A new force to be reckoned with
Sebastian Vettel’s move to Ferrari pays dividends for both driver and team, with a long-overdue win
As the crews dismantled their garages, a few hours after the close of the 17th running of the Malaysian Grand Prix, a Pirelli employee was stacking tyres onto a trolley. Despite the intense energy-sapping heat and humidity in this equatorial region of the world, he was smiling through the sweat. “A good day for Italy,” he said. “Molto bene.”
Sebastian Vettel had triumphed at the wheel of his Ferrari – a machine that had been gentle on its Pirelli rubber – to take an emotional 40th grand prix win of his career, in only his second race for the Scuderia.
It had been 35 races since Il Canto degli Italiani had last rung out during an F1 podium ceremony and new team boss Maurizio Arrivabene was singing his heart out with the rest of the team on the sizzling pitlane asphalt below the rostrum.
On the podium Ferrari’s operations director, Diego Ioverno, collected the trophy on behalf of the team; it was a generous offering from Arrivabene, not putting himself rst after such an impressive turnaround in the team’s fortunes.
From the rst running on Friday afternoon it was clear the Ferrari was able to extend the life of the medium compound (option) tyres, despite the blistering track temperatures. At their engineering meeting on Sunday morning, they decided to commit to a two-stop strategy. Only the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz Jr and the Force India of Sergio Pérez did likewise; everyone else opted for three stops, although Nasr was forced into four after he punctured Kimi Räikkönen’s Ferrari on the opening lap.
Across the rest of the eld, teams struggled with tyre degradation in the extreme 60°C track temperatures. In particular, the Mercedes that had dominated the season-opener in Australia two weeks before couldn’t live up to the pace of Vettel’s Ferrari. As the 56-lap race unfolded, Arrivabene remained calm.
“I’ve been asked why I was not laughing or showing emotions. That’s because I was thinking of the morning’s brieng and concentrating on the data coming to us,” he said post-race. “During the race, it was becoming clear that we could do something interesting, but I have to say the discipline of the guys was amazing. Everything was working like a Swiss watch, but in this case it was a perfect Italian watch.”
When an early Safety Car was deployed for the recovery of Marcus Ericsson’s beached Sauber in the Turn 1 gravel trap, Ferrari kept Vettel out (committed as they were to two stops) while the majority of the eld – including the two Mercedes drivers – pitted. From the lead, Hamilton slipped down the order and had to ght past the other non-stoppers; Hülkenberg, Grosjean, Sainz Jr and Pérez. But after his stop