Power Ranking the F1 Teams After 2014 Malaysian Grand Prix
The 2014 Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix saw the first Mercedes one-two finish since the 1955 Italian Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton dominated the weekend. He claimed pole, set the fastest lap and didn't just win the race—he led every single lap as well. In F1 such a feat is known as a Grand Chelem, and it was Hamilton's first.
Malaysia also saw Red Bull claw their way back into contention. Sebastian Vettel, who qualified on the front row, ran Nico Rosberg close for most of the race.
Elsewhere, Nico Hulkenberg produced an excellent drive to finish fifth, while a Lotus reached the chequered flag for the first time in 2014.
But it wasn't a fantastic weekend for Sauber or Toro Rosso.
Looking at reliability, single lap and race pace, here's how the teams currently rank.
Any one of three teams could realistically be last, but Caterham edge it this time.
Practice in Malaysia was a bit of a disaster for Kamui Kobayashi, who managed only nine laps across the three sessions. Team-mate Marcus Ericsson's car at least worked, but he was consistently very slow.
The race went a little better, with both drivers coming home ahead of Max Chilton's Marussia.
But the CT04 is still one of the slowest cars in the field, and though steps have been made, its reliability isn't yet good enough.
We knew Lotus were going to struggle at the start of the year, and in practice it looked like this would continue. It almost seemed like the E22 was allergic to kerbs and tarmac.
Then on Sunday, the impossible happened. A flying pig was spotted joyously performing aerobatics above the pit lane as Romain Grosjean made it to the chequered flag.
He wasn't that slow, either. Most of the race, he ran at a similar pace to the Toro Rossos and wasn't a million miles away from the McLarens.
But the impression is that the (relatively) quick, reliable run to the flag was the exception, not the rule. In all likelihood, Lotus still have the least-reliable car, and that keeps them down the rankings.
Both Marussias got off the line in Malaysia, so it appears the most obvious problem from Australia has been fixed.
Sadly, they're still not fast.
Jules Bianchi's early exit took away the best point of comparison to Caterham's lead driver, Kamui Kobayashi. But Max Chilton made it to the end and came home last, having spent most of the race in a close fight with Marcus Ericsson.
He finished only 0.13 seconds behind, which might have set a record for the smallest gap between a race's last and second-last finishers. The pair were 50 seconds down on Kobayashi.
So the MR03's reliability is good, but its pace is not—and it's unlikely to get much better.
Sauber revealed last week that the car is overweight, which is harming the tall (and therefore heavy) Adrian Sutil in particular.
Are they the only ones with a chubby car, or just the only ones admitting it?
Their pace in Malaysia looked a little better than it did in Australia, but they were coming from a long way back and some rivals have improved by more. At the moment, Sauber are slower than everyone except Marussia and Caterham.
The only ray of sunshine is that the double-retirement in Malaysia looked like an anomaly. The C33 is not that unreliable, so they stay in eighth for now.
But they're very close to falling back.
7. Toro Rosso
The Toro Rossos ran at the same sort of pace as the Force Indias in Australia.
In Malaysia, it was a very different story. Only one of each team's cars finished, with Daniil Kvyat crossing the line almost a lap down on Nico Hulkenberg.
Kvyat was only 40 seconds ahead of the Caterham of Kamui Kobayashi.
The apparent disappearance of pace is bad enough, but reliability issues also hit the Italian squad. Jean-Eric Vergne developed an electrical issue on the first lap and retired on Lap 18 with a turbo problem.
Improvements are needed for Bahrain.
McLaren led the constructors' championship going into the Malaysian Grand Prix, but on the track they looked a long way off the pace.
Both cars started in the top 10 after the wet qualifying session. Jenson Button got away cleanly and settled into seventh, but Kevin Magnussen hit Kimi Raikkonen on the second lap, damaging his front wing.
He fought back to ninth, while Button spent the entire race with a clear track ahead of him as the Mercedes, Red Bulls, Fernando Alonso's Ferrari and Nico Hulkenberg's Force India disappeared up the road.
Behind Button were the two Williams cars. Both were clearly faster but were unable to overtake because of the McLaren's impressive straight-line speed.
Not a great showing for a team which went into the race expecting a performance gain of half a second.
5. Force India
Force India looked the slowest of the Mercedes runners in Australia, but on the evidence of Malaysia they've made a decent step forward.
Nico Hulkenberg looked very good on the wet track in qualifying—he couldn't quite drag the car up to the same level as the front-runners, but seventh was a very strong result.
In the race, he demonstrated how kind the VJM07 is to its tyres. While all around him went for three stops, Hulkenberg only made two. He finished just 12 seconds behind Fernando Alonso's Ferrari, and a lifetime ahead of the two McLarens.
In terms of raw pace they're still a long way behind the front three, but the gap to Williams looks smaller than it was.
Williams looked like the second-best team in Australia but couldn't carry the good form into the second round.
The FW36 doesn't appear to have sufficient downforce to challenge in the wet. After a rainy qualifying, Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas (who got a three-place grid penalty) lined up 13th and 18th on the grid, respectively.
After two laps, Massa was ninth and Bottas 10th. From then on, the Brazilian spent the race staring at the back of McLarens, while Bottas had a great view of Massa's rear wing.
Williams have a good car, but the cards keep falling badly for them.
If they can qualify better in the dry at Bahrain, we'll see their true potential.
Ferrari looked good right from the opening session in Malaysia. Not as good as Mercedes, but definitely in the battle for second along with Red Bull.
Fernando Alonso qualified fourth in a damaged car and with Kimi Raikkonen in sixth, the Prancing Horse looked well set to challenge for the podium.
When Sunday arrived they were close, but not close enough.
Raikkonen's race was destroyed by Kevin Magnussen's over-exuberance on the second lap, and Alonso couldn't quite hang onto the back of the Red Bulls.
Third-best is an improvement, but it's not where Ferrari want to be.
2. Red Bull
Well that didn't take long, did it?
Red Bull are back. Sebastian Vettel qualified on the front row and spent most of the race harrying Nico Rosberg's Mercedes. He faded late on, but there's little doubt the Austrian team now has the second-best package.
If the Renault engine worked as well as the Mercedes, they'd probably be out in front.
Red Bull "advisor" Helmut Marko firmly believes the team have the best car on the grid. In an interview with Formula1.com, in which he came across as very critical of Renault, he said, "If you take only the chassis, we are absolutely at the top. The ‘sick’ part is still the engine, the power train."
But as Marko is all too aware, F1 is all about the package. If Renault can't get their engine running closer to its optimum, the Bulls will never catch Mercedes.
Mercedes dominated the weekend. They had the fastest time in all three practice sessions and all three parts of qualifying, before finishing first and second in the race.
Lewis Hamilton was in a league of his own on Sunday, using far less fuel than his nearest rivals and setting a fastest race lap almost a second quicker than anyone else.
The car we saw in Malaysia was the slightly sub-optimal W05. Mercedes used their conservative engine cover, which sacrifices a bit of aerodynamic performance for improved cooling.
Had it been a cooler race, they'd have been even further ahead.
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