2016 Malaysian Grand Prix: Race Report
Daniel Ricciardo won an incident filled Malaysian Grand Prix at the Sepang International Circuit in Kuala Lumpur. The Australian bagged the fourth win of his career and maiden win of the season. He was followed by his Red Bull Racing team-mate Max Verstappen in second place and Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg in third.
Ricciardos podium celebrations had to include the famous shoey tradition - drinking champagne from his sweaty race shoe. However, the popular Australian V8 championship tradition this time included the two drivers on podium and team principal Christian Horner. Rosberg, when asked about it said I hope he does not win anymore races this year.
The Red Bull 1-2 finish came after some healthy duelling by Ricciardo and Verstappen in which the former prevailed over the latter in the closing laps of the race and won it by 3.12 seconds. The 19-year-old Dutch, despite his pace, could not pressurise the Australian further as his tyres were on the edge and had to settle for a second.
A dramatic start to the race saw a three-car collision between four time World Champion Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen and Nico Rosberg. Vettel made a good start and tried to lunge on the inside line of Rosberg and Verstappen, as a result of which he was cornered. There was enough room to make that move, but with all the three cars approaching the first corner simultaneously, making contact was inevitable.
Verstappen emerged unscathed from the incident, but Rosberg spun around and dropped down to P22 instantly. Vettel however, broke his front suspension and retired into the gravel. The incident was under investigation post the race and the stewards have handed the Ferrari driver a three grid position penalty for the next race and a reprimand of two penalty points from his drivers standings total. The incident lead to the first safety car period of the race.
Describing the incident Rosberg replied in jest I got T-boned by a four time World Champion, out of control. However, Verstappen blamed Vettel entirely for the incident and vented his dismay on the pit-radio and in the post-race press conference. The Dutchman who turned 19 this weekend got his chance to sharpen his knife against the Ferrari driver, in return for the aftermath and shouting match from the Belgian GP weekend where he was criticised for aggressive driving.
For Rosberg who continued into the race it wasnt smooth sailing ahead, he too made contact while overtaking Kimi Raikkonen at Turn 2 on lap 38, with a risky and unnecessary move. The German was handed a 10-second penalty, but the Finn suffered severe floor damage due to the contact.
Raikkonen limped his car back in fourth position despite the advantage of Rosbergs penalty. Towards the closing laps of the race, he was well within the ten second time gap to bag a podium, but Rosberg boosted his car into qualifying mode and opened the gap to secure his third. A damaged floor added with brake temprature and battery harvesting problems compromised the Finns ability to bring the lone Ferrari back in third.
For pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton, it was a gutting day when the engine of his car burst into flames and extinguished his chances of winning the race where he had a 21 second lead over the rest, causing a retirement. This retirement is the Britons second after the Spanish Grand Prix earlier this year. Despite stockpiling engines and units in Belgium, his Mercedes internal combustion engine unit had an unexpected failure on lap 38, without any warning ahead.
Mercedes boss, Toto Wolff described the engine failure as a freak incident. However a gutted Hamilton said, Something just doesn't feel right, it was a brand new engine I'd done just one race with it. He expressed his disappointment saying I just can't believe that there's eight Mercedes cars, and only my engines are the ones that have been going this year. Something just doesn't feel right, but there's nothing I can do about it.
The three time World Champion would have jumped back into lead by a point in the title run had his fortunes played out differently. Engine blowups and misfortunes like this have been a minor play for him this season, but engine blowups in particular are more reminiscent of his years in McLaren.
Finishing fifth on the grid behind Raikkonen was junior Finn Valtteri Bottas, closely followed by Force Indias Sergio Perez in sixth. Perezs team-mate Nico Hulkenberg finished eighth, completing the double points finish for their team, and kept the Williams at bay from grabbing fourth place in the Constructors title.
For double world champion, Fernando Alonso who started last on grid due to multiple grid place penalties for an upgraded unit, the day unfolded differently after the first corner incident, safety car and virtual safety car periods assisted him in battling his way up. The Spaniard ranked as the most complete driver on the grid, drove a stellar race and overtook several cars to finish seventh.
On the other hand, his team-mate Jenson Button who made the 300th GP start of his career was running as high up as sixth place through the initial half of the race when a poor pitstop made him lose multiple positions, and he had to fight back up to a ninth.
Jenson becomes the third driver to have the maximum number of race starts after Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello. The 2009 world champion was followed by another Brit, Jolyon Palmer who collected his maiden points of the season, by finishing tenth.
Apart from the two World Champions Vettel and Hamilton, the other retirees of the race were Romain Grosjean, Esteban Gutierrez, Kevin Magnussen and Felipe Nasr.
The current race result has helped Rosberg extend his drivers title lead over Hamilton by 23 points. The German now has a total of 288 points, followed by the Briton with a total of 265 points. Richard trails in third with a total of 204 points followed by Kimi Raikkonen in fourth place with a total of 160 points.
In the Constructors title Mercedes had come prepared to wrap up the championship here in Malaysia however one retirement might push that celebration moment to the next race. Their current total is 553 points followed by Red Bull Racing team in second place with a total of 265 points. Ferraris misfortunes this season make them trail in third with a total of 204 points. The next race is scheduled for the weekend spanning from October 7-9, 2016 at the Suzuka Circuit in Japan.