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I'm Matthew Somerfield, a freelance journalist focused on the technical elements of Formula One. It has been a pleasure to provide content via this site for the last 5 years, which has led me to several paid freelancing jobs along the way. I'm currently plying my trade with Motorsport.com and working alongside the legend that is Giorgio Piola.

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8 Oct 2017
Trumpets race report - Japan

 
Join Matt 'Trumpets' Ragsdale for his rollercoaster review of the Japanese GP...
 
Ambient 26° 
Track 44° 
Humidity 57% 
Wind 1.9 m/s

Prelude

Azure skies christened with brilliant wisps of cloud rained sunshine down onto the circuit as the Japanese Grand Prix prepared to get underway, with drivers rocking their reconnaissance laps and strategists engaged in the feverish last minute dance of decision making. Track temps were up to 44°, similar to Malaysia and according to Pirelli that might make a 2 stopper the quicker strategy, with 2 stints of 16 laps on the Supers, as opposed to a one stopper with an opening stint of 22 on Supers and onto the Softs.

14 minutes to go and once again, Ferrari had the engine cover off, working frantically on Vettel's car, while Hamilton had complained of overheating tyres on his recce lap. Status Quo then as Ferrari carry on disappointing their fans. Spark plug this time and they supposedly sorted prior to the formation lap, but with the acid test looming the uncertainty would not be a friend to Vettel. 
Along with Jolyon Palmer, Geoff Symmonds was out the door, but more happily for him on his way to HAAS after a lengthy stint at Enstone. Of course, the paddock shattering news is that Budkowski, to the surprise of no one, was landing at Renault, along with his cranium full of secrets. Also grist for the rumour mill was the news that Gasly would be required to run Super Formula, leaving Toro Rosso in search of a driver for the US Grand Prix.

Macca were full of bitter resentment at the oil burning situation, clamoring for action from Whiting and the FIA behind the scenes, though if Renault get on top of it, perhaps their tune will change. Vettel next to Hamilton with Bottas, Raikkonen, Ericsson, Wehrlein, Palmer and Sainz on the Softs contra the rest of the field as they rolled gently off the grid for the formation lap.

Summary
Lights Out!!!! It was a spectacular start by Hamilton and crosses into the front Red Bull side by side with Max into 3rd with Ocon on a blinder into 5th. At the back there was carnage with Sainz off and into the barriers while into the hairpin Verstappen surprised him by snicking by into P2 with Vettel suddenly in serious trouble under pressure from Ocon. Down the right hand side went Ocon and back through the field like a stone went Vettel, his pre-race issue clearly not as sorted as Ferrari thought. 

A potential race saving Safety Car was then deployed for Carlos Sainz, with Vettel, now P6, having radioed in a total lack of power. As Ferrari engineers ran him through their checklist, it emerged that Sainz took himself off the circuit, going to the outside into the esses an attempted overtake gon badly wrong. Raikkonen had an off as well, running off the track while battling Hulkenberg and doing himself no favours whatsoever, as he was down to P4 with it all to do.
With the Toro Rosso cleared, it was race on lap 3, Hamilton flying away as Vettel had it firmly in reverse, with Perez easily taking the position. Verstappen and Ocon retained their podium positions as Vettel faced the indignity of defending from Massa, which he did with all the vigor of a kitten and that was the point at which Ferrari threw in the towel, retiring him on lap 4 and handing his rival in the championship a 59 point lead if Hamilton were to go on and win the race. 

Lap 5 saw Magnussen in the last points paying position with Raikkonen just ahead in P9 and bearing down on Hulkenberg ahead. At the sharp end, Hamilton was making no gap with Verstappen, who lingered 1.5s off the gearbox of the Mercedes. Just behind, Ricciardo was into DRS on Ocon but once again it was damage done, as the pair were nearly 5 seconds back of the leaders. 

Lap 9 and it was Ericsson providing some entertainment, nose first into the barriers out of Degner 2, calling forth the appropriate for millenials Virtual Safety Car, and giving the tyres of Hamilton a bit of a break. Just before it was called, Raikkonen stuck the knife in Hulkenberg, slipping past just in time. 
Lap 10 and Vandoorne was in under the VSC, out on a pair of Softs, P16 and a bit of time saving. The track went green near the end of the lap and Ricciardo was all over Ocon from the off, bit of defending from the young Frenchman but he was veritable candy from a baby under DRS and it was Ricciardo off in search of the leaders and Ocon in the gaping maw of the Mercedes of Bottas, now his next problem behind. 

