Formula 1 is too tedious now, right? Too predictable? Not the case at Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix. Four-time champion Sebastien Vettel got frisky with Red Bull rookie Max Verstappen, then ended up colliding with Mercedes-AMG’s Nico Rosberg. Vettel got the worst of it, a mess of front suspension damage that knocked him out the race; Rosberg, fighting hard for this year’s championship, spun out, falling from second to last place. And that was all just the first lap.
With his Mercedes teammate at the back of the pack, Lewis Hamilton, operating from pole position, had nothing but open track ahead and no real challengers behind. But with 15 laps to go, he came on the radio…
"Oh no, no!"
The Merc’s six-cylinder had let go, a firey catastrophic failure that sent Hamilton’s race (and, possibly, his title hopes) up in smoke. That left the two Red Bull drivers, Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, going at it for the overall victory. In the end, it was Ricciardo pulling out a win, his first in over two years. Verstappen was second, followed by Rosberg, who in battling back to a podium now has a 23-point lead in the championship standings.
Other notables: Kimi Räikkönen put in a quietly exceptional drive to salvage the day for Ferrari, finishing fourth. Valtteri Bottas’ Williams car was fifth; Sergio Perez’s Force India sixth. McLaren-Honda registered double points, with Fernando Alonso coming in seventh and Jenson Button taking ninth. They were split by the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg. Joloyn Palmer, driving for Renault, scored his first F1 points in tenth. The Haas Team, America’s Team, had an especially rough day. Romain Grosjean’s car, continuing to struggle with brake failure, ended up in the gravel traps early. Esteban Gutiérrez suffered an early puncture, then lost a front wheel, forcing him to retire midway through the race.
But Monday morning watercooler talk will focus on Hamilton, who lashed out after the race, implying some level of favoritism or even collusion in the paddock, saying:
“I did everything I could. I just can’t believe that there’s eight Mercedes cars, and only my engines are the ones that have been going this year. Something just doesn’t feel right. There’s nothing I can do about it. Something just doesn’t feel right.
This is a brand new engine. Done one race with it. I did, I think, P3 with it and qualifying. It’s a brand new engine […] It’s just odd. There’s been, like, forty-three engines from Mercedes and only mine have gone.”
And, later during an interview with BBC Radio, reiterating:
“My question is to Mercedes. We have so many engines made, but mine are the only ones failing this year.
Someone needs to give me some answers because this is not acceptable. We are fighting for the championship and only my engines are failing. It does not sit right with me."
After this one, anything’s possible. The Japanese Grand Prix is next Sunday. It should be a corker.