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Rate the Race and Driver of the Weekend – Sepang Circuit, Malaysia
Mean Reader score: 7.82
This race did not score as highly as 2015 (8.25) but was way higher than 2014 (5.36). In 2015, Vettel brought home Ferrari’s first win of the season and it really did look as if Ferrari might have taken the challenge to Mercedes (which indeed they did, to a certain extent, certainly for the most part of the season.) The 2014 race, however, seemed a very dull processional race which was reflected by the poor rating by our esteemed readers. What would 2016 have in store?
After a tumultuous start this GP developed into a race of two halves. There was drama on the formation lap as Massa was pushed to one side because his throttle wasn’t working and he had to start from the pit lane. Once the remaining drivers were in position, it looked as if there had been some kind of electrical failure as the start lights didn’t come on for ages. When the race eventually started there was a collision onto T1 as Rosberg and Vettel came together. Vetel definitely came off worse, retiring from the race and picking up a three place grid penalty for Japan and two penalty points on his license to boot.
Could Vettel’s season get any worse? Oh yes: the sound of Verstappen’s dulcet tones declaring ‘Vettel is crazy’ probably rubbed rather more salt than was necessary into the gaping wound that has been Vettel’s less than perfect season so far. Rosberg didn’t come off too well either as he was sent into a spin and the only reason he wasn’t in last place was because Massa hadn’t actually left the pit lane yet, so technically Rosberg was in was in P21. Oh dear, a penny for the thoughts of Rosberg: was he waving goodbye to his lead in the Driver Standings or could there possibly have been any other thought foremost in his mind at this stage? Verstappen was also in the Rosberg/Vettel mix, having to take evasive action in order to avoid flying debris.
The first VSC was then deployed, but not for long: by Lap 3 everything was tickety boo once more.
Another one lap VSC on L9 due to Grosjean’s brake failure pretty much summed up the remaining points of note as the ‘race’ settled down. Rosberg cut a swathe through the rear of the field as he made his way back into the points.
Not a lot happened for the next 20+laps and it looked as if we were in for a 2014- type race. Suddenly the race burst into life as on Lap 39 a great battle between Ricciardo and Verstappen began in a scrap for second place. As if that wasn’t enough excitement for one race, Hamilton’s engine then got in on the bursting action and his 21+ second lead and probably free pit stop and therefore dead cert win and his position at the top of the Driver Standings all went up in flames. Hamilton got out of his burning car, got down on his knees and prayed. The race for P1 was now on. Which of the Red Bulls would see the chequered flag first?
Driver of the weekend: Max Verstappen, 29.43% of reader vote.
It was a pretty close run between Max and Daniel Ricciardo (25.32%) for our Driver of the Weekend, and unlike the race it was Verstappen who came out on top. There was plenty of excitement in the second half of the race as Verstappen chased down, caught and went wheel to wheel with Ricciardo over several laps. It was reminiscent of the spat between Vettel and Webber in the infamous ‘multi 21’ scenario from Malaysia 2013. Although they may have needed a different message as ‘multi 333’ could have been a little unclear as to which car the team expected to cross the line first.
However, team orders were not actually issued, as with Hamilton’s car on fire the race was yellow flagged and Red Bull decided to take advantage of it by bringing both drivers into the pits for fresh tyres. Prior to this, Verstappen may have had the advantage over Ricciardo as his tyres were some 5 laps newer BUT he wasn’t able to get past his rival. Does that mean he wouldn’t have been able to on any of the remaining laps? Being slightly behind Ricciardo, Verstappen had to wait patiently as his team mate received new tyres and then sped off into the distance as Verstappen’s car was then serviced. Verstappen then re-joined the race a few seconds behind Ricciardo, effectively giving Ricciardo a head start which Verstappen never managed to recapture.
So, did Red Bull indirectly issue team orders via strategy? Was Max robbed of possibly his second win of the season by being brought in to pit behind Ricciardo? Was Ricciardo ‘gifted’ this win (to make up for the bungling in Monaco and the strategy change in Spain?) Please let us know what you think in the comments, below.