As Malaysia prepared to host their final Grand Prix, the focus was very much on the two title protagonists; Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. Last weekend, Hamilton took the lead in the championship while Vettel failed to score. Moreover, Mercedes were expected to have an advantage here over Ferrari.
However, with Mercedes down on pace to the Ferraris and the Red bulls, the pendulum looked to have swung back in favour of Ferrari. Despite the deficit, Hamilton was still able to take his seventieth pole position ahead of Kimi Raikkonen. Sebastian Vettel did not set a time as his car let him down. Hamilton, it seemed, had luck on his side.
Hamilton was handed further good fortune as Raikkonen was unable to take the start due to an issue that looked suspiciously like the one that befell teammate Vettel. As the race got underway it was clear that Lewis would not have it all his own way; as Max Verstappen spent the opening laps glued to the gearbox of the Mercedes, until eventually getting past him into the first corner on lap four.
Daniel Ricciardo also exploited the pace of the Red Bull and overtook Bottas who was struggling for pace in the opening laps.
Sebastian Vettel was also making progress. He stormed up the order in the first lap, and proceeded to carry the momentum through the field. Old rival Fernando Alonso slowed his progress, but once the cars around him stopped for fresh tyres, Vettel was up to fifth. He was then able to pass Bottas at the pit stops, crowning an abysmal day for the Finnish driver.
Vettel caught Ricciardo and tried a move into turn one, but he couldn’t find his way past. Up front Max Verstappen cruised to his second career win, a day after turning twenty. Vettel’s bizarre accident after the race with Lance Stroll summed up Ferrari’s weekend, one wheel had certainly come off their wagon in Malaysia.
Hamilton congratulated Verstappen, saying: “I didn’t really know how close he was in that first corner, as I was having problems with the engine de-rating and battery power at the beginning of the race. I went to defend but I didn’t really want to risk it. At the end of the day Max had more pace than me and it would have been a struggle and he would probably have got past somewhere else.”
“Definitely, it was a much better weekend that we had anticipated after struggling so much on Friday, so considering the issues we had this is a good result, albeit still disappointing because winning is the ultimate goal. But Max did a fantastic race.”
The result means that Hamilton extends his lead in the Championship to thirty four points. However, it must be known that Vettel has won two championships with a larger deficit. Ferrari will be hoping that the Red Bulls can factor in the remaining races like they did here to ensure that the championship deficit may be overcome, but Ferrari know that their luck must change.