Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, 2017

Can Vettel halt Hamilton’s momentum? Five Malaysian GP talking points

2017 Malaysian Grand Prix

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Sebastian Vettel heads to the Malaysian Grand Prix needing to reverse Lewis Hamilton’s progress since the summer break.

Are we set for another surprise? Here’s five talking points for this weekend’s race.

Hamilton has the momentum

Since the summer break Lewis Hamilton has claimed a maximum 75 points, out-scoring his top championship rival Sebastian Vettel by 42. Whatever happens this weekend, Hamilton will go to Suzuka still in the lead of the championship.

Although the Sepang circuit is expected to suit Mercedes, high track temperatures have tended to tip the balance in Ferrari’s favour this year. If Vettel can get in among them he might get the chance to make a race of it on Sunday. In 2015 sharp Ferrari strategy helped them snatch a win off Mercedes here.

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New arrival

Pierre Gasly, Toro Rosso, Circuit de Catalunya, 2016
Gasly has previous experience of Sepang
In the 31 races since Daniil Kvyat returned to Toro Rosso his team mate has scored almost 12 times as many points as he has. Instead of asking why has he been dropped now, a better question would be why wasn’t he dropped much sooner.

Regardless, the move is good news for Pierre Gasly, who will make his F1 debut this weekend. While most Toro Rosso newcomers get some F1 practice experience under their belts before arriving, Gasly has not, though he has tested the current Red Bull.

Fortunately Gasly has prior experience of Sepang having raced there in GP2 last year. The same is true of Sean Gelael, who will drive for the team again in first practice as he did in Singapore.

When will Verstappen’s luck change?

Astonishingly, Singapore was Verstappen’s seventh retirement this year, meaning he has failed to take the chequered flag in half the races he has started. A change of luck is seriously overdue.

Verstappen’s predicament has invited wild and similarly wrong interpretations. Such as the predictable insinuations about the quality of equipment he and Daniel Ricciardo receive from Red Bull. You know, the kind of innuendo you never hear about drivers at back-of-the-grid teams whose supporters are far less fervent.

While four of his seven ‘DNFs’ have come about due to car problems, the other three are accounted for by first-lap collisions, in all of which he was clearly blameless. Of course that hasn’t stopped anyone for suggesting he might somehow be responsible for them owing to his youth.

F1’s youngest ever race winner will make his last appearance as a teenager on Friday, the day before his 20th before. Those who enjoy blaming him for every incident he gets involved in on account of his age will have to come up with a new excuse.


Felipe Massa, Williams, Sepang International Circuit, 2016
F1 is saying goodbye to Malaysia
During the 2015 Malaysian Grand Prix weekend promoter used an article in the official race programme to call attention to their concerns over the state of racing in F1 and the popularity of their grand prix. Two years later they pulled out of their contract one year early. The race is not on the 2018 F1 calendar.

This year’s race is being promoted with the tagline ‘finale’. While F1’s support series have not travelled to Malaysia this year there will be a whopping six races for the Formula Four South East Asia championship. Could that one day provide a star local driver which might revive interest in F1, and bring the race back?

The fight for fifth

While the top four places in the constructors’ championship look increasingly settled, the scrap for fifth is very close

Renault, who lay in eighth place after the summer break, have targeted beating fifth-placed Williams. They took a step towards that in Singapore despite Nico Hulkenberg failing to finish.

The next team ahead of them is Toro Rosso, whose hopes of keeping Renault behind may rest on how well Gasly performs. Williams, meanwhile, have had their rookie Lance Stroll testing at Sepang and Suzuka in anticipation of the upcoming races.

Are you going to the Malaysian Grand Prix?

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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49 comments on “Can Vettel halt Hamilton’s momentum? Five Malaysian GP talking points”

  1. While four of his seven ‘DNFs’ have come about due to car problems, the other three are accounted for by first-lap collisions, in all of which he was clearly blameless. Of course that hasn’t stopped anyone for suggesting he might somehow be responsible for them owing to his youth.

    F1’s youngest ever race winner will make his last appearance as a teenager on Friday, the day before his 20th before. Those who enjoy blaming him for every incident he gets involved in on account of his age will have to come up with a new excuse


    The commenters spewing vitriol at Verstappen generally strike me as casual F1 observers who don’t actually understand the sport.

    1. Daniel Ricciardo must be a casual observer then…

      1. Except Ricciardo said nothing of the sort. Unless you mean his foreplay speech, but I’ll assume you don’t since it was so obviously a joke.

        1. Danile called Max an ‘amateur’ and ‘sore loser’ after the Hungarian gp.
          Max then said sorry (admitting his fault and mistake) and from then on they became best mates again.
          What I am questioning here is that labelling anyone criticising Max as ‘casual observer’ doesn’t make sense as Daniel did it as well.
          Unless you judge Daniel as a ‘casual observer’.

