Formula 1: Verstappen wins the final Malaysian Grand Prix
Max Verstappen snatched the lead from pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton in the opening laps of the 2017 Malaysian Grand Prix, and kept his Red Bull ahead of the Mercedes to claim victory in what was the last Grand Prix in Malaysia for the foreseeable future. The Dutchman, who celebrated his 20th birthday only the previous day, held the lead for most of the race to secure the second win in his Formula 1 career in a season marred by unlucky retirements.
Shortly before the race it became apparent that Kimi Räikkönen’s Ferrari had technical problems. The Finnish driver was set to start the race from second on the grid, but his car was wheeled off to the pits, effectively retiring from the race before the formation lap. This comes after his teammate’s power unit failed at the start of the qualifying session on Saturday.
Räikkönen’s retirement left the way open for Verstappen to challenge Hamilton for the lead. Although the second Mercedes of Valterri Bottas put pressure on the Red Bulls from the start, Verstappen was able to stay ahead and pass Hamilton to take the lead on the fourth lap. Hamilton still managed to claim second place, extending his championship lead to 34 points. Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, lost out to Bottas at the start, but Ricciardo fought back and eventually reclaimed third on the ninth lap despite early complaints of understeer.
Sebastian Vettel, who failed to set a qualifying time due to a power unit problem on Saturday, clawed his way up from last on the grid to fourth. By the end of the second lap the Ferrari driver had made it from 20th to 12th; by the tenth lap Vettel was into the points, and was in a position to attack Bottas on lap 26. Ferrari’s pit stop strategy meant Vettel was able to inherit third after Bottas pitted on lap 29. Vettel and Bottas went on to finish fourth and fifth respectively.
Despite starting ninth, Sergio Pérez managed to get his Force India into fifth by lap 8, and finished sixth behind Bottas. For the second time in as many races, Stoffel Vandoorne finished in a career-best seventh place, bringing in much-needed points for McLaren. Both Williams’ drivers — Lance Stroll and Felipe Massa — finished in the points, taking eighth and ninth, followed by the Force India of Esteban Ocon, who started sixth but finished a disappointing 10th after early contact with Pérez and Massa and later contact with the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz Jr. This may only add to the volatility of Pérez and Ocon’s relationship as the latest in a number of on-track incidents between the teammates.
Fernando Alonso looked set for a points finish for McLaren, but could only manage 11th, followed by Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean for Haas. Pierre Gasly’s debut for Toro Rosso resulted in 14th place, one ahead of where he qualified, while it was a disappointing result for Renault with Jolyon Palmer and Nico Hülkenberg finishing 15th and 16th respectively, ahead of the Saubers of Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson. In the second Toro Rosso, Carlos Sainz Jr retired on lap 30 due to problems with his power unit.
A bizarre incident on the cool-down lap (if such a thing is possible in Malaysia) resulted in damage to the rear-left of Vettel’s car. Vettel made contact with Lance Stroll, with both drivers blaming each other for the incident. Vettel hitched a lift back to the pits on the sidepod of Wehrelein’s Sauber. The Race Stewards later determined that neither driver was wholly or predominantly to blame, and no further action was deemed necessary.
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