Lap 12 saw that job done, to the vague dissatisfaction of Red Bull who were hoping the Force India would slow the chase of Bottas a bit more. Hamilton, having had a chance to get on top of his tyres under the VSC was up to a more workmanlike 3.7 seconds gap to Verstappen, as Raikkonen continued his forward progress, around Massa under DRS into Turn 1. 

With Bottas by Ocon and Vettel out, it was normal service resumed in the midfield, with Perez hovering just outside DRS on Ocon as Red Bull began to consider their pit window and strategy as lap 16 ticked over. Whatever trickeries lay up their sleeve, Mercedes were doing their best to put paid to them as Lewis continued to lap faster than Verstappen by several tenths, and closer to half a second on Ricciardo, who was now having to look over his shoulder at the fast approaching Bottas.

Massa was in lap 18, looking for a 2 stopper as Raikkonen was into DRS on Perez, whittling it down into the chicane but not quite close enough to get the job done down the start/finish. Their battle opened up the gap for Ocon a bit, which was no doubt appreciated by the pitwall at Force India. 

The following lap saw Kimi round the outside of Perez into Turn 1 as the race settled into the doldrums as the field awaited the first domino falling in the pit stop battle.

Lap 21 in and out went Ocon, who was just behind Alonso, bit of a miscalculation from Force India. Verstappen was in as well and out JUST in front of Raikkonen, drifting left in front of the Ferrari as it approached T1 at a ferocious pace. Mercedes answered the call and brought Lewis in the following lap.

This left Ricciardo leading the race and with the undercut having done its job, the gap from Hamilton to Verstappen cut down to under 2 seconds from the plus 4 it had been. The early call was also certainly intended to put Mercedes under greater pressure at the end of the race, with Red Bull generally being kinder to their tyres in the warmer temperatures. 

Lap 24 and Ocon continued to cut his way through the field, dispatching Palmer neatly for P7 as he continued to make his way back through the runners that were going long.

The following lap saw Ricciardo called in, leaving Bottas at the front of the race as the last man standing on his original set of tyres, as Hamilton had closed the gap to his teammate to under 2 seconds. Given the delta of nearly 0.5 seconds in their laptimes, it was not going to be long before they swapped postitions, and Bottas took up his annointed role as slower of the Red Bull onslaught. 
As the laps unspooled, neither thing happened and Verstappen, smelling blood, upped his pace causing Hamilton to point out on the radio that his pace was suffering since they were on different strategies. Lap 29 and over Valterri moved and off Lewis went, Mercedes strategy card played.

Raikkonen pitted as the drama at the front unfolded, out in front of Ocon and off in search of Hulkenberg he went. Optimal strategy would see Bottas in around lap 31 and Mercedes did not disappoint, calling Valterri in for his Supers right on schedule and having left a fairly decent dent in Verstappen's strategy. With the gap out to 3 seconds the race was back into Hamilton's hands, with Red Bull playing the waiting game to see if Mercedes could manage its tyres to the end. 

On the radio, Lewis said he was struggling with his rears, but struggle or no, the gap was not changing as lap 33 hit the books. Further back in the field, Palmer retained his hold on P9 primarily by having not pitted, and Massa about 10 seconds back was leading a train of Magnussen and Grosjean all within DRS. 

Lap 35 saw Vandoorne in for his 2nd stop, but it was a torrid affair for McLaren, both cars essentially being held up by the much slower except where it counted Stroll. Eventually, he boxed for his 2nd stop, but the damage was done, with Alonso having lost nearly 11s to P13. Meanwhile, Gasly had attached himself to the back of the Massa train as HAAS entertained a teammate switch as RoGro pleaded to have a go at the struggling Williams with his better tyres.