          1. Fresillo, you sir are a case in point. Taking a sound bite and twisting it to suit a ridiculous agenda.

            Unless you can prove that Danny Ric is moonlighting on F1 forums posting tripe about his teammate I suggest you try rereading my original comment.

      2. Actually in recent interviews Ricciardo seems to be one of the biggest admirers of Verstappen(‘s skills).
        – ‘tougher teammate than Seb’
        – ‘VER/he at least as good as HAM/VET this year’
        – ‘VER apologised like a man after Hungary incident’

      3. That wasn’t a VER DNF, it was a VER DNFC

    2. “Max is breaking his car by overdriving it.”
      This one always has me in hysterics.

      1. You obviously haven’t watched Days of Thunder.


      2. If Max had only stayed in his hotel room he wouldn’t have been there for Seb to crash into. So it was clearly Max’s fault.

        1. Seb didn’t crash into him. He didn’t come within a meter in fact. Max crashed into Kimi who crashed into Seb.
          Seb probably would have crashed into Max if Max hadn’t crashed into Kimi first, but that’s not how it played out.

      3. @telvee32 – I think those are the same folk that get their technical knowledge from the Fast and the Furious.. 😂

        He put so much torque down at one time he almost twisted the chassis

        1. @offdutyrockstar

          You mean Hamilton hasn’t literally found another gear?

          1. I mean, surely he went up to 9th to keep Vettel behind at Spa on the restart?

          2. Only when he gives a 110%

          3. He definitely lives his life a quarter mile at a time

        2. I like counting the number of shifts a car in those films makes in a 1/4 mile race. It’s like they have a 20-gear transmission. And the race seems to take as long as if they were driving Chevy Chevettes.

          1. Topless Robot Nun
            27th September 2017, 19:01

            All that’s needed to complete the picture is B.A. Baracus driving in a perfectly straight line while sawing wildly at the wheel.

  2. While I don’t think Verstappen’s to blame for the incidents I think a more experienced driver might have avoided some of the situations. But that comes with experience. His speed is natural, his racecraft must be earned. I’m eagerly awaiting a good result from him.

    1. While I don’t think Verstappen’s to blame for the incidents I think a more experienced driver might have avoided some of the situations.

      I agree with this to some extent, for example the crash at Catalunya from memory wasn’t his fault but I think he could have avoided getting involved in it by having more caution. The recent crash in Singapore was technically his fault because he made the first collision with Räikkönen’s car but I am not sure that he could avoid it because Vettel was on his other side, so that one was probably just bad luck.

      1. I don’t think Singapore was his fault, but he might have avoided it. This is speculative of course. I think he still doesnt choose his fights properly.

        1. Wasn’t his fault, sandwiched on both sides? Any driver in his situation would’ve ended up the same way. Completely unreasonable for him to just sit there and not attempt to get ahead same with the other drivers on the grid. Racing incident was the right call.

        2. Really? How? By making a worse start than he did? He was in between the 2 ferrari drivers with no where to go. I can accept that a more experienced driver could have avoided some of the racing incidents he has been invoived in. This will come with experience. The same silly mistakes were made by hamilton in his early years at mclaren. He has speed to burn, and time and experience is the best teacher he can have. My concern, though, is does he and his advisers have the patience to see it through.

      2. Singapore was technically his fault because he made the first collision with Räikkönen’s car

        Or was it Raikkonen’s rear right wheel hitting Verstappen’s front left first? It certainly came form behind!
        Who collided with whom? Where does the circle start? How long is a piece of string? Why does a round pizza come in a square box? Why do we drive on the parkway and park on the driveway? And, where does space end?

      3. I disagree with the notion that Verstappen was even partially to blame for Vettel’s poor start and Raikkonen’s extraordinary acceleration. How is it Verstappen’s fault if Vettel’s car doesn’t accelerate like Raikkonen’s? Vettel decided moving in front of the 6th on the Championship table was more important than making a bee line for the nearest corner, he decided if his radiators hit the front wheels of Verstappen’s car then they wouldn’t get damaged, or if they were the loss of engine coolant wasn’t going to compromise his race.

      4. Robert, with regards to Catalunya, whilst you say that a more experienced driver could perhaps have avoided that accident, could you not also make an argument that Bottas could equally have avoided that incident (after all, whilst describing it as a racing incident, Bottas himself said that he exacerbated the situation by making a mistake under braking at the time)?

      5. Max is learning that while you’re a good chance of gaining positions if you keep your foot down going into the first corner, you are also a good chance of losing it all at the same time.

