we had over the weekend. And what we’ve seen with the Ferrari is better than what we expected. On our own pace probably we were just about right, and this is why we were confident throughout the race that we would catch them in the end. But it just wasn’t enough.”

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Christian Horner: “We didn’t really have any pace…”

Red Bull endured one of its toughest races in some time in Malaysia as Dany Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo finished only ninth and 10th, behind both Toro Rosso drivers.

Both RBR suffered with brake problems from an early stage, while Ricciardo was also compromised by aerodynamic damage. Team boss Christian Horner admitted that the team has a lot of work to do in order to get on top of the brake problem.

“Daniel damaged the front wing in the first turn touching the back of Nico,” said Horner. “The first couple of laps seemed to be settling down, seemed to be pulling away. Dany Kvyat ran wide into the first turn but again was recovering quite nicely. Then the safety car came out. We pitted both cars, and we effectively made a place because we jumped Rosberg with Ricciardo and we didn’t drop any places with Kvyat.

“But then as soon as we started to run into traffic temperatures started to get out of control, particularly the brakes. Then we really didn’t have any pace. We were trying to manage our way through the second half of the race to make sure we got to the end.”

Horner said the brake problem was not just down the high temperatures, thus implying that there are more fundamental issues.

“I think it was a contributing factor, I don’t think it was all of the issue. So I think we need to go away and understand some of the issues of the weekend and make sure we address them, hopefully in time for China.

“We changed brake supplier this year. We just need to understand how we got into the situation we have, and engineer our way out of it.

“They’ve been tricky to manage all weekend, but I think it took us by surprise that we got into as much issue as we did, especially when we were in dirty air. But we need to learn from that and do a better job in China.”

Horner said it was too early to tell whether the brake issue had in turn given the tyres a harder time.

“I think the honest answer at this stage is we don’t really know. We saw quite high deg, and here you could see there was quite a lot of brake dust coming out early on, and we were concerned at one stage that we wouldn’t get to the end of the race. It was a question of damage limitation, manage our way to the end of the race. To be honest with you at know point did we have any real pace this afternoon.”

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Niki Lauda: “Ferrari were unbeatable today…”

Niki Lauda made no excuses as he said that Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel simply did a better job than Mercedes in winning the Malaysian GP.

The former World Champion was quick to congratulate Ferrari boss Maurizio Arrivabene immediately after the race.

“Very simple, they were unbeatable today I would say,” he said. “Because they did a perfect strategy, and Vettel did an incredible job. The car performed, the tyres lasted. For us it was a three-stop strategy. Why? Because with the tyres at their peak, for us it was important to make three stops. Ferrari was less hard on tyres altogether, therefore they had to do a two-stop, and one race.

“I went to Arrivanbene right away and congratulated him, from my heart, because he is competition, and more competition is better, and if Ferrari wins Bernie can’t complain about boring Vettel, which he said. Vettel is not boring any more! I think it’s very good this result for the total image if F1, which we’re always complaining about – I’m not, but some other people.”

Lauda said that the Ferrari win would be a wake-up call for Mercedes: “Normally in sport when these things happen, and you don’t win every race, the bell rings. The bell will ring loud because we all will hear it and we’ll react to it, which is normal. But nevertheless we’re second and third, we won the last race, so the world is not finished yet after one Vettel victory But nevertheless they were better today.”

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Fernando Alonso: “I want to be in pole position, not second…”

Fernando Alonso insists he has no regrets about leaving Ferrari, despite Sebastian Vettel’s second place on the Malaysian GP grid emphasising the Italian team’s improved form.

The Spaniard made some interesting observations about the risks McLaren and Honda have to take in order to beat Mercedes.

“I want to be in pole position, not second,” he said. “It’s a long way to go for us, we start now quite far behind, but I have so much trust and confidence in this team, we have such a talented team and engineers inside McLaren, and we saw the progress in the last two weeks. To beat Mercedes you need to do something special, not to follow them, because if not you will be behind all the time.

“It will take some time, but we will grow up together. There are a lot of young people in the team, a lot of Japanese coming new to this world of F1. We will look at each other in a couple of months when we are in the points or on the podium or something and we will tell each other it was an exciting trip, and we are doing it together.”

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FIA allows both Merhi and Stevens to start in Malaysia

The FIA has taken a lenient approach with Manor Marussia and has allowed both drivers to start despite neither officially qualifying for the Malaysian GP.

Roberto Merhi did not make the 107% cut while Will Stevens did not run at all in qualifying after suffering electronic problems in FP2.

The stewards noted however that the two Marussia-Ferraris “had set satisfactory times in practice at this event” after both men had been inside the 107% in a particular practice session.

Team boss John Booth noted: We knew our first weekend of running would not be without its challenges and although we had a positive day yesterday, it has been important to keep our expectations for qualifying in check. Our two drivers have done a solid job in their debut and Friday’s practice showed promise in terms of having the pace for the 107% time, but today underlined that we have a lot of work to do.”

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Two place grid penalty for Grosjean in Malaysia

Romain Grosjean has been given a two-place grid penalty in Malaysia for a pitlane offence during Q2.

The Frenchman was reported after he left the pit exit with his car not in the same order in the queue as when he arrived, which is a breach of Article 23.6 of the sporting regulations.

The thus drops from eighth to 10th, and both Valtteri Bottas and Marcus Ericsson gain a place apiece.

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