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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Jenson Button: “We’ve made a massive step with the engine here…”

McLaren’s current form was benchmarked again in Malaysia as Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso qualified 17th and 18th.

However Button was adamant that the team is making progress and that the gap to the opposition is closing.

“When you get out of the car and you’re 17th on the grid, obviously you’re disappointed, it’s always the way,” he said. “But you’ve got to look at what we’ve done in terms of progress. It is a lot of progress, tomorrow I think we’ll show that a lot more with the higher fuel runs, I think we’re a lot more competitive with higher fuel.

“We’ve made a massive step with the engine here, I think you’ll probably see that tomorrow in the race in terms of efficiency and fuel usage as well. We were saving crazy amounts of fuel at the first race, up to 20% at one point. It’s going to be a lot easier for us, and I think our pace will show that tomorrow. It’s still going to be tough, but we’re making progress.”

Regarding prospects for the race he said: “Same as always, head down and see where we end up. It’s a lot of data gathering again, but we obviously want to do the best we can as well, already getting onto the back of the cars in front. At the last race I was 38s behind the second to last guy, so if we can get a lot closer than that, we should be happy with progress. It’s only two weeks, there’s no testing in F1, so this is good progress. I hope we continue like this.”

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Fernando Alonso: “The car is easy to drive…”

Fernando Alonso had a solid first day back in the McLaren Honda today in Malaysia as he logged 45 relatively troublefree laps.

He finished FP2 in 16th, a place ahead team mate Jenson Button, and the only drivers who were slower than the McLaren duo were Romain Grosjean, who did very few laps before he was sidelined by a technical issue, and the two Manor drivers. Nevertheless Alonso is pleased with progress.

“It felt great today in the car,” he said. “Finally after the gym, after the simulator, whatever you do it is never the same as the car, so I enjoyed so much driving here. The conditions obviously are extreme, very hot, and physically it is very demanding. I am not 100 per cent physically and fit after two weeks on the sofa, and two weeks of not in the car.

“It was really the second day of testing for me because I have one good day in Barcelona with 63 laps. and today 45. The rest of the days were seven laps, nine, eleven, so today I really enjoyed it. Definitely a step forward, a big step forward for us.

“It’s much better. The experience that we had in winter was a lot of problems, after four or five laps we stopped and we had to change something, but today we ran 45 laps with zero problems, everything went as we predict. We will see tomorrow in qualifying. We were I think 4.6s behind pole position in Australia, here could maybe be 3-3.5secs, so that is a 1 or 1.5s gain in two weeks, so it’s a big step forward.

Regarding the latest updates he said: “I think there are a lot of things going on in the car now. There are big steps on aerodynamics, a lot of understanding of the power unit, interaction between everything in the car. Every lap is a learning curve for us. In terms of driving, I felt great. The car is very consistent, the car is easy to drive, and it gives you confidence to push to the limit.

“We had some issues today on braking, with front and rear locking that was a little bit inconsistent, and we are looking at this. Hopefully tomorrow we can push more.”

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James Allison: “We do look as if our pace is reasonably good…”

Ferrari technical director James Allison says it’s too early to judge Ferrari’s true form in Malaysia following a promising first day for the team in Sepang.

Kimi Raikkonen was second fastest in FP2 and some 0.373s off Lewis Hamilton, although admittedly the Briton did not have an easy day. The red car looked particularly good on the medium option tyre, although Sebastian Vettel didn’t get a clean run on it and was thus down in seventh.

“I don’t know, we’ll find out on Sunday!,” Allison said when asked about prospects for the race. “But we do look as if our tyre deg is quite good, and we do look as if our pace is reasonably good. But everyone uses the Fridays differently, so you never know what the others were doing. But we feel it’s been a good day.”

Regarding Raikkonen’s pace he said: “The car’s going well, he’s going well, and so is Sebastian, to be honest. If you look at where Sebastian was in FP2, his best time was set on the prime tyre, and Kimi’s on the option, albeit a scrubbed option. So I think both of them are going well and I expect Kimi will have a good race on Sunday, as should Sebastian, based on the pace we saw today.

Asked by this writer about closing the gap to Mercedes he said: “It would be nice if they could feel us breathing down their collars, or even in the course of time get ourselves in front of them. I think the delta we saw in Melbourne probably was a little unkind to us. I think we probably should have been a little bit ahead of the Williams in qualifying, and then driven up the road 15 or 20 seconds more than we did. It would be nice to have a clean qualifying here and see what we can do.”

Meanwhile Allison made some interesting observations about the improvements seen in this year’s Ferrari package.

“In pure lap times the gains are almost equal, chassis and power unit wise. I guess on the chassis as normal the lion’s share of the gains are aerodynamic, because that’s the thing that has the most authority to put lap time on the car. So on the chassis side its 80/20 aero versus some quite useful gains that have been made in the cooling efficiency of the car, which then translate into aero by allowing you to run the car tighter at the back.”

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