The 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix will rank as one of the best races of the season, dominated by plenty of wheel-to-wheel action, bold strategy calls and an added dash of controversy for good measure.
After Sebastian Vettel torpedoed Nico Rosberg at the first corner, Lewis Hamilton was cruising and looked set to return to the lead of the Drivers’ Championship standings with an easy victory.
Max Verstappen – on a contrasting strategy – looked like being his closest threat, but it all went wrong when Hamilton’s engine blew with 15 laps to go. It was a classic example of how someone could go from hero to zero in just a matter of seconds, as a number of drivers proved on Sunday at Sepang.
Who were the winners and losers of the Malaysian Grand Prix?
Red Bull Racing was there to pick up the pieces of Hamilton’s engine failure and claimed a popular victory for Daniel Ricciardo – incredibly it’s the first non-Mercedes 1-2 finish in the V6 Hybrid era.
After being denied victory in in Spain, Monaco and Singapore, Ricciardo broke through with a stunning performance when it counted. The Australian held off teammate Max Verstappen in a mega side-by-side battle through Turns 5 and 6, with Ricciardo holding his nerve in a breathtaking display of resolute defence.
Granted, Verstappen really had Ricciardo’s measure all weekend, except in the final stanza of the race. Quicker than Ricciardo in qualifying and on the long runs in practice, the Dutch teenager looked most likely to threaten Hamilton when he was put on an alternate pit strategy early on. The problem was that he was stuck behind Ricciardo when it counted, and couldn’t make a passing move stick.
Left as Ferrari’s sole runner after teammate Sebastian Vettel’s antics at Turn 1, Kimi Räikkönen fought doggedly and was unluckily denied a podium finish. The Finn was nursing battery issues and was also turfed out of third place by Rosberg at Turn 1, but ultimately didn’t have the pace to take advantage of the Mercedes driver’s 10-second time penalty. Fourth place gave the Italian team some points, but their odds of overhauling Red Bull Racing for second place in the championship standings look slim.
Both Force India Mercedes’ proved strong all weekend, with Sergio Pérez and Nico Hülkenberg grabbing more valuable points in the team’s fight with Williams.
Fernando Alonso started at the back of the field with a total of 45 grid places as a penalty for changing a number of Honda power unit elements. With plenty of fresh tyre sets at his disposal, the Spanish veteran raced hard all day and hauled himself up to seventh place by the chequered flag.
With teammate Jenson Button finishing in ninth place to give the team its second double points’ finish of the season, McLaren will be feeling upbeat heading into Honda’s home race at Suzuka – don’t forget Alonso likened Honda’s V6 to a “GP2 engine” just a year before…
Finally, credit to Renault’s Jolyon Palmer, who claimed his first points’ finish by crossing the line in tenth place. The Brit was delayed by the opening-lap fracas, but nursed his tyres on a one-stop strategy to gain vital track position. While his car certainly doesn’t have great pace, Palmer’s result is deserving after a number of disappointing weekends for the rookie.
Lewis Hamilton’s hopes of defending his Drivers’ Championship title took a major dent when his brand new Mercedes power unit blew with 15 laps to go while he was in the lead. At that point it looked like the Englishman was set to return to the top of the standings, but now he has a 23-point deficit to Rosberg with five races to go.
At the home race of title sponsor Petronas, Mercedes had hoped to deliver another crushing 1-2 finish. Hamilton’s DNF compounded the misery, but there was earlier drama when Rosberg was turfed into a spin by Sebastian Vettel at the first corner. The German dropped to last and delivered an exciting rearguard drive to climb into third place – albeit incurring a 10-second time penalty with a risky move on Räikkönen at Turn 2.
Vettel was the race’s chief villain just seconds after the lights went out with his clumsy lunge into Turn 1 that took our Rosberg and caused a number of midfield tangles as the pack bottled up. The German was out on the spot with broken left-front suspension, and left to face a grilling from the media after triggering the very sort of accident he had previously criticised other drivers for causing.
The Williams team needed a solid haul of points to put it back in front of Force India in their tight Constructors’ Championship fight, but the team’s cause was not helped by drama for Felipe Massa. After outqualifying teammate Valtteri Bottas, Massa’s car refused to launch off the grid on the warm-up lap. Consigned to starting the race from the lit lane, the Brazilian picked up a puncture early on and finished a lapped thirteenth in his final visit to Malaysia.
Esteban Gutiérrez had one of the more bizarre retirements of the race when his Haas’ left front wheel suddenly and spectacularly parted company with his car. The Mexican was forced to retire, while the team copped a €5,000 fine from the FIA Stewards. It was a terrible weekend for the team, with Romain Grosjean crashing out early on when his brakes failed.
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