Mercedes (Q. 6, 4. R. 4, 3)
Malaysia was very important for the Mercedes team; they’ve shown they have two very strong drivers and a car capable of propelling Hamilton and Rosberg up the order. The team’s performance in Melbourne suggested they had a quick car, but not one capable of fighting for victory. The books were turned around in Sepang, with Hamilton and Rosberg having a great chance to steal the win from under Red Bull’s noses. Both drivers were ready to pounce on any mistakes made by the Red Bull drivers and, though fuel conservation late in the race all but destroyed the team’s hopes of a victory, could surely have been in contention had conditions favoured the team slightly more.
Though Rosberg voiced his opposition to the team’s request that he hold station behind Hamilton, the German’s decision to comply with Ross Brawn’s wishes should be paid respect – especially on a day when Mercedes’s key rivals could not manage the same.
Nico Hulkenberg (Q. 12, R. 8)
Nico rose to the occasion during his first race of 2013, placing his Sauber C32 some 40-seconds ahead of team-mate Gutierrez come the chequered flag. The German’s off-season was a week longer than planned, but he came back in Malaysia fully prepared to make up for lost time in Melbourne. Fighting with cars considered much faster than his, Malaysia was a great start to Hulkenberg’s season. If he can consistently deliver results like these, surely 2014 will not see him again in a mid-field team.
Felipe Massa (Q. 2, R. 5)
Massa suffered a Webber-esque start, falling well down the order by the end of the first lap. Regardless, he out-qualified his team-mate for the second race in succession and came back from an ordinary start to finish fifth on a day controlled by Red Bull and Mercedes. Some might argue Alonso would have delivered a better result, but it was not Felipe who hit another car on the opening lap – and it was not Felipe who was dealt a quick end to his race less than a lap later. He sits four points ahead of Fernando heading into China – and that can’t hurt his chances of having a solid run into the European leg of the season.
Red Bull (Q. 1, 5. R. 1, 2)
Despite securing first and second places, Red Bull left Sepang all out of sorts. A catastrophic stuff-up by the pit wall in containing the situation between Mark and Sebastian has left many wondering who has the power in the team: Horner or Vettel? The team towed the PR line following the race, announcing their respective apologies to the media, but it doesn’t looks like this issue will be going away any time soon. Webber and Vettel have had their disagreements over the last seven years, but you have to imagine Red Bull won’t be sending out any we-both-stuffed-up pictures this time around. If the team can sort this one out any time soon, it’ll be nothing short of a miracle.
Lotus (Q. 10, 11. R. 6, 7)
After such a promising start to 2013, Lotus looked decidedly average in Sepang. Raikkonen could manage only seventh in qualifying before being penalised and Grosjean lead the way home on Sunday – albeit in sixth position. Kimi had issues holding onto the car throughout the race and the team showed nothing of their tyre conservation prowess witnessed at Albert Park. Did Lotus peak too soon? China’s expected colder conditions should give better insight into the team’s chances at title success in 2013.
Fernando Alonso (Q. 3, R. RET)
The team stated it was their decision to keep Alonso out at the end of the first lap, but you have to wonder why there was an assembled pit crew waiting for the Spaniard’s arrival. Whoever was to blame for the stuff-up is irrelevant – what is relevant is Alonso’s 22-point deficit to Vettel after only two races. Fernando has said that he only needs consistent results in the early part of the season to win the title come Brazil, but such a small accumulation after two rounds surely doesn’t fit in with his master plan. Being beaten by Massa in qualifying is doing his stocks no favours and being behind him in the standings does even less. If he wants to be in the hunt for the title later in the season, he needs to start fighting with the Red Bulls in China. The RB9 looks blisteringly quick in the right conditions and it’ll only be a matter of time until every condition is perfect for Vettel’s and Webber’s cars.