Vandoorne column: Sepang my best race, but Suzuka will be amazing
In his latest column, McLaren's Stoffel Vandoorne looks back at the Malaysian Grand Prix, the race he labelled as his best in F1 yet, and forward to the Japanese GP.
After our strong race in Singapore, we were expecting the Malaysian Grand Prix to be a bit more difficult for us - thanks to the Sepang circuit's long straights which we knew would not be ideal for us.
And nothing I saw on Friday made me change my mind, as it was really hard to gauge where we were.
There were some tricky weather conditions to deal with in first practice, I was having to learn the track and then second practice was cut short because of the red flag that came out after Romain Grosjean hit the drain cover.
So it was definitely not an ideal day from my side. I was not really feeling 100 percent comfortable in the car.
But then everything changed for the better on Saturday. We had made some very, very good changes on the car, and we had gone in a bit of a different direction with the set-up. We had partly done that because Fernando Alonso had some different aero parts on the car which we didn't have.
Straight away in final practice I felt much more confident and really from lap one the car was a lot better, and the pace we showed in the morning lifted our hopes of a good qualifying.
We reckoned there was a chance of qualifying just inside the top 10, and everything seemed to be on course for that when we had some good laps in Q1 and then some very strong laps in Q2.
Then in Q3, we saw how close it was with the Renaults, Force Indias and Fernando – and we saw an opportunity to beat some of those cars.
I pushed extremely hard, tried to put the lap completely together and in the end it was a great qualifying session. To finish seventh, with only one Force India was in front of us was great – and a positive surprise.
Before the race we thought it was going to be very difficult for us to keep the Force Indias and Williams behind, as they are normally quite a bit stronger in race conditions than we are.
But I made a very good start and was running in fifth place for a couple of laps. We were holding on quite well at that point, but then it became a struggle to keep Sergio Perez behind as he was a lot quicker.
He eventually found a way past but we kept pushing and, after a good pitstop, I came out very close to the battling Williams cars. That was definitely a key point of the race, as I really had to use my elbows in Turn 1 to muscle my way through!
Once that job was done, it was about trying to control the gap to Lance behind me. I had to make sure he didn't get within the DRS range, and I also had to save tyres and fuel at the same time. It was not easy, but once we got near the end of the race I knew I had some pace in hand – and on the last lap I managed to open up a big gap to the Williams behind.
The points for seventh place moved me ahead of Fernando in the drivers' championship, which a lot of people commented on after the race. However, that is not really important at this stage, because we are not in a position where we are competing for a world championship. But scoring some points for the team is always important.
We know it is very difficult to score points at every race, and we don't have a lot of opportunities to do it. There are still a couple of races left this season and hopefully we can manage to score more points. If, at the end of the season, I am still ahead then it will be nice for sure.
Although this was my first race at Sepang it was the last for F1, at least for the foreseeable future. Even so I could appreciate the excitement and passion of the fans here and really understand why F1 has enjoyed coming to Malaysia over the years.
Next up is Suzuka and I am really looking forward to it. I have spent a lot of time in Japan racing in Super Formula. The circuit it is one of the best tracks in the world, and I am looking forward to discovering it in F1 with these cars – I think it will be amazing in the high-speed corners.
In terms of results though it is a difficult one to know what to expect. We just need to go into the weekend very optimistic and try to make the most out of it and give the Japanese fans a great show.
Force India could trouble Red Bull with right balance - Ocon
Teams request debate on F1 Strategy Group role