Much like Stroll, Felipe was being annoyingly fast where it mattered, which was setting up nicely for some fireworks at the end of the race. Hulkenberg finally came in from P8 on lap 39 as Perez hopped on the radio to ask if he can attack his teammate, saying he was "too slow". A cheery "No" was the instant reply from the pitwall, with further updates promised in a couple of laps. 
The Hulk was out behind Gasly and made short work of him on his new Supers and then tragedy struck, his DRS failed close. Palmer was in and out as was Gasly leaving them P12 and P13 as Hulkenberg was in to have his DRS sorted. But even the big hammer wasn't enough to get it closed and as the mechanics bashed away it became apparent the upper element was loose and that was the end of his day. 

Magnussen finally and ruthlessly forced his way through the door Massa left open, despite Felipe's attempt to shut it a bit too late. That left him wide open for Grosjean who sailed by as they ascended into the esses. Alonso was next up to have a go, with about 3 seconds to cover and 9 laps to get it done. At the front, the gap was virtually identical between Hamilton and Verstappen. Hilariously, Raikkonen was told he could push on lap 46 as he was staring into the infinite void of a 19 second gap to Bottas ahead. 

2 laps later and it was into the gravel for Stroll and out, almost sideways into Ricciardo. Stroll pulled it over and on replay it was a failure on the car and he retired, bringing out the VSC lap 48 and spoiling everyone's fun. Right front suspension or tyre looked to be the offending part as Stroll waved to the crowd and exited the circuit. 

Lap 50 and the racing got underway, and the time warping effects of the VSC were immediately apparent as the gap which Verstappen had closed to 2.4 seconds, had gone right back out to 3.5 seconds. At the other end of the points, Alonso had worked his witchcraft and was within DRS on Massa with 3 laps to go. Perez continued to complain about Ocon, to the polite diffidence of the pit wall, Sergio's irony meter apparently still not working.  
And then lap 51 brought all the drama as Hamilton was suddenly and disastrously 2 seconds slower than Verstappen and it was game on. Lap 52 and it was into DRS for young Max, the ailing Mercedes in his sight. Bottas had caught up with Ricciardo and was having a go as well. Lifesaver for Hamilton was traffic, with Alonso buying him a bit of a gap, and then DRS as well as he caught Massa at a very fortuitous moment. Nervy moments for the championship leader but leading the way into the esses with Massa sandwiched between them had won the race for Hamilton and he crossed the line 1.5 seconds up. Behind, Ricciardo's stout defense assured him of the final points paying position and it was job done for Bottas, nice recovery and team job done as well. 

On the inlap it was Hamilton on the radio, reporting vibrations from the PU after shifts as the issue that very nearly turned his dream afternoon into a nightmare. Further back, Massa had held off the charging Alonso for the final point to very effectively ruin Honda's day as it was also announced that Fernando was under investigation for ignoring blue flags. Raikkonen's race finished a lonely 5th, with Ocon just behind and the ever complaining Perez forced to endure the indignity of finishing behind his teammate, whom he's very sure he's faster than. 

Speculation will inevitably fall on Hamilton's gearbox, especially in light of the fact that Bottas had his replaced prior to the race, but given the retirement of Vettel that will certainly be a trade Mercedes is happy to make. Confusing the issue, Lauda issued the dictum post race that it was tyres, not PU that caused the vibrations, but Lauda's error rate is high enough that it's best to wait from confirmation from the boffins. Crushing blow to the championship, with Ferrari in the end unable to get on top of their reliability issues when the pressure was on, and a great disappointment to those who were looking for the WDC to go to the final race. 

On the other hand, freed from the championship and fired by wounded pride, perhaps Ferrari can bring the challenge and at least supply some proper 3 way racing to see the season off. And in an entertaining sideline, Hamilton's interest in Sato's Indy 500 ring as Takuma conducted the post race interviews, raises the specter of him versus Alonso in IndyCar, which would be a thing indeed...

Thanks, as always, for stopping by.

Discuss!!!

And remember to play nice in the comments!!
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Jolyon Palmer's down but is he out?


Jolyon Palmer has been unceremoniously despatched with by Renault before the season has concluded, with Sainz Jnr making the early switch from Renault, but is it all part of his plan of getting a 2018 seat?

Sainz had already been announced by Renault for 2018 but rumors had been swirling for a number of races that the Enstone based squad were trying to create a deal that would see him make the switch as early as Malaysia. With two races under his belt Gasly seems to have proved himself enough for Toro Rosso, or should I say Red Bull, to let the Spaniard go out on ‘loan’. That said some financial recompense has undoubtedly been made to Palmer and his backers and might go some way to influencing a drive elsewhere.

