What a season it’s been. What a season!
Yes, there have been problems. Yes, the ‘good ole days’ were better. Yes, Michael Schumacher is clearly better than Lewis Hamilton, no matter how many poles the Briton secures (the latter being written in severe sarcasm font).
But there is no denying this has been one hell of a season. Fights and rivalries abound and Malaysia should continue the recent spat of fantastic races, surely destined to make 2017 a season for the record books.
FERRARI’S BIG MOMENT
Coming off of the disaster that was Singapore, the Prancing Horse will look to bounce back at a track that has yielded results for them in the past. But it is more than just hoping to bounce back. They NEED to bounce back.
Vettel now stands nearly 30 points behind Hamilton in the WDC. It’s not an unassailable margin (Vettel came back from more dire straits back in 2012), but the odds seem to be piling up against Vettel and his Ferrari team.
Yes, Malaysia has been good to Vettel in the past, but this season I’m not so sure that the racing gods will smile on him in the country’s last race.
Malaysia is a textbook Tilke-drome, one of the first to make its way onto the calendar. Daytime Tilke-drome tracks have been swept by Mercedes this season. And all of those races were won in dominant fashion. Look for that trend to continue.
Try as they might, Ferrari just don’t have the package for a track like this. The long straights into sectors 1 and 3 heavily favor Mercedes. Even if Vettel is able to pull together a miracle of a lap and put himself on pole, I have no doubt he will be overtaken down the long straights in short order by Hamilton and Bottas.
It happened. It finally happened. Toro Rosso came to their senses and gave the Russian Torpedo the boot. Well, they gave him the boot for the moment as he will be returning whenever the F1 schedule conflicts with that of Super Formula.
All of that is an incredibly wordy way of saying that Daniil Kvyatt is being replaced in Malaysia by Red Bull youngster Pierre Gasly.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t know a whole lot about Gasly. But, unless he is Pastor Maldonado in a Mission Impossible style mask, he has to be better than Kvyatt who has done virtually nothing to prove he is worthy of a seat on F1.
As for Gasly, Malaysia should be a good proving ground for him. The track is not terribly difficult to master. The turn 7 and 8 complex can be a bit hair raising to take flat out and finding the breaking point on turn 14 is not exactly straight forward (rim-shot), but overall the track is pretty standard.
The only thing the Frenchmen should be worrying about is the heat, which can be tough. That said, if he proves himself better than Kvyatt, which shouldn’t be hard to do, look for him to have a full time seat in 2018.
OKAY, SO FOR THE ACTUAL RACE
As I said before, Malaysia is a Tilke-Drome and, as such, overtaking is at a premium around the 3.4 mile circuit. Good overtaking points exist in turn 1, turn 4, and turn 15. But that’s about it. It is, traditionally, a semi-power hungry circuit, with its two long straights and minimal tight corners making engine speed one of the most important factors at the track. In other words, Mercedes powered teams should dominate.
Now, I can hear all of you lining up to tell me that the twisting sector 2 creates a necessity for downforce, may I remind you of something. It’s hot in Malaysia. Very hot. And when it gets hot downforce is negated. And when downforce is negated, engines come into play. And when engines come into play Mercedes powered cars do well.
Ferrari will still be on for a podium, most likely. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the Red Bulls find themselves down in the order. I think, and this is a major reach, but I think there may be a chance for one of the Force Indias to beat them this time around, provided they don’t run in to each other.
Quals: HAM, BOT, VET
Race: HAM, BOT, VET
First Out: VES. Max’s run of bad luck continues. All four tires snap off of the car and make a break for freedom as he rounds turn 4.