Daniel Ricciardo smokes the field in Sepang after Hamilton’s engine detonates
The F1 Circus arrived in the Sepang International Circuit outside of Kuala Lumpur to face a revised and re-contoured track layout and an entirely resurfaced tarmac. As if the F1 teams’ continuing struggle this season with the difficult-to-warm Pirelli’s wasn’t enough, they now had to factor in the new surface’s vagaries. And then there was the re-building of the final corner, from the former level surface to one that sloped several degrees off camber away from the apex. The change led to several complaints from drivers, but the corner now allows two different lines, so that a car following closely behind can take an inside line, where there’s a little less grip but clean air, offering the driver a chance to pass his opponent on the run down to Turn 1.
Corners now allow two different lines, so that a car following closely behind can take an inside line, where there’s a little less grip but clean air, offering the driver a chance to pass his opponent on the run down to Turn 1.
Lewis Hamilton beat Nico Rosberg to pole position by 0.414s. His 1m32.850s on his first run in Q3 just missed being the fastest ever lap of this Sepang circuit. That belongs to Fernando Alonso, his 1m32.582, was set in Q1 in 2005 in a 3.0 litre V10 Renault. Hamilton had the fastest time in all three qualifying sessions. Rosberg had struggled to find a comfortable setup since the morning’s FP3.
Max Verstappen (turning 19-years old this week) occupied the third starting slot, just 0.57-seconds adrift, but both he and Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo in the fourth slot had nearly identical long-run pace as the Mercedes’ duo. Verstappen was convinced the changes he had requested since Singapore had given him the edge in both qualifying and race pace. He then crossed his fingers that new clutch settings would restore his dominant starting ability. Both Red Bull drivers were hoping to snatch the first turn from the Mercs and give them a good fight.
Verstappen was convinced the changes he had requested since Singapore had given him the edge in both qualifying and race pace. He then crossed his fingers that new clutch settings would restore his dominant starting ability.
Fernando Alonso ran Honda’s upgraded power unit (new internal combustion engine with a lighter block, turbo, MGU-H, energy storage and control electronics) in his car during Friday practice leaving Honda just one token remaining of the 33 allowed. Alonso finished fifth in FP1 and seventh in FP2. As a result of the change, Alonso served a 30-place penalty for the test fitting, but the team was always going to revert to his previous PU for qualifying and the race. An additional 15-place grid penalty was added after McLaren-Honda fitted additional new components to his car ahead of final practice.
Although Alonso would start Sunday’s race from the back of the grid, he will now be able to use his new lighter engine block without penalty in front of Honda’s weary-but-growing-more-hopeful fans in Japan.
Red Bull’s tenacious Daniel Ricciardo held off teammate Max Verstappen’s relentless attacks to claim victory in the Malaysian Grand Prix after Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes engine erupted with smoke and flames on lap 41 while leading by over 20 seconds. It was Australian’s first win for over two years.
Hamilton had been running the perfect race, leading with little pressure from the start, knowing a victory in Malaysia would wrap up the Constructor’s Championship for Mercedes. Meanwhile, teammate and championship leader Nico Rosberg was battling back from 17th place after a belting from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel that spun him in the first corner of the race. Before flames were seen coming from Hamilton’s exhaust, the Red Bull pair had been putting on a tantalising display of car control and on-the-edge-aggression lap after lap as they fought fiercely for second place. Just before Hamilton’s retirement, Verstappen running a younger set of tyres, caught and then challenged Ricciardo. The teammates duelled side-by-side through Sepang’s sweeping high-speed Turns 5 and 6, with Ricciardo never ceding a millimetre or the position to Verstappen. They then came upon Hamilton’s terminal Mercedes.
Hamilton had been running the perfect race, leading with little pressure from the start, knowing a victory in Malaysia would wrap up the Constructor’s Championship for Mercedes.