Where though? The timing of his departure might not be entirely of his volition but it does coincide with a decision being made by what is perceived to be the best seat left available - Williams.

Williams face a difficult decision as they continue to weigh up whether to replace Massa and who they should replace him with if they do. They've already announced that they'll conduct a two day test/shoot out involving Paul Di Resta and Robert Kubica in Hungary, as they take to the wheel of a FW36 that has been used by Stroll for acclimatization sessions throughout last year and this.

The Scot gave a great account of himself when he had to deputize for an unwell Massa in Hungary earlier in the season, whilst the hype train surrounding the return of the Pole has been at full steam since his private test for Renault in Valencia. It'd be a fairytale story if he made a return given the injuries sustained in his rally accident but there are still question marks over his race stint pace.

Palmer's availability has suddenly changed the complexion of the decision at hand though, putting at jeopardy the older second chance brigade as the former GP2 champion looks to get his own second, perhaps more productive shot at it. Often maligned given his performance next to Hulkenberg this season it's worth remembering that the German was always one step ahead of the Brit when it came to performance updates and he's had a catalog of failures along the way, skewing his standing within the team. However, it must be noted that he didn't blow Kevin Magnussen away when they were paired together in 2016 though.

The advantage that Jolyon likely has over the other PDR and Kubica is his ability to bring a decent budget, something that will be part of Williams' decision, unfortunately. However, don't write them off just yet as their racing heart might rule their financial head with not only the Kubica narrative and PR able to pull on their heartstrings but also the fact that he's known for his ability to give excellent feedback and guide development.

That's something that might also come to PDR’s rescue, as whilst he can't be described as an exciting driver he could do a decent job, scoring some much needed points and hoisting the team back up the pecking order where they'd be financially rewarded. Of course this is a task that will be made much more difficult by the likely improvement of McLaren next year, powered by Renault, the steady improvement of the works Renault team, a current Ferrari powered Sauber who are also on a decent development curve and then we have the unknown quantity of Toro Rosso - powered by a Honda that for all intents and purposes could be much better next season.

Williams decision is made all the more difficult as it's not one made entirely on ability, with their title sponsor Martini reportedly requiring one of their drivers to be over 25 - ruling out Wehrlein who'd surely be a shoe-in were it not for his age. The need for a more mature individual also reaches across to the lack of experience that Lance Stroll has and whilst the young Canadian has improved throughout the season it's still worth something to have him paired with a steady hand.

So, don't write Jolyon off, the timing of his departure might just have some practical purposes yet.

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7 Oct 2017
Trumpets qually report - Japan

From now on my #TechTime cohort - Matt 'Trumpets' Ragsdale will be providing his unique qualifying and race reports for the blog, I hope you enjoy them!

Ambient 23° 
Track 27° 
Humidity 71% 
Wind 1.3 m/s

Prelude

Grey and overcast for the start of qualifying, the track barely rubbered in and everyone suffering unexpected losses in traction. FP3 ended with Bottas and Raikkonen both stuffing it into the barriers, with Valterri glancing off the Armco out of Spoon and Kimi straight into the tyre wall on exit of Degner 2, which cost the Ferrari driver 5 grid spots as he mangled his gearbox as it required replacing, along with lots of other expensive bits. 
Bottas' car, too, required extensive work to turn around including replacing the floor, but he had already collected his 5 spot penalty for a new gearbox which had been replaced earlier. At least Valterri could take comfort in having been fastest in the session, on the Soft tyre no less, followed by Hamilton also on the Softs, and Vettel on the SuperSofts. The red flags these incidents brought out spoiled more than a few fast laps, including that of Lewis Hamilton, who was out playing on his SuperSofts.

Also participating in penalty-palooza were Sainz and Palmer, dinged for 20 spots, and Alonso with a winning 35 grid spots for replacing every possible component he could thanks to a hydraulic fluid leak that destroyed his PU. Red Bull were fast in the corners but losing time on the straights (quel surprise) with Verstappen having ditched the T wing for FP3 and Ricciardo opting to keep it. Horner trotted out the usual niceties about race pace, but the fact remained that the "Malaysian Malaise" that afflicted the Mercedes flattered to deceive with regards to Red Bull's overall pace.

