Its been a while since we’ve had a weekend like this, a long long time…. there was a win for Ferrari, a pole and double podium for Ducati and no Spaniards on the steps of any Grand Prix bike race for the first time in nearly a decade.
First lets start with 4-wheels where Sebastian Vettel took in the end a comfortable victory in Malaysia over Lewis Hamilton to claim his 40th Grand Prix win and his first for Ferrari. The 4 times World Champion is looking to be back on form after a humbling 2014 and qualified second in a rain affected Q3 on Saturday (I know rain in Malaysia – shocker). However come the sunshine of the Sunday race slot (now moved to a more appropriate local time after the problems in Suzuka last year) no-one expected the Ferrari’s to be doing more than battling for the final podium spot.
There was an early safety car caused by Marcus Ericcson’s exuberance and both Merc’s pitted while Vettel stayed out and would continue to pull away from the Silver Arrows and maintain the gap. The big difference was the tyre’s and it could well be that Mercedes Achilles heel of the past has reared its head again. Sebastian managed to two stop the race and ran two of his three stints on medium tyres while Lewis could only three stop and had to use the hard tyres for the majority of his stints. The extreme natural conditions of Malaysia put a great strain on the tyres and despite a modern smooth surface at Sepang (although it is now getting on a little bit) many teams struggled to make Pirelli’s hardest (EG Most durable) tyres last to complete a two stop race.
Despite this tyre advantage Ferrari’s pace is genuine the Mercs struggled to close the gap at all to the prancing horse furthermore down the straights the power plant designed in Maranello looks to be outpacing the one from Brixworth. This gives Ferrari only downforce to chase and also points to further strengths with their package if they are treating the tyres better with a lack of downforce to the front-runners.
Moving onto two wheels and it was Italians in red who were also stealing the spotlight in Qatar as Andrea Dovisioso used the soft tyre to park his brand new GP15 on the first spot on the grid. However unlike last year where the bike could run fast for a lap before eating tyres and tiring out the riders both GP15 bikes made it stick all the way to the end. It was only the race craft of Valentino Rossi, the 7 time Premier Class World Champion that would take the victory away from Dovi but it would lead to an all Italian podium and we definitely have a race on this year. The Honda’s both struggled with Marquez getting punted out wide at the first corner and dropping to last place and Pedrosa suffering from arm pump (So bad has it been that he may now retire). However once Marquez cleared the traffic the smiling assassin couldn’t close up to the front 4 despite them going wheel to wheel in ever corner. The conclusion from all of this looks like we could well have 3 factories all competiting for the championship this year as the bikes seem evenly matched.
Also returning were Suzuki who are back with a full factory 2 bike effort and in the hands of Aleix Espagaro managed to battle to 11th behind the 6 “old factories” (we’ll call them that for now) and their Satellite bikes of Crutchlow, Smith, P. Espagaro and Hernandez. This is on a power limited circuit and the team know they are down on power so it was morale boost for the team to find themselves on the back of the Satellite pack and look as though they will be racing with some recent names this year.
Aprilla on the other hand are still a bit of a mystery after qualifying round the back of the field but after Marquez punted Alavro Bautista out of the race using Marco Melandri as a barometer is pointless with the Italian cutting a dejected figure throughout the winter. The bike this year looks to be around the pace of the Forward Yamaha’s and Open Honda’s which is as much can be expected with the bike being a ART from last year with as many purchased upgrades as possible bolted on. 2016 should see them slide up the field but it could be a long year for Aprilla and Gresini if they can’t catch up to the points soon.