Reviewing Red Bull’s dramatic 1-2 as Daniel Ricciardo takes victory at Sepang.
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU
Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo: qualified 4th, finished 1st
Max Verstappen: qualified 3rd, finished 2nd
It was drinks all round – out of a shoe, naturally – after Ricciardo’s fourth career win, and one that had been a long time coming. Hamilton’s engine detonation handed the Australian the victory that could have been his in Barcelona and should have been his at Monaco, and while his first win in two years owed plenty to good fortune, it would be ludicrous and inaccurate to put this one purely down to luck. Ricciardo kept his nose clean in the manic start to slot into second behind Hamilton, but it was some time later – on lap 39 – when he showed the steel that won this race, defending with all his wiles against Verstappen through Turns 5-7, a critical battle that ensured he’d be able to pit first when the virtual safety car was called for Hamilton’s stricken Mercedes minutes later. The extra set of soft tyres Ricciardo had saved after qualifying were crucial in the final 15 laps, and he led Verstappen home in the team’s first 1-2 finish since Brazil 2013. “I’m not really one for believing in a whole lot, but it went the other way in Monaco so I’ll take this today,” Ricciardo said, showing plenty of class to dedicate his win to fallen colleague and friend Jules Bianchi.
Verstappen – who out-qualified Ricciardo for just the third time in their 12 races as teammates on Saturday – looked to have played a masterstroke when he pitted for hard tyres on lap nine after the virtual safety car caused by Grosjean’s off, but needed to clear his teammate on lap 39 to have any chance of adding to his Spanish success earlier in the season. After being widely criticised for his opening lap contact with Vettel in Belgium, the Dutchman – who turned 19 on the Friday of the Malaysian race weekend – was quick to turn the spotlight back on the German following the race after calling him “crazy” during it.
Random statistical snippet: not one of Ricciardo’s four F1 wins have come from the top three spots on the grid. Who needs qualifying?
Lewis Hamilton: qualified 1st, did not finish
Nico Rosberg: qualified 2nd, finished 3rd
If Ricciardo was stopping just short of claiming karma had something to do with his win, Hamilton didn’t mince words in the immediate aftermath of seeing victory ripped from his grasp when his engine erupted in flames with less than 20 laps left. “We have so many engines made for drivers, but mine are the only ones failing this year. Someone needs to give me some answers, because this is not acceptable. We are fighting for the championship and only my engines are failing. It does not sit right with me … Someone doesn’t want me to win this year, but I won’t give up.” Hamilton has undoubtedly endured the lions’ share of Mercedes’ reliability woes this season, and this retirement would have been particularly galling after he dominated qualifying on Saturday, adding that he “could have gone faster” after a jaw-dropping lap that was four-tenths quicker than Rosberg’s in the sister car. The German may well look back at Sepang as the race that wins him the world title, a thought that seemed very unlikely after Vettel spun him at the first turn and dropped him to last. A late-race penalty for a robust overtake of Raikkonen’s Ferrari for fourth at Turn 2 on lap 38 opened up a chance for a podium finish when Hamilton retired a lap later, as long as he could finish 10 seconds ahead of the Ferrari at the flag. Rosberg managed it with three seconds to spare, and with five races remaining, a precious 23-point series lead is his. The championship? It’s far from over, but it is his to lose.
Sebastian Vettel: qualified 5th, did not finish
Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 6th, finished 4th
A year after Vettel took his first win for Ferrari in just his second race in red at Sepang, the German’s Malaysian Grand Prix lasted all of one corner after he tried to pass Verstappen and instead clattered into Rosberg, spinning the championship leader around, breaking his own left front suspension, and setting the tone for a dramatic afternoon to follow. Vettel’s retirement was, incredibly, the third time this year he’s not made it past lap one of a race (Bahrain and Russia the others), and while he wasn’t thrilled with Verstappen blocking his way into the first corner, he stopped just short of admitting fault, saying there were “two idiots” that ended his race after a matter of seconds. Hours after the race, stewards gave Vettel a three-place grid penalty for next week’s race in Japan. Raikkonen’s race wasn’t particularly thrilling but had a momentary flash of action when Rosberg tried his ambitious pass late, but by finishing fourth, the Finn again became the lead Ferrari in the drivers’ championship, albeit both men in red a long, long way behind the pointy end, and seemingly destined for a winless season. Twelve months since their tropical joy in Malaysia, Sunday’s race only confirmed how far – and how fast – Ferrari have fallen in 2016.
Felipe Massa: qualified 10th, finished 13th
Valtteri Bottas: qualified 11th, finished 5th
With cars either side of Q3, Williams’ head of performance Rob Smedley said he felt Massa and Bottas should have been a row or so further up the grid on where they qualified. Massa’s race was a disaster before it began, the Brazilian reporting he had “no throttle” as the cars embarked on the warm-up lap, which necessitated a pit-lane start. An early pit stop for hard tyres and a marathon second stint to regain position was scuppered by a puncture, and 13th was no reward for a long, lonely and hot afternoon. Bottas’ attempt to play the long game worked out much better – the Finn started on medium tyres from outside the top 10 and made them last until lap 30, setting him up to finish best of the rest behind the top three teams. With Vettel’s early retirement and Hamilton’s late one, fifth was a solid reward, but the double-points finish by Force India saw the team lose ground for fourth in the constructors’ race.