Summary
Green Light!! Wehrlein, Ericsson and Hamilton were the first out, with Hamilton on the Soft tyre. Gasly and Vettel trailed out also on Softs as it was noted there was a fair amount of cement dust on the track to sop up an oil spill from a previous demonstration (telly fixed the blame squarely on an old Williams in a vehicle parade prior to the session).

Hamilton's first fast lap was a marker laid at 1:29.507 with 15 minutes left to go. Vettel slotted in nicely behind, 0.265s behind and then, raising the blood pressure at Mercedes, Bottas on the Supers was off with a big sideways moment out of Degner 2. Into the gravel and somehow out without major damage and perhaps a certain loss of confidence. He was about 0.3s up in S1 up to that point. 

Once Valterri caught his breath he was able to set a time just 0.007s off Lewis, who had upped his game in the meantime, nailing down a 1:29.325 still on his first set of Softs. Perez had slotted behind Vettel as the Red Bulls had finally joined the game. And it was Verstappen, minus the T-wing, to the top with a 1:29.181, rocking that time on a set of Supers. P5 for Ricciardo with the T-Wing and P6 for Raikkonen set the sharp end of the grid as the clock ticked past the 6 minute mark.

At the other end of the field, Grosjean, Gasly, Stroll, Ericsson and Wehrlein had it all to do, with Magnussen on the bubble as the cars headed in to reset for their last runs at Q2. Stroll in particular had complained vociferously about being blocked by Perez on his fast lap and was going to be on a mission. Along the way, Raikkonen woke himself up enough to go P2 and with just under 3 minutes left, while a still circulating Hamilton once again took the top step, improving to 1:29.047 cars trickled back out onto the track.

Magnussen led the way followed by Grosjean and Gasly. Sainz Vandoorne and Massa were the next trio up. But then the fun was rapidly spoiled as Grosjean lost it in the esses, into the barrier and bringing out the red flag. Big mess and end of Q1, with Grosjean saying it was something on the car and Gene Haas' face registering every single dollar sign that off had just cost him. Hopelessly turfed were the laps of Gasly, Stroll, Ericsson and Wehrlein and they, along with Grosjean in P16, were off in search of shiokara and redemption. The rest reset in the quest for glory in Q2.

Hamilton was first out of the gate in Q2, the lone runner at the start of the second session out on the Supers, with Raikkonen following him out about 20 seconds back, Kimi, rather astonishingly, on the Soft tyre as the clock ticked over the 14 minute mark. Or rather not, as with a 5 spot penalty the harder tyre and going long was sensible strategy

No surprise, Hamilton crushed S1 purple, with Kimi running almost 0.6s back. Lewis continued his torrid pace through S2 and S3, going 1:27.819 a new track record. Raikkonen was far off with a 1:29.079, but 0.3s up on the time the team asked him to run. 

Vettel on the Supers could do no better than 1:28.482, still good for P2 but far off the time of Hamilton. Bottas took P3 ahead of Verstappen, but nearly 0.7s adrift of his teammate in P1, not entirely surprising when you consider he was running the Soft tyre, mirroring Raikkonen's strategy as he sported a similar penalty. Ricciardo on the Supers, took P5 ahead of Raikkonen.
Ocon led the best of the rest, trailed by Perez. Massa and Vandoorne rounded out the top 10. As the cars reset during the interval, it was Alonso, Hulkenberg, Palmer, Magnussen and Sainz with it all to do. As they headed out for their last tilt at glory, it was Ocon and Hulkenberg leading the way, followed by Alonso , Vangoorne, Magnussen and Sainz. Perez and Palmer trailed further behind but fascinatingly, all the top runners save the Red Bulls and Raikkonen were out to set times as well. 

Alonso to P10, ahead of Vandoorne, and that was the end of the improvement at the back of the field. No improvement at the top of the field, but it looked that both Hamilton and Bottas boxed without setting a time. Hamilton was chunking up purples along the way, but the end result was the same position wise, with Bottas and Raikkonen set to go long on the Soft tyre. 

Vandoorne, Hulkenberg, Magnussen, Palmer and Sainz were done like a dinner, off in search of sake as the rest turned it around to attempt to claim the all palmares in Q3. 

