The Malaysian Grand Prix could be a pivot point of the season with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton suffering an engine failure while team mate Nico Rosberg fought back from 17th to third place after being tipped into a spin by the fast starting Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel at turn one on the opening lap of the race.
The race started with a bang, Hamilton got away cleanly to lead out of the first corner while Vettel got a fantastic start to find himself on the inside of Max Verstappen and Rosberg going into turn 1. As Rosberg turned in to take the racing line ahead of Verstappen, Vettel clipped the right rear of Rosberg’s car tipping him into a spin while Vettel suffered broken front left suspension ending his race before turn 2.
The first lap incident caused the VSC to be deployed which triggered an inevitable series of pit stops before the restart on lap 3 in which Verstappen caught Force India’s Sergio Perez napping to snatch third place away from the Mexican. From that point, Perez only went backwards tumbling down the top 10 as faster cars moved passed him, but the Mexican recovered to sixth place by the chequered flag.
Rosberg was involved in another collision as he made what could only be considered an optimistic overtaking attempt into turn 2 on lap 38 clattering into Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari. Which rightly earned the German a 10 second time penalty which ultimately didn’t hinder him on route to taking third place.
Lap 41 brought the game changing event, while comfortably leading, Hamilton’s Mercedes power unit blew up spectacularly with flames shooting out of the exhaust as he entered the turn one breaking zone. Obviously this ended his race and maybe his hopes of a fourth world championship allowing Rosberg to extend his championship lead to 23 points, which might be tough to overcome in the last five races.
Suddenly we found ourselves looking at the prospect of a Red Bull 1 – 2; which was decided a couple of laps prior to Hamilton’s retirement. Daniel Ricciardo managed to defend what turned out to be the battle for the lead against team mate Verstappen. When Hamilton’s stricken car activated the VSC, Red Bull elected to stack their drivers in the pits, which created a 4 second gap between the dueling team mates.
The young charger, Verstappen managed to close the gap to just over a second despite being on scrubbed soft tires while Ricciardo had brand new soft tires. But I suspect that the Red Bull team called the battle off to avoid a “multi-21” situation. Hamilton’s bad luck (or otherwise if you believe the driver himself) meant the Malaysian GP ended with the first non-Mercedes 1 – 2 for three seasons.
The sole remaining Ferrari of Raikkonen claimed fourth place ahead of Williams’ Valteri Bottas and Force India’s Perez in fifth and sixth. It was a good day for McLaren Honda with a seventh and ninth place finish, which shows improvement overall, especially with Fernando Alonso who started from the back due to engine penalties to recover to seventh with an upgraded Honda power unit in the back of his McLaren.
The second Force India of Nico Hulkenberg claimed eighth place after a somewhat anonymous race while Briton Jolyon Palmer earned a rare point for Renault, bringing his yellow machine home in 10th place.
So that’s the race that was the Malaysian Grand Prix; now a personal view. The first lap incident was a racing incident in my view, despite the FIA stewards feeling differently handing Vettel a three place grid penalty for the Japanese Grand Prix. Although with the similarities between this incident and the incident at Spa, I think Vettel should feel some verbal pain like Verstappen did, from Vettel himself after Spa.