        He said he tried to get out of the Ferrari sandwich in Singapore by braking and letting them go past. The braking would have led to a bigger speed differential and a bigger impact with Kimi, possibly causing a bigger accident then if he’d maintained more speed, but Max did at least try to get out of there. This is in contrast to several other starts this year where his aggressive style has, or nearly has, caused him grief.

        Some examples: It was very likely to end poorly in Spain for a car on the outside of 2 others going round a corner. Also, Max was very lucky in Canada not to get a puncture from the contact with Seb. And in Hungary, his overly-optimistic move at the first corner cost him a place to his teammate (which then led to you-know-what).

        Max is very fast and very, very good at racing, and with the current impossible-to-follow-closely-let-alone-overtake F1 cars you can understand why he often puts his car into high-risk situations on the first lap. While some see him as blameless in all these incidents, they are adding to a reputation. One Aussie I work with asks me every Monday after a race ‘What did the “first lap nut-case” get up to this time?’, which is a bit extreme but does bring a smile. Max will lose something if he stops going for all these marginal overtakes, but he will finish more often, and that is something he needs.

  3. Only Hamilton can halt Hamilton momentum now.

    Points as they are, Vettel needs to win a lot of races now… If he wins ALL races, then Lewis only looses out marginally by being second.

    Lewis can have a DNF, and they are back at it, but it is very hard to imagine Vettel winning all races, especially as Mercedes seems marginally a better car and Lewis really on form.

    Let’s say Vettel can beat Lewis almost every race,.. and that is very optimistic. Then that is not enough.

    1. I hope to be wrong on this, but I am afraid the Championship is on an inclined plane, it will take a big effort from Ferrari to stop Hamilton from winning the WDC.

      1. Agreed. The best they can do is go aggressive for these next few races, hoping for an error or reliability to be an issue.
        Also, Ferrari are still to introduce a new power unit aren’t they?

    2. @jureo

      The only hope for Vettel is a Hamilton DNF. I wouldn’t want to say the championship is over, because I did jinx it when Lewis was leading the race in Malaysia last year. Anything can happen, but it’s fairly certain that Lewis will not be outscored by 29 points over the next 6 races without luck having a say in it.

      Honestly, it’s such a shame that Ferrari have Raikonnen in that #2 seat. If they had a driver of Bottas’ calibre, he could help Vettel take points off Hamilton and that would have kept Vettel in the title hunt. It’s been 2 Mercedes drivers vs 1 Ferrari driver this season. While having undisputed #1 status in a team does have it’s advantages (as we saw in Monaco and Hungary), it also backfires when your teammate can’t finish in front of your nearest rival. I think Kimi has finished in front of Lewis only 3 times this season (Russia, Monaco, Hungary). Effectively, Kimi has taken 8 points off Lewis this season.

      Bottas on the other hand has finished in front Vettel 5 times this season, including the win he stole from him in Russia. Bottas has beaten Vettel at – Russia, Azerbaijan, Canada, Britain, Italy… and in the bargain has taken 18 points off Vettel this season.

      Although it seems like a small improvement of only 10 points, it would be a massive game changer if Vettel was only 18 points behind Lewis as compared to 28 with 6 races to go. I also think that Bottas can be used more effectively in the last 6 races to hamper Vettel’s title chances. Kimi on the other hand, will probably qualify in P5 and finish the race in P4 for the remainder of the season.

      Vettel has no one but himself to blame for the lack of support from his #2 driver. He was being a coward by not wanting anyone formidable in that 2nd seat, and now he’s paying the price by battling 2 very formidable Mercedes drivers by himself.

      1. Very solid analysis @todfod! Of course if we speculate that Bottas in a Ferrari would have taken 18 points from Hamilton then the difference would only be 8 points, perhaps even a positive swing for Vettel if KR and VB had been in each others cars. But this is all fantasy; the reality, which we have both felt the pain of first hand, is that Ferrari’s obsequious second driver policy doesn’t fit the current points system.

        If we look at the old 10-6-4-3-2-1 system used when having a number one driver was a recognised agenda with Prost, Mansell, Schumacher and Senna all benefitting from being the clear number 1 then we can a mathematical advantage. Firstly, we must assume that the championship will be contended by 2 top teams with other marginally behind. If Team 1’s drivers come first and fourth at worst given they run a number 1 driver policy they score 13 points. Team 2 with collect 10 for second and third. That’s a percentage gain for Team 1 of 30%. Under the current rules, Team 1 score 37 points and Team 2 33 and a percentage gain of 12%. If Team 1 finish first and third currently they score 40 points compared to 30 for second and fourth for the same 30% gain. In other words you need your second driver to beat the other teams second driver for the same percentage gain as coming first and fourth in old points. So for every time Bottas finishes ahead of Raikkonen Ferrari’s plan fails unless Vettel wins. KR has only finished ahead of VB 3 times from the 10 races Vettel hasn’t won.