Bottas led the way into Q3, followed by Hamilton and Raikkonen. Ocon brought up the rear of the quartet and then there was a nice gap to Versppen, Perez and Ricciardo. Vettel tagged onto the end of that train on his outlap, with Massa swinging off a little back.

Bottas was first across the line, but it was Lewis setting the board alight in purple, owning every sector in turn and quickly shuffling his teammate from P1 to P2 with a 1:27.345, nearly 0.7s up. Verstappen went P3 until Vettel came through, snicking a tenth from Bottas and taking P2, dispatching the Dutchman to P4. Ricciardo took advantage of a big wobble that young Max had, jumping him for P4 when he finally hit the line. Ocon was the best of the rest in P6, as Raikkonen had backed ot of his first go and was lingering in P9, with only Alonso for company as he kept his powder dry for the end of the session.

Bottas led the way yet again for the last chance at glory. But again the Finn was overshadowed by his teammate, Lewis setting S1 purple again. But it was up to P2 for Valterri and this time, it was Vettel unable to answer, a full tenth behind. Raikkonen was even worse, P6, which was not going to do him any favours with a 5 spot grid penalty coming. Though with a hastily reconstructed car, perhaps not so surprising. Ricciardo again outpointed his teammate, taking P4, T-wing and all, ahead of Max in P5. Ocon continued to be the best of the rest, with Perez, Massa and Alonso finishing out the top 10.

Can it be, first pole for Hamilton at Suzuka, so congratulations due there, never mind the ruthless crushing of the former track record, by well over a second. 5 spot for Bottas means P2 start for Vettel and he and Raikkonen will certainly motivate the early action as they move forward through the field. Red Bull looks set to be playing in their own sandbox, faster than everyone else but slower than the top 3. With luck, Horner's race pace refrain will have a bit of meat to it and Red Bull will be able to mix it with the leaders. 

Also on offer for tomorrow is the tidbit that by the time they get to Turn 7, Mercedes have maxed out their tyre temps and need to run conservatively for the next part of the lap to keep from overheating them. Not much to hang your hat on, but Ferrari will definitely take whatever they can get. Force India looked mighty, though not yet troubling Red Bull, which was their target heading in. The battle between Perez and Ocon should be fun, especially into Turn 1, with Massa suddenly having a good result now that his potential successors are being regularly discussed in the media. 

Temps could play a role, too, as though it was cool today which clearly favored Mercedes, the race is forecast to be warmer which might make their race day a bit more challenging. A development all true race fans should welcome. 

Discuss!!

Remember, Play nice in the comments!
Copyright F1.com - Penalties will adjust the formation of the grid (Raikkonen and Bottas 5 place grid penalties for gearbox changes, Palmer and Sainz 20 place penalties and Alonso a 35 place penalty).
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3 Oct 2017
The Malaysian GP race tech review

The Malaysia or Malaysian GP? No-one seemed to know which one it was this weekend but we did know one thing - it was the last GP that would be held at the Sepang International Circuit, as its 19 year reign on the F1 calendar came to an end. It was the first of a glut of new circuits that now own the moniker - ‘Tilkedromes’ but its varied layout has never garnered the critique that many of the other circuits designed since have .

Emerging as a destination Grand Prix the Malaysian government has helped to fund the event down the years. Unfortunately, Singapore’s arrival on the calendar has seen a slow march towards its disappearance with the venues not only sharing proximity but as from last year they also shared calendar space.

Unable to draw the attention it once did, in a heavily populated Asian arena and claiming that the sport itself has lost its appeal the 2017 race will be the last, at least for a few years. It's sad in a way as the circuit provided numerous challenges from both a driver and engineering perspective.

With its mix of low, medium and high speed corners and a high risk of changeable weather conditions making life difficult for everyone involved.

Heading into the weekend


Mercedes and Ferrari both had numerous aerodynamic updates available to them in Malaysia. The Silver Arrows dispatching a new front wing, nose ‘cape’ bargeboards, floor and diffuser to the Sepang International Circuit, whilst Ferrari had a new bargeboard and airbox. For more details on these take a look at mine and Giorgio's soon to be released column on Motorsport.com

Red Bull meanwhile had very little, having run new parts in Singapore, instead opting not to run their T-Wing, altering the balance of the RB13 to suit the circuits demands.
Force India retained their ‘stegosaurus’ engine cover spine introduced in Singapore, whilst making improvements to their bargeboards (not raced) and diffuser.

