Daniel Ricciardo — the best driver of 2016 (okay, debatable) — finally won a race in the Formula 1 season. This is after coming agonisingly close to winning in Monaco and maybe in Spain as well. The Australian is only the fourth driver to win a race this season. The fact that only three drivers have managed to win this season, in the current hybrid era, is a statistic that actually highlights Mercedes' dominance.
After five podium appearances in the last six races, three of them second place finishes, Ricciardo benefitted from a bundled first corner between team-mate Verstappen, Vettel and Rosberg to find himself chasing Hamilton for victory from the opening lap itself. While Hamilton's late-race engine blow-up did offer Ricciardo maximum benefit in terms of a much-deserved victory, he did fight Verstappen hard and fair to maintain crucial track position despite being on old tyres.
Red Bull Racing, who scored their first 1-2 finish of the hybrid turbo era (also their first since the 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix), added 43 points to their Constructors' Championship bid, further strengthening themselves against Ferrari in the fight for second place.
As for Mercedes, it was widely believed they would cement their third consecutive Constructors' Championship in Malaysia, with key sponsors Petronas in attendence. However, Nico Rosberg's first corner incident and Lewis Hamilton's retirement meant the team would now have to wait till Suzuka to make this happen. Or would it take them longer?
Lewis Hamilton dominated all talk
In all fairness, Lewis Hamilton should have won the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix; it would've have been his first victory since the August shutdown. He was dominant throughout the weekend, and like Monza, managed to beat Rosberg to pole by quite a distance. In fact, his pole position made him only the second driver after Michael Schumacher to have 100 front row starts.
After blowing his pole advantage by not managing a clean start in the last few races, Hamilton also managed a good getaway in Sepang and built himself a comfortable advantage over the trailing Red Bulls till his luck ran out on lap 41.
Hamilton's season has been riddled by mechanical failures; so much that the reigning world champion hinted that "someone or something" in the Mercedes garage doesn't want him to be champion this season.
While we empathise with his frustration, a three-time World Champion questioning and belittling his own team and doing so publicly isn't something to support. This is after they've delivered two nearly unbeatable seasons (and cars) for Hamilton. Whatever happened to the "we win as a team, lose as a team" philosophy!
Social media was abuzz with conspiracy theories after Hamilton fueled them in his post-race interview, prompting the Mercedes top management into damage control and finally cancelling Hamilton's post-race written media briefing session.
This was also the second time that Mercedes couldn't equal the record of consecutive wins in Formula 1. The previous attempt was thwarted in Spain after both Mercedes drivers took out each other, and due to an engine issue now in Malaysia. Had they won in Spain Mercedes would've held the record of 21 consecutive victories.
Nico Rosberg: Luckiest man in Sepang
Championship leader Nico Rosberg was the luckiest man in Sepang this weekend. After failing to match Hamilton's pace in qualifying, he was lucky to survive the first corner mess caused by Vettel — one that saw him spin around 180 degrees and allow Hamilton to run away into a lead. Rosberg's luck counted in more than a few places in the race: No car damage after a hard nudge by Vettel, not being hit by an oncoming driver after the Vettel-induced spin, two much-needed virtual safety car periods that bunched up the field for him to attack, and finally, Hamilton's engine failure.
After seeing his Championship lead of eight points being almost wiped out at the first corner, Rosberg left Sepang with a third place and 15 points, a lead of 23 points over Hamilton.
Ferrari yet to win in 2016
Kimi Raikkonen finished fourth in a race where Ferrari should have ideally been picking up the pieces left by Mercedes and Hamilton. This is one of those rare seasons that Ferrari has gone this long without a win. The only excitement was Raikkonen's defense against Rosberg, one where Rosberg finally got through but was awarded a questionable 10-second time penalty for making contact.
Sometimes you wonder if the ever-inconsistent FIA don't want to encourage any on-track action at all! Has Ferrari's lack of performance got to Sebastian Vettel? The four-time world champion has been inconsistent and was beaten to fourth place by teammate Kimi Raikkonen. Moreover, if Ferrari is unable to turn their fortunes around in 2017, will Sebastian Vettel go the Fernando Alonso way?
Mclaren scored their season's second double points finish after Alonso managed to finish whopping 15 places ahead of his starting position in P22 and Jenson Button, who started his landmark 300th Grand Prix, finished ninth. While the Mclaren-Honda is nowhere near the sharp end of the field, they do seem to mixing things up consistently with Williams and Force India. Will 2017 see Mclaren exit from this mid-field bunch and fight at the front?
Finally, Force India managed to stay ahead of Williams in fourth place by three points. Bottas' brilliant but sole fifth place finish couldn't do enough to counter another double points finish for Force India. Perez at sixth and Hulkenberg at eighth have ensured that.
Post race, the question doing the rounds was can and if Lewis Hamilton still win the Drivers' Championship. While there's no question about his talent or ability, will he be lucky enough to clinch his fourth World Championship? There are five races and 125 points to play for — and we hope it won't be a clutch or an engine deciding this year's World Champion.
First Published On : Oct 2, 2016 20:03 IST