Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, Sergio Perez and Stoffel Vandoorne were F1 Fanatic’s Star Performers of the Malaysian Grand Prix. Here’s why.
Verstappen put Red Bull on top in the wet first practice session but the track stayed dry from then one. Nonetheless he pipped Ricciardo to third on the grid, which effectively became second when Kimi Raikkonen was unable to get away.
Having shrugged off an attack from Valtteri Bottas, Verstappen went after the other Mercedes. He reckoned, correctly, that Lewis Hamilton wouldn’t force the issue if he tried a move and sure enough he succeeded at the first attempt.
From there on he built himself a handy lead and preserved it to the end, taking his first victory of 2017.
The Mercedes was not the force it usually is in Malaysia. Nonetheless Hamilton, having chosen not to use their aerodynamic upgrade and benefiting from Sebastian Vettel’s absence from Q3, snuck it into pole position by a few hundredths of a second, and well clear of his team mate.
Had either of the Ferraris started near him Hamilton would have been in more trouble at the start. However Ricciardo’s delay behind his team mate gave Hamilton some breathing room, and when Verstappen came at him Hamilton thought of the championship and didn’t fight him too hard.
An early first pit stop helped add to his margin over Ricciardo, and after the Red Bull driver became embroiled in a fight with Vettel, Hamilton had enough time in hand to collect a valuable second place.
Only after the race did Perez reveal just how unwell he’d been during the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend. He’d been on an intravenous drip due to a stomach infection on Saturday night.
Nonetheless having qualified ninth he made a cracking start which got him ahead of his team mate and Nico Hulkenberg. After that he passed Stoffel Vandoorne and ground out a gritty and hard-earned sixth place.
Despite losing that place to Perez, Vandoorne deserves credit for what was his most convincing F1 race weekend to date. He was a tenth of a second quicker than Fernando Alonso in qualifying, which meant he started three places ahead.
The key moment of his race came when he left the pits on lap 14. The two Williams drivers, who had pitted before him, came out ahead. However they were too busy swapping positions to prevent Vandoorne nipping down the inside. Job done, he was on his way to a fine seventh.
Palmer actually finished just in front of his team mate. However this was only because Nico Hulkenberg’s strategy had gone so badly wrong he had to make a second pit stop with a few laps to go. For Palmer, two unforced spins spoiled his afternoon and left him well outside the points.
While Hamilton made the best of a tough weekend for Mercedes, Bottas was well off his team mate’s pace in the race and qualifying. He was 43 seconds behind when the chequered flag fell.
Similarly Ericsson couldn’t live with Pascal Wehrlein’s pace in Malaysia and finished a distance 18th.
And the rest
Is it too harsh to overlooked Vettel given he made up 16 places? Most of those places were gained at the expense of much slower cars. The quicker midfield cars all pitted before he caught up to them with the exception of Perez, who didn’t really put up a fight. That was the last car he passed on-track as he easily jumped Bottas in the pits and couldn’t find a way past Ricciardo. Both he and Stroll could have done more to avoid their needless post-race tangle, though it seems Vettel is the one who will pay a price for it.
Raikkonen missed a chance at pole but it didn’t matter as he wasn’t even able to start. Ricciardo paid the price for getting stuck behind Bottas early on, but still managed to score his eight podium finish.
Felipe Massa left the Force Indias too little room at the start and suffered floor damage which slowed him down. He let Stroll by when his team told him to. Esteban Ocon was doubly unlucky: as well as picking up a puncture when he was hit by Massa, Carlos Sainz Jnr tipped him into a spin later in the race.
Fernando Alonso’s attempt to run a long first stint backfired and left him outside the points. He was followed home by Kevin Magnussen, who Alonso put some manners on along the way, and the other Haas of Romain Grosjean, who fell to the back when he went off on lap one.
Grosjean passed Gasly neat the end of the race. The Toro Rosso newcomer had a solid first weekend despite not being able to drink during the race. Pascal Wehrlein again left the weekend with nothing to show for his efforts, unless Vettel left him a tip for his taxi ride back to the paddock.
Over to you
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