Birthday boy Max celebrates in style in Malaysia
The Mercedes Formula 1 team arrived in Malaysia for last weekend’s Grand Prix, the last F1 race in this Asian country for the time being at least if not for ever, still buoyed by the fact that they had taken an unexpected victory at the previous round in Singapore when both Ferrari drivers had retired on the opening lap. With Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton having taken a decisive 28 point lead in the Drivers’ championship battle ahead of main rival Sebastian Vettel with just six races remaining it was now very much Mercedes’ championship to lose rather than Ferrari’s to win.
Red Bull’s rising Dutch star Max Verstappen, celebrating his 20th birthday on the day before the race, had proved quickest in the opening wet practice session and Ferrari’s Vettel had copied this in the dry second session before the Ferraris of Kimi Räikkönen and Vettel led the way in final practice.
Come the all-important Saturday afternoon qualifying session for the following day’s race Vettel’s Singapore nightmare of two weeks earlier continued as his car suffered an air compressor pipe failure during the first part of qualifying and he was destined to start at the very back of the grid. At least his Ferrari team-mate Räikkönen looked set to take pole position until a late error enabled Hamilton to snatch it away from him, with the brace of Red Bulls lining up immediately to their rear.
Ferrari’s woeful September got even worse on the grid just before the start of the Grand Prix when a power unit problem on Kimi’s car forced it to be pushed back into the Ferrari pit garages, from where it was never to exit. Game over even before the start of the race for the unlucky Finn.
When the red lights went out polesitter Hamilton sprinted into an early lead ahead of Verstappen, Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo, whilst on the opening lap Vettel moved up from the back of the grid to 13th place. Young Max was keen to make his mark on the race after a difficult season to date and swept into the lead past Lewis at the start of the fourth lap as Seb continued to climb through the field.
Danny Ric had a great wheel-to-wheel battle with Valtteri and claimed third place from the Finn on the ninth tour. Meanwhile Vettel’s flying Ferrari continued to gain places and by lap 15 he was up to 6th position. Verstappen proceeded to dominate the race out front, leaving Hamilton to settle for the runner’s-up position and the real interest proved to be the scrap for the final podium position between Ricciardo and Vettel. Seb closed on the Australian, but was unable to find a way past before having to back off to protect his front tyres and the car’s engine temperatures.
As the chequered flag flew after 56 hot and humid laps around the challenging 3.4 mile circuit the massed travelling Dutch fans, mainly clad in orange, celebrated wildly as their hero Max delivered them a well deserved victory and Hamilton and Ricciardo joined him on the podium for the post race celebrations. So, a good day for Red Bull, but Vettel just missed out in fourth place, but it was nevertheless an impressive effort after starting last. The German’s misfortune was compounded when a freak coming together with the Williams of Lance Stroll on the slowing down lap left him with three wheels on his Ferrari and Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein stopped to give him a lift back to the pits.
Second for Lewis and fourth for Seb extended the former’s advantage in the Drivers’ championship to 34 points, leaving Mercedes to extend their superiority in the Constructors’ contest. The Formula 1 circus never stands still and after packing up for a last time in Malaysia everyone is moving on to the mighty Suzuka circuit in Japan for the next Grand Prix in just a week’s time. Will Ferrari’s woes end or will Lewis move a step closer to a fourth world title? I hope you will join me there as we all find out.
2017 F1 Malaysian Grand Prix Results
1 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 1hr30m1.290s
2 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +12.770s
3 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) +22.519s
4 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +37.362s
5 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +56.021s
6 Sergio Perez (Force India) +1m18.630s
7 Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) Lapped
8 Lance Stroll (Williams) Lapped
9 Felipe Massa (Williams) Lapped
10 Esteban Ocon (Force India) Lapped
11 Fernando Alonso (Mercedes) Lapped
12 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) Lapped
13 Romain Grosjean (Haas) Lapped
14 Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) Lapped
15 Jolyon Palmer (Renault) Lapped
16 Nico Hülkenberg (Renault) Lapped
17 Pascal Wehrlein (Sauber) Lapped
18 Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) Lapped
19 Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso) Retired
20 Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari) Did not start
2017 F1 Drivers’ Championship (after 15 rounds of 20)
1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 281
2 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 247
3 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 222
2017 F1 Constructors’ Championship (after 15 rounds of 20)
1 Mercedes 503
2 Ferrari 385
3 Red Bull 270