        Ultimately, Ferrari’s problem is that Raikkonen is underperforming to such an extent that even in old money their plan wouldn’t work. But they are operating by flawed logic by managing their drivers based on history rather than logic.

        1. Completely agree. It just goes to show more reason on why teams should consider a strong #2 driver if they want to fight for a championship.

      2. +1.
        four-way races for the lead are so much better; i’d guess viewers score those races higher, I know I do; had expected new owners to push x that.

  4. Mercedes will win every race for the balance of the season. You heard it here first.

    1. Well certainly if that is about to be the case then one cannot argue SV ‘risked too much’ at the last race. He had nothing to lose by trying to keep Max behind him at the start. Even a SV win will not have mattered considering LH was always going to score at least some points even starting from 5th on the grid. And VB will not be one of the Mercedes taking any of the remaining wins.

    2. You heard it here first.

      Actually, I’ve heard it before from some other not-too-smart guy who thought he knew it all ;)

  5. Let’s assume for a moment that the two protagonists finish 1-2 until the end of the year; Vettel would need to win 5 out of 6 races to win the Championship by virtue of most wins. Based on the rest of the year and the balance heading more and more towards Mercedes, I’d rate this as very unlikely.

    I’d say that Vettel needs one of four things to happen, in order of preference to him:
    1) A retirement for Hamilton.
    2) Mercedes to continue their equal status approach to their drivers and Bottas returns to Hamilton’s level.
    3) Raikkonen increases his performance to consistently be the rear gunner he was in Hungary… this requires the Ferrari’s to be ahead of Mercedes.
    4) Red Bull to somehow become consistently more competitive, introducing more chaos at the front.

    I think Mercedes will now back Hamilton as Bottas is increasingly off Hamilton’s pace. I also can’t see Red Bull upping performance any more this year, so that’s two of Vettel’s options off the table. The Mercedes is surely the choice car for the majority of the remaining 6 races, making Raikkonen finishing behind Vettel totally irrelevant and useless.

    In my opinion, this leaves Vettel absolutely needing at least one Hamilton retirement in the next six races to stand a chance; something which hasn’t happened all season.

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Vettel and Raikkonen using any moment they are alongside Hamilton to be as ruthless as possible in the hope of forcing an error.

    1. 3) Raikkonen increases his performance to consistently be the rear gunner he was in Hungary… this requires the Ferrari’s to be ahead of Mercedes.

      And even then VET would need to win 5/6 races to guarantee his WDC ;)

  6. Its time for Lewis to seize the moment and WIN the final Malaysia race. This title battle is far from over and we’ve see all year Hamilton have to battle hard.

  7. Has Hamilton ever had a season without a retirement? Just curious, Malaysia last season was heartbreaking for him and heavily influenced the championship outcome, just as Vettel’s from Singapore has this season.

    I hope we do have a title fight that goes down to the wire, with all the team politics and team mate supportive drives that includes. I’d also like to see Lewis win his 4th WDC.

    1. JC, no, up until now Hamilton has had at least one retirement during each season he has raced in.

      By comparison, Vettel has also had at least one retirement during every single season he’s raced in, as has Bottas, whilst Kimi has only managed to finish every race in a season once (in 2012). The only driver whom I aware of in recent years who managed to finish every single race in a year where he went on to become champion would be Michael Schumacher in 2002.

  8. You spelled “Finale” wrong. You included a 1 instead of an I.

    1. I agree, as a fellow fifanatic I expect better.

      1. Are you both for real?

  9. Bit on Verstappen is bang on

  10. I have been following the Lance Stroll private testing stories and the more I think, the more questions come up:
    Williams surely have an F1 simulator. Is it not good enough for training/learning the track?
    Why would a driver, running the entire season, participating in free practice sessions need private tests to learn a track? What does it tell about the quality of the driver? A driver contracted for the entire season shouldn’t be allowed private tests. I mean Vandoorne is in his rookie season, but he does not need private tests.
    Why is FIA allowing these private tests? Is there a rule preventing Williams to test new aero parts on an old car and that too in tracks which are active and upcoming in the F1 calendar? There is an unfair advantage for the driver and for the team. Any Richie Rich watching this will now want to coerce their daddy/sponsors and make way onto the grid.
    And although unrelated, Martini should stick with the rules they make.

    1. The 2014 car they are using for the Stroll tests is exempt from FIA testing restrictions, and Williams will have had to submit a fixed version of that chassis which cannot be developed or used to evaluate new aero parts (not that a 2014 car would be compatible with anything on this years one anyway)

      But I agree, it’s not ideal that it’s one rule for the elite and another for the rest. Perhaps the Strolls bought the 2014 car from them outright.

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