Ferrari’s championship hopes hit self-destruct in Singapore – Malaysia gives them a chance to put things right and prove they can still take the title fight down to the wire on a track where Sebastian Vettel has won more than any other driver. Malaysia has given us many unpredictable results in the past – we look at how the contenders have fared at Sepang down the years.
Lewis Hamilton – Starts 10, Pole Positions 4, Wins 1
Despite always showing good pace around Sepang, the track has simply not been kind to Lewis over the years. He has taken 4 pole positons, but importantly he has been on pole position here in each of the last 3 Grand Prix here, underlining Mercedes dominance in the PU era. His solitary win here in 2014 was a dominant lights to flag win, but there are just so many things that can go wrong in Sepang. Lewis was left wondering if somebody didn’t want him to win after his championship hopes were dashed last year by a Mercedes engine failure when on course for victory. The weather can also catch any driver out here, with Lewis race in 2010 compromised by his McLaren team misjudging the weather in qualifying and seeing Lewis qualify down in 20th. Of course, sometimes Lewis can also bring trouble on himself – he was given a warning in that 2010 race for making multiple changes of direction as he weaved down the straight to keep Vitaly Petrov’s Renault from getting back past after Lewis had managed to get past him – and while his 2011 race was a disaster as Lewis struggled with excessive tyre wear from the off, to add insult to injury he was given a 20 seconds penalty after the race as he was adjudged to have repeated his line changing move from 2010, this time on the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso. Back in his first championship winning season of 2008 Lewis paid the penalty for impeding the BMW-Sauber of Nick Heidfeld in qualifying, and as if the ensuing grid penalty was not bad enough, a very slow poor pit stop in the race ended Lewis hopes of a recovery (he would only finishing fifth while team-mate Kovalainen made the podium). So Lewis will need to keep his focus if he is to add to his only victory here – at least he knows Mercedes will have his back – while Sebastian Vettel was ignoring an order to stay behind Mark Webber in 2013, Lewis had the comfort of having a fast charging Nico Rosberg told he could not challenge the sister Mercedes for the final podium places in the closing laps!
Valtteri Bottas – Starts 4, Best Grid Position 9th, Best Result 5th
Another track where Valtteri has not really had the equipment to shine in his F1 career to date. He has been outqualified here by his team-mates on each of his 4 visits, so don’t expect him to push Lewis too hard in qualifying! He has performed better in the races, in fact the only race where he finished behind his team-mate was in 2014 when he finished within a second of Felipe Massa – on that occasion Williams gave Massa a ‘Valtteri is faster than you’ message (which Massa ignored!) – but while on past form it’s unlikely Mercedes will have to give Valtteri a ‘Lewis is faster than you’, Mercedes can look to Valtteri to make life complicated for the Ferrari’s..without making life complicated for Lewis!
Sebastian Vettel – Starts 9, Pole Positions 2, Wins 4
Sebastian Vettel tends to perform well outside of Europe, and Malaysia is no exception. He has 2 pole positions here and 4 strong wins, more than any other driver at this track, including his sensational first win for Ferrari in 2015, when the Scuderia stunned Mercedes in the heat in Sepang to take a victory from Mercedes on merit. Last year’s race was one Sebsatian will want to forget after he crashed out on the opening lap, Vettel torpedoing Rosberg’s Mercedes into Turn 1 as he was too eager to make something happen after Ferrari struggled in qualifying. No recap of Vettels’ form in Malaysia would be complete without remembering the 2013 race and Multi-21 – where if any proof was needed we saw just how ruthless Sebastian is – ignoring team orders to aggressively fight past the Mark Webber and take the win – it may have been ‘silly’ as Christian Horner said, but it made sure Webber was a bit part player in the remainder of another Vettel dominated championship season. While Seb has put in some dominating performances here, he has also had his difficult days, aside from last years crash he also spun off in the wet in 2009 and had a poor day in the wet in 2012 – ultimately dropping out of the points after having to pit for a new front wing after cutting too tightly across Narain Karthikeyan’s HRT as he lapped him. Sebsatian’s form here means he will have to fancy his chances on Sunday, but he will certainly hoping for an uncomplicated dry race.
Kimi Raikkonen – Starts 14, Best Grid Position 2nd, Wins 2
Sepang is a bit of an all or nothing track for Kimi – mechanical problems ended his first two Malaysian Grand Prix early but it was third time lucky as Kimi won his first ever F1 race in his third appearance here in 2003 for McLaren, Kimi coming through from seventh on the grid to win, aided by Michael Schumacher causing mayhem on the opening lap as he barged into Jarno Trulli’s Renault into Turn 2. The next 3 years brought no joy, mechanical failure ending his race in 2004, a puncture running his race in 2005 and then he was rear-ended by Christian Klein’s Red Bull for an early finish in 2006. He managed to get on the podium in 2007, before taking victory for Ferrari in 2008 getting the better of team-mate Massa before Massa spun off to give Kimi an easy run to the flag. That race was the last time Kimi made the podium in Malaysia though, with Kimi gambling for wet tyres too early in 2009 and suffering another puncture in his Ferrari return in 2014 as he was hit by Magnussen’s McLaren. The 2015 race saw Kimi put in a determined drive to recover to fourth in a race won by team-mate Vettel after Kimi started down in 11th after being caught out by the weather in qualifying and picking up a puncture in the opening lap after being tagged by Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber. Ferrari will be hoping Kimi can put in a strong race performance like that to help Vettel this time out, but he will have to up his game in qualifying in order to be of real use – all told Kimi has been outqualified 8-6 by his team-mates here (and on every occasion since his return to Ferrari in 2014).
Daniel Ricciardo – Starts 5, Best Grid Position 4th, Wins 1
Before last years race Malaysia was a bogey track for Ricciardo, but all the misfortune was forgotten last year as he took full advantage of Lewis Hamilton’s mechanical misery to claim victory, getting the strategy break on the day to get track position over Max Verstappen when it looked like Max had the measure of Ricciardo all weekend, and resolutely defending his position when Max arrived with fresh tyres to try and pass, the defence promoting Ricciardo to the lead when Hamitlon retired, and securing victory as he would pit ahead of Verstappen under the VSC. With Red Bull determined to not throw away a precious win Max Verstappen showed he can be counted on to play the team game better than Sebastian Vettel and duely followed Rccardo for the remainder of the race! Prior to last years race in fact Riccardo had never finished ahead of his team mate and had managed no better than 10th place, which he achieved in 2015, losing out to team-mate Kvyat in a depressing battle for the minor points placings for Red Bull. He’s been outperformed here by team-mates, being outqualified 3-2 in his 5 years here, but as always, when opportunity arises, Ricciardo has the knack of being in the right place at the right time.
Max Verstappen – Starts 2, Best Grid Position 3rd, Best Result 2nd
Max has made certainly his mark at Sepang, qualifying a brilliant sixth place in 2015 for Toro Rosso, and showing off his racecraft with a wonderful drive to seventh place, with wonderful wheel to wheel moves on the senior Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo and the sister Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz amongst others showing he meant business. Last year he looked to have the measure of Ricciardo all weekend, pipping him to 3rd on the gird, but lost out at the start to Ricciardo due to Sebastian Vettel’s moment of madness. He made an early swap to the hard tyre in an effort to regain the initiative, and looked to be Red Bull’s best bet to put pressure on Lewis Hamilton – but Ricciardo was solid in his defence when Max arrived on his tail, and when Hamilton retired Max’s race hopes went as Red Bull found themselves sitting 1-2 and Max had to settle for second on the day, but only after delivering yet another reminder of his amazing talent.