In F1, the first person you have to beat is your team-mate. Andrew Davies’ Team-Mate Wars returns.
Star of the Race: Lewis Hamilton
Overtaking Move of the Race: Lap 39: Max Verstappen on Daniel Ricciardo
Season: Lewis Hamilton 9 – Nico Rosberg 7
It was the most emphatic of responses by Lewis Hamilton to Nico Rosberg’s recent run of victories and it ended in great embarrassment, as Mercedes failed to clinch the Constructors’ Championship in front of their title sponsor. Lewis dominated the Malaysian GP with an untouchable pole position and a highly calibrated drive up until the point of detonation. During one of the breaks in the C4 coverage BP ran their advert on how their clean fuel helps engines run longer, and later, during the race, BANG the Petronas-powered Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton decided that was it for the day.
Lewis wasn’t pointing any fingers, but he was in statistically engaged mode when he pointed out that none of the other Mercedes engine units run by Manor, Force India and Williams seemed to encounter the kind of engine problems that have afflicted him throughout the season. Lewis has simply got that Barrichello feeling*.
Season: Vettel 9 – Raikkonen 7
Sebastian got the edge on Kimi in qualifying and he also got the edge in tapping up a Mercedes into Turn 1. It looked like Max Verstappen also momentarily lost control in his bid to be last of the late brakers, but he had nothing to hit, whereas Vettel’s speed was such that the hefty clunk he gave Nico’s right rear was enough to derange his front left suspension.
That left Kimi Raikkonen the sole Ferrari on which Rosberg could exact some kind of retribution later in the race. Their contact on Lap 38 provided one of the most mystifying moments of the 2016 season.
Nico Rosberg made a clumsy overtaking move and almost took Raikkonen’s front wing off and it mesmerised normally sane men.
In an overtaking move, the overtaking driver has to know that it might come off without contact. Sometimes there is a little wheel bumping, sometimes the driver about to be overtaken turns in on his pursuers, mostly they realise they have been outmanoeuvred and give way. But in an overtake there should be some chance that it comes off without contact. When Rosberg dived for the apex there had to be contact. And this is F1 not Talladega Nights.
Re-run the video on the Rosberg incident and there is no possible way that Raikkonen could have guessed he was coming, moved out of the way, or taken last minute avoiding action. (Let’s not confuse this with Bottas being overtaken by a brilliant late-braking move by Daniel Ricciardo into Turn 1 at Monza. Bottas just about had the time to spot him coming and give him room).
Rosberg’s move could be replicated at almost every apex of every turn by a driver simply cutting the corner and heading straight for the apex and then slamming into the car that has gone wide to get the correct racing line through the corner. Even in the short run down to the Loew’s/Station hairpin at Monaco there is some time to spot someone cutting to the apex. Not in Sepang. This was overtaking for seven-year-olds on their first karting experience.
When Rosberg decided to get robust and adopt his Cloak of Verstappen it was like that famous quote from Dr. Johnson . “It is like a dog walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.” ‘Three cheers for Nico, he had a go at doing something he’s not normally very good at’.
The commentators seemed unified in their bafflement that he got a penalty for slamming into the side of Raikkonen and removing some of the Ferrari bodywork. Toto Wolf called it a “nonsense”, Karun Chandhok “very harsh”. David Coulthard: “I personally think that was a fantastic and inspired move by Rosberg.”
Autosport went one worse: “ It was hard not to weep for competitive motorsport when Nico Rosberg was handed a 10-second time penalty for bumping into the side of Kimi Raikkonen while executing a bold move in the Malaysian Grand Prix.”
My son did that to me at Daytona Raceway in a kart and he got a fatherly clip round the ear** for his troubles. And that’s what the stewards gave Nico Rosberg.
Season: Ricciardo 8 – Verstappen 4
There was hardly anything between the Red Bull drivers, both in qualifying, in the race, and, thrillingly, through turns 4, 5 and 6 on Lap 39. It was exhilarating stuff and the reason we all watch motorsport. Lionel Messi might produce beautiful goals, but this was beautiful motor racing.
Could the Mercedes drivers have exacted such a wheel-to-wheel tussle through a series of corners in the post-Bahrain, post-Austria era without bumping wheels or running each other wide? Probably not.
Max Verstappen showed that despite his reputation as The Wild One, he can also be the Extremely Controlled One, and it was one of the most impressive moments of his career. He may not have got the better of the Honey Badger Foot Fetishist but his acceptance of the situation was way beyond his years.
Season: Bottas 11 – Massa 5
Bottas made the most of not getting into Q3 with a steady run to the points. Massa’s startline failure might have been improved by some canny strategy around the Safety Cars, but Felipe’s never been that brilliant at carving his way through the field after a major setback.
Season: Button 6 – Alonso 9
Alonso for all his grid penalties made the most of the Safety Cars in hoisting his way from the back of the grid. If you ride with him in the F1.com start video you see just how close he was to losing his front wing against the rear wheels of a Toro Rosso, but it was a stellar opening lap. A vintage Alonso performance on the occasion of Jenson’s 300th trip round the houses. Mclaren are looking racy again.
Season: Perez 7 – Hulkenberg 9
Hulkenberg outqualified and outstarted Perez. Although these two are pretty evenly matched, the imbalance in weights puts Nico at a considerable disadvantage when it comes to Force India ballasting Sergio’s car for the perfect balance. Without knowing their weights I would imagine that this is the biggest difference on the grid.
Maybe when the drivers line up for the Japanese national anthem in Suzuka, Charlie could get them to do it in ascending height like the Von Trapp family children. Or, more appropriately, at the next Austrian GP.
Season: Sainz 10 – Kvyat 2
Sainz was the furthest forward of the two of them, but the two of them are both slipping steadily back down the grid as their 2015-engined 2016 car gets subverted by the 2017 model.
Season: Gutierrez 5 – Grosjean 11
Can cars get their own back on drivers? Obviously they can suffer spontaneous failures as we saw with Car 44 in the race, but in Qualifying Romain Grosjean’s Haas showed that it had enough of the French driver’s constant whingeing. The right wing mirror worked itself loose and flew back and hit Romain in the helmet. “My right mirror just hit me in the face, so help me with traffic!” Romain wailed. You have to wonder about the build quality of that Haas…
Season: Palmer 6 – Magnussen 10
Jolyon Palmer may no longer have the stigma of being a pointless driver, but Kevin Magnussen outqualified him by a significant margin and only exited the race after his car succumbed to the serious wounds meted out to him at Turn 1 at the