Toro Rosso had a raft of new parts as they laid a marker in the sand for the run-in to the end of the season, with a front wing, nose, pre-bargeboard, floating axe head, sidepod deflectors, and two tier coat-hanger style T-Wing.  All of these details were covered in mine and Giorgio's usual column in the GP Gazette (Prime members only)


Haas introduced a revised front wing, which featured flaps with the tips squared off altering their effect on the Y250 vortex.


McLaren had a new bargeboard design to trial in Malaysia but with only one available it was given to Alonso. The design features a new pre-bargeboard that sits adrift of the main vertical surface, conditioning flow around the cars midriff, whilst the curved anchor bodywork was also revised.

Qualifying

The most important aspects here come from the pressure cooker at the front of the grid, with Mercedes struggling throughout Free Practice to find a solution that unlocked the W08’s inherent pace. I've already blogged about this in more detail but they were seemingly hurt more than the others as Pirelli offered up the largest front to rear pressure delta this season - 3.5psi

With the Silver Arrows drivers lacking the necessary balance from either aero setup (back-to-back tests were done during FP3) they opted to split their strategy. Hamilton ran the older specification and Bottas the new.

Up until the start of Q3 the Ferrari drivers looked nailed on to deliver a front row lockout but having seen an issue in the telemetry with Vettel's powerunit in FP3 the team decided to take precautionary action and replace the ICE for qualifying.

This would be the Germans final penalty free component and so the team set about installing their latest and greatest iteration, originally scheduled for introduction in Malaysia but put back to Japan.

The new design is rumored to be running much more complex 3D printed pistons - a shame then that we’ll never see them. It's a pretty big deal as undoubtedly this option has been chosen as the designers want a mixture of materials or want to create a design that would unmanufacturable with conventional methods. I suspect this is primarily down to the shape of the piston crown as they look to take further advantage of the lean burn turbulent jet ignition system.

The installation of this fourth ICE seemingly went without a hitch, in a shorter time frame than would ordinarily be possible. However, as soon as Vettel got out onto the circuit he detected an issue - down on power he immediately instructed the pitwall of a turbo problem. My immediate thoughts were that the symptoms correlated with a boost leak, perhaps a pipe had been left adrift and so the team scurried around the car to try and resolve the problem as the session clock ticked down.

Unable to resolve the issue he failed to post a time and would start the race from the back of the grid - not a great way to make ground on Hamilton’s championship lead. Latterly the team established that carbon pipework between the Turbo compressor and inlet was at fault, with a crack allowing boost to escape.

It's a problem that shouldn't really exist as the ICE, Turbo and MGUH are shipped to the circuit complete, in order that they be able to be installed and used as quickly as possible. In fact they're rig tested back in Marenello in advance of shipping too, making sure everything is in order.

The fitment of the powerunit and all of the ancillary components is extremely tight, as it should be, with the chargecooler sandwiched between the engine and a void in the fuel cell. The team have laid blame at a 3rd party manufacturers feet, with the carbon fibre ductwork outsourced in order to meet targets/schedules. However, with the introduction of their new airbox ductwork above the powerunit it does bring raise the question has this and it's rigid installation worked against the powerunit to cause the failure. This is bought into sharp focus when we consider the same failure occurred on Raikkonen’s car just before the start of the race…

As an aside Ferrari took full advantage of the penalty situation and outfitted Vettel’s SF70H with a new ICE, Turbo, MGUH and gearbox as no further penalties would ensue.

Race

The complexion of the race was changed entirely by Ferrari, with the loss of Raikkonen from the front row and Vettel having to make his way back through the field allowing the others to make hay whilst the sun shone. The Finn would have been a likely protagonist for his regular dueling partner - Verstappen as the SF70H and RB13 seemed to be more than a match for one another in every other session.

In the opening phase of the GP Hamilton came under pressure from Verstappen and let his engineer know on the radio that he was suffering heavily with ‘derates’ - this is caused when the energy store is not fully topped up in the first few laps of a race and the algorithm prevents full energy deployment as it will become damaging to their energy matrix for many more laps (It's a little more complex with this owing to the energy map between the K and H too but I won't get into it here).