Nico Hulkenberg: qualified 8th, finished 8th
Sergio Perez: qualified 7th, finished 6th
The chaos of the opening corner briefly propelled Perez into third, but normal service was resumed when the pit stops shook out, leaving the Mexican to tag-team with Hulkenberg to fight Bottas, the sister Williams of Massa well out of contention. Bottas attempted to hold on until the end on fading tyres from Perez and just managed it, finishing two seconds ahead, and Hulkenberg another 10 seconds adrift. Off-track, it appears Force India’s evenly-matched line-up will be back for 2017 after Perez was confirmed – sort of – to be staying where he is. “Very soon you will have an official announcement,” was as close as Perez got to ending a story that has bubbled beneath the surface for months.
Jolyon Palmer: qualified 19th, finished 10th
Kevin Magnussen: qualified 14th, did not finish
Palmer was depressed – his words – after a horrible qualifying on Saturday, but thrilled on Sunday after his long-awaited first F1 point finally materialised. The Briton was the only driver to start the race on hard tyres and made his way into the top 10 after two early virtual safety car periods, one for the first-lap mess, the other for Grosjean’s Haas being parked in the Turn 15 gravel trap. A 33-lap stint set him up for a top-10 finish, which he delivered on despite being hunted down by Sainz’s Toro Rosso late. Magnussen’s race was ruined when he ploughed into the back of Gutierrez’s Haas in the first-lap nonsense, and he eventually retired on lap 17 with substantial damage to the front-end of his Renault. It was a low-key end to a weekend that started more dramatically – and frighteningly – for the Dane, whose car caught fire in the pit lane early in Friday practice.
Daniil Kvyat: qualified 15th, finished 14th
Carlos Sainz: qualified 16th, finished 11th
You couldn’t accuse the Toro Rosso boys of not getting everything out of a car that was always going to struggle at such a power-dependent layout as Sepang – Kvyat out-qualified Sainz for the first time in eight races by just 0.005secs, but the pair were fighting for 15th and 16th and well out of Q3 range. “It’s just not our track,” Kvyat said, and after he tagged Magnussen in the incident that saw the Renault driver hit Gutierrez, it wasn’t his race either, the Russian battling fading brakes en route to a 14th-place finish. Sainz just missed the points after chasing Palmer to no avail late, meaning STR has scored points just once in the past five races.
Felipe Nasr: qualified 18th, did not finish
Marcus Ericsson: qualified 17th, finished 12th
Ericsson made plenty of headlines before he even turned a wheel at Sepang; the Swede came off second-best after hitting a chicken while out on his bike riding in Thailand between the Singapore and Malaysian races. Ericsson ran in the top 10 early after the multiple virtual safety car periods, and 12th equalled his best result of the year along with Bahrain and Barcelona. Nasr had a scrap with his teammate for a time – fortunately a cleaner one than Monaco – but didn’t see the end, the Brazilian limping into the pits to retire with 10 laps remaining. Points remain elusive for the Swiss team, which is still anchored to the bottom of the constructors’ standings.
Jenson Button: qualified 9th, finished 9th
Fernando Alonso: qualified 22nd, finished 7th
Alonso’s starts have long been a thing of beauty, and the Spaniard didn’t disappoint at Sepang, making light of a 45-place grid penalty for changing engine components that saw him at the very back to rip through every available gap in the lap one carnage, and force his way into the top 10 after only four laps. It was an opportunistic charge that set the scene for a points finish that wouldn’t have appeared possible before the start, and he eventually finished 16 seconds and two places ahead of teammate Button, who started 13 places further up the grid but didn’t have Alonso’s good fortune with the timing of the safety cars. The Briton celebrated his 300th Grand Prix start – becoming just the third driver to get to that milestone after Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello – in Malaysia, McLaren turning their hospitality suite into a games room complete with dart board and some JB-themed beverages, which most of the grid consumed with him after Friday practice. Honda has clearly made some headway this season – that’s points in five of the past six races for McLaren – and a strong showing at home at Suzuka next weekend is on the cards.
Pascal Wehrlein: qualified 21st, finished 15th
Esteban Ocon: qualified 20th, finished 16th
While the Red Bulls were battling at the front, the Manors were in close quarters at the other end of the field, dicing for a time before Wehrlein held sway, Ocon feeling the pain of two five-second time penalties for speeding in the pit lane. The French youngster was one of several drivers to profit in the hectic opening laps, running briefly inside the top 10 on his first Malaysian GP, but was once again the final driver classified. A day earlier, Ocon beat Wehrlein in qualifying for the first time in four races together after the German struggled with an electrical problem.
Romain Grosjean: qualified 12th, did not finish
Esteban Gutierrez: qualified 13th, did not finish
Not a race to remember for the American newcomers, who have now gone seven Grands Prix without scoring a single point. Grosjean’s summation of his lap seven visit to the gravel trap – “I braked and the brakes broke” – was succinct and on-point, while Gutierrez’s Haas shed its front left wheel on lap 39 after it was affixed incorrectly at his final pit stop.