The Malaysian Grand Prix is always one of the jokers on the Formula One calendar: you know it's going to rain during the weekend, but you don't know when. This year it began during qualifying, the dammed up clouds over the Sepang track dumping their reservoirs just before Q1 and causing a 50-minute delay.
The conditions helped Infiniti Red Bull Racing close the gap on Mercedes AMG Petronas and split the Silver Arrows cars, Sebastian Vettel lining up in second on the grid behind pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton, ahead of Nico Rosberg. Fernando Alonso recovered from a suspension-damaging incident with Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kyvat to take fourth, followed by the second Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo in fifth, then the off-form Kimi Räikkönen in sixth in the second Ferrari, Nico Hülkenberg in the Force India, star rookie Kevin Magnussen in the first McLaren ahead of Jean-Eric Vergne in the Toro Rosso, and Jenson Button in the second McLaren finishing up the top ten.
After that, though, the clouds decided they were done with F1. Save a few drop at the final corners during the race, the track stayed completely dry. And except for the beginning and the end, for the most part, so was the race.
Related GalleryRace Recap: 2014 Malaysian F1 Grand Prix
Hamilton, who hasn't been on the podium in nine races, did his impersonation of the late-2013 Vettel, owning the race from lights to flag. Getting a great start when the lights went out, he took chunks of time out of his teammate every lap, Rosberg having managed to grab second place in the first series of corners, and kept anywhere from nine to 14 seconds of overcast daylight between himself and the cars behind. The only time Hamilton didn't lead the event was when he pitted and Hülkenberg stayed out for a few extra laps. When he crossed the line to finish the 57th and final lap, he earned his 33rd win and his 100th points-paying finish in F1.
Rosberg followed him home, fellow German Vettel putting him under pressure at a few points during the race but never enough to cause genuine trouble. Any time you hear a race engineer say, calmly, "Nico, you lead Vettel by 3.7 seconds, we'd like to get that up to five seconds," you know the situation is copacetic. The finish marked the first Mercedes one-two result since 1955.
Save for a flurry of passing and contact at the start and the usual tire-worn drama at the end, the grand prix was a procession. Jules Bianchi in the Marussia said he was hit by Vergne not far off the line and had his car damaged, causing him to plow into Pastor Maldonado in the Lotus at Turn 4. Maldonado was out of the race right there, Bianchi carried on but had to retire a few laps later.
Magnussen and Räikkönen also came together on Lap 4, the Finn in the Ferrari closing the door on the Dane into a corner and clobbering the McLaren's front wing. Räikkönen punctured his left rear tire and limped back to the pit lane, and the incident took all the air out of his race: after starting sixth on the grid, he finished in 12th, having labored near the back of the grid for a disconcerting amount of time. The stewards put the blame on Magnussen with a a five-second stop-go penalty and two points assessed on his superlicense. He finished in ninth.
Vettel took third place, a surprise podium for a Red Bull team that was described as being six weeks behind the program after pre-season testing due to Renault engine troubles. He had to get around his teammate to earn the place, though, passed by Ricciardo off the line and behind the young Australian for four laps before he made his move, also on Lap 4.
If Ricciardo thought things wouldn't go as badly in Southeast Asia as they had in Australia, he was wrong. Arguably, they went worse. His FIA-supplied fuel-flow sensor failed completely, but this time Red Bull worked with the FIA to use pre-agreed fuel consumption monitoring points. After a strong drive got him into fourth and he looked unbothered for the position, during his second pit stop on Lap 42 the pit crew released him before his left front tire was on properly. He pulled away, realized the tire wasn't fastened while still in the pits and had his car rolled back to his box and the tire put on properly but that ended his chances of a top-five finish. Back on track and fresh out of his stop, he hit the kerbing at Turn 14 and it broke his front wing, so he headed right back to the pits. The race stewards gave him a 10-second stop-go penalty during the race for unsafe release for the tire incident, and after that, more problems with the car saw him retire on Lap 49. After the race, the stewards hit him with a 10-position grid penalty for the next race in Bahrain.
Fernando Alonso nabbed fourth place, a late overtake on Nico Hülkenberg keeping him from turning in another one of his qualify-fifth-and-finish-fifth performances. It's looking the same as ever at Ferrari, Alonso saying after the race that the car felt slow the entire time and he doesn't know why it doesn't have pace. Alonso was seen taking a good look at Vettel's car in Parc Ferme after the race, perhaps looking for visible signs of Red Bull's phenomenal turnaround that he could take back to the Scuderia.
Hülkenberg, the driver who keeps putting midfield cars near the top of the order, made it another solid haul of points for Force India with his fifth-place finish. His teammate, Sergio Perez, didn't even get to start the race, his gearbox having problems downshifting. Hülkenberg was followed by Jenson Button, driving his usual studious race to sixth place and managing to keep the two Williams drivers behind him in the latter stages. That was helped by Felipe Massa, who disobeyed team orders and didn't let teammate Valtteri Bottas through to challenge Button even though he was instructed to do so several times in several ways. At this point we wouldn't be surprised to hear the funeral director overseeing Massa's final services declare, "Bury Massa second – the other corpse is faster." Still, the seventh and eighth places scored by Massa and Bottas prove that Williams, so far, is playing for real this year.
Magnussen, who had to recover from his penalties and a nose change, rocked up ninth in the second McLaren, followed by the quietly consistent Kyvat in the Toro Rosso.
After the second race, Rosberg holds onto first place in the driver's standings with 43 points, Hamilton leaps into second with 25, followed by Alonso with 24, Button with 23 and Magnussen with 20. Mercedes AMG Petronas pulls away from the field in the Constructor's Championship with 68 points, followed by McLaren with 43 and Ferrari with 30.
The next race is next weekend in Bahrain. We'll see you then.