The young Dutchman was encouraged to capitalize on this and made quick work of Hamilton, knowing that the Brit would likely yield the position without having to apply maximum pressure, as with the championship at stake and the W08 not performing so well it was a case of damage limitation for the Mercedes driver.

Meanwhile, having had a great start, albeit from the drier side of the grid (the grandstands overhang on the left side of the pit straight had led to a situation where that side remained wet, whilst the right side had dried), Bottas jinked to the left of the long first corner and emerged alongside the Red Bull's, taking the high ground into the sharp left hand second turn and setting up a tasty battle in the forthcoming laps between him and his old Formula Renault adversary Daniel Ricciardo.

As the race settled down and the correct running order started be established - those that had out qualified their machinery started to shrink back and the entertainment largely came in the form of the lone fast charging Ferrari driver, who made his way upto the back of his first stumbling block - Fernando Alonso in the first points paying position. Vettel had plumbed for the only real option available to him at the start of the race - the soft tyre as this offered him the opportunity to lean on the tyre when he needed against the softer shod runners who'd also be in tyre preservation mode.

This is one of the current failings of Pirelli’s tyre selection process as although races like Malaysia are a borderline two stopper it's altogether more sensible to run a more reserved one stop - eeking out and protecting the tyres in both stints, rather than having the pit time loss caused by an extra stop, the potential to run in traffic not to mention the odds increasing that something goes wrong at a pitstop.

Oddly Vettel’s SF70H was struggling against the grunt of the Honda powerunit, when you'd expect him to breeze by. However, at this stage the DRS was nullified, as Alonso was also picking it up from the train of cars in front - a situation that would not unfold if DRS was changed to a number of uses per race may I add.

As Vettel finally made something stick on Alonso it was Hulkenberg who jumped the proverbial gun, pitting early from what he described as a set of unbalanced super softs and switching onto a set of softs - notice he didn't go for another set of supers locking into a two stopper instead hoping he could make that set cling on for 46 laps.

Of course this started the usual chain reaction as no-one wanted to get caught with their pants down and be undercut by the Renault driver - locking everyone into a Sunday afternoon drive as they managed their tyres and fuel levels.

Meanwhile, the German now having his path cleared for him by the early stoppers was eyeing up a certain Finn on the menu, who was struggling to maintain the pace set by those ahead suffering with the tyre temperature yo-yo effect where the surface and core temperatures don't match, bleeding grip, performance and lap time.

Not wanting to blink knowing that a switch to the slower soft tyre could put them back in the races with the Red Bull’s ahead, Mercedes played a game of chicken that would inevitably lead to Bottas being caught by Vettel. Bottas became the sacrificial lamb as they effectively asked him to protect Hamilton's position, with the two battling and losing time to one another Mercedes pitted Hamilton and crucially got him out ahead of the battle.

Vertstappen boxed with Ricciardo quickly following suit pitting for a fresh set of soft tyres as both Hamilton and Ricciardo traded fastest laps. Vettel was now past Bottas and set about taking the rest of the life out of his now thoroughly worn softs in order to build enough of a gap to Perez that he wouldn't fall into his pit window.

Once on the super softs it was to become a race to the finish between him and Ricciardo who now notably had a piece of bodywork lodged under the front edge of the floor/splitter, as sparks flew from the underside of the car. Ever canny the Aussie knew the battle was coming and did the most to protect his position from the Ferrari man, but unbeknownst to him Vettel was also struggling - asking his engineers for one last push, a last gasp effort to minimize his points loss to Hamilton.

The Ferrari driver had short-fueled his car by all accounts improving his lap times in the early stages but scuppering his progress toward the end of the race and leading to some rather aggressive lift and coast moments to make the finish line.  

Then in the bizarrest of moments we had the collision on the in lap between Stroll and Vettel, both of which wanted to occupy the same piece of tarmac. Not only did this destroy the rear end of the Ferrari and put him in jeopardy for another gearbox penalty in Japan, he also decided to carry his steering wheel off with him as he cadged a lift back to the pits with Pascal Wehrlein.

Luckily for Vettel it wasn't reported to the stewards and so no further action was taken, in all likelihood it would have only have been a reprimand in any case but strange nonetheless, especially as he mounted the wheel but then went back for it.
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