With officials declaring a Virtual Safety Car to remove Hamilton’s stricken W07, both Red Bull drivers dove for the pits for new tyres. Ricciardo was serviced first with fresh tyres, Verstappen waiting behind. While Verstappen had the upper hand tyre-wise before Hamilton’s departure, the tyre change cost Verstappen the advantage, as he went on a four-lap old set. Still, the scheme also protected both Red Bull drivers from a late race Safety Car that would bunch up the cars and enable a challenge from new rubber on the closing Rosberg and Raikkonen. The move put both Red Bull drivers on equal rubber, although, had Verstappen taken that position from Ricciardo before Hamilton’s engine’s meltdown, Verstappen would have had preferential status. In the end, although Verstappen made up time to close within one second of Ricciardo, he couldn’t overcome his tyres’ four-lap disadvantage to Ricciardo’s new set. Red Bull put together their first 1-2 finish since Sebastian Vettel finished ahead of Mark Webber at the 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix.
Nico Rosberg also put on a show in Sepang. Along with his assisted spin at the first corner by Vettel, he received a 10-second time addition for ramming Kimi Raikkonen during a pass on lap 38. Nevertheless, Rosberg clawed his way back to the front with time in hand to nullify any lost positions from the penalty. His well-earned third place was a testament to his newly-found grit in the second half of the season that now gives him a 23-point lead in the drivers’ standings over Hamilton, with just five races left in the season.
Nico Rosberg’s well-earned third place was a testament to his newly-found grit in the second half of the season that now gives him a 23-point lead in the drivers’ standings over Hamilton.
For an instant, Sebastian Vettel had looked like he would jump both Red Bulls at the start with an aggressive move on the inside of Verstappen, which resembled the same move that Verstappen had effected on Vettel in Spa. The Dutchman closed the door, causing the now over-committed German to slam into the back of Rosberg. For all of Vettel’s fire, he was left with a mangled suspension and a retired on the spot.
Raikkonen finished fourth but could have taken the last podium spot had he been able to close within Rosberg’s 10-second time penalty window. Raikkonen finished 12 seconds back.
Valtteri Bottas captured fifth for Williams after a bold one-stop strategy. Sergio Perez underlined his decision to stay with the Force India squad for 2017 with sixth place. Fernando Alonso claimed seventh in the underpowered McLaren-Honda after a stirring drive from the last slot on the grid. Nico Hulkenberg finished eighth while Jenson Button grabbed ninth in his 300th Grand Prix. Jolyon Palmer’s 10th place finally earned him his long-awaited first championship point.
McLaren helped Jenson Button celebrate his 300th Grand Prix start by turning its hospitality unit into a relatively convincing replica of an English pub. The sign for The Dog and Button was hung out on Friday night, and most of the paddock dropped by for a pint and darts, including Fernando Alonso, ex-teammate Lewis Hamilton and championship leader Nico Rosberg.
Hamilton’s engine failure handed a one-two finish to Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen but cost Mercedes the chance to wrap up the constructors’ championship. Hamilton had been building a big gap over the Red Bull pair before his retirement, but now he lies 23 points adrift of Nico Rosberg in the championship with five races remaining.
Daniel Ricciardo showed Aussie grit worthy of a future world champion with his wheel-to-wheel battle through Turns 4, 5 and 6 with Verstappen. His overdue victory was justice served after losing a possible victory in Barcelona and a sure win in Monaco through team fumbles.
Sebastian Vettel received a three-place grid penalty for the Japanese Grand Prix after colliding with Nico Rosberg in the opening corner of the Malaysian Grand Prix. Vettel has been stridently trying to pull Ferrari up to challenge Red Bull and Mercedes but has met frustration. This time, he put his Ferrari in harm’s way in a desperate bid to pass Max Verstappen in Turn 1. Predictably squeezed out of the spot, Vettel instead hit Rosberg’s right rear wheel, spinning the Mercedes. Vettel’s race ended on the spot, and he faced a stewards’ investigation after the chequered flag.
Malaysia proved that it’s not over until it’s over. Despite Mercedes having one of the most dominate seasons in Grand Prix history, there are no guarantees in F1. With each Mercedes driver knowing they need to push to beat each other and every other driver on the grid trying to salvage what points remain on the table, every future start, overtake and finish position offers the opportunity for a race-ending crash. These are serious guys and points at this time of the season become a focus of desperate acts.
Ground Zero for the next instalment of this struggle will be at Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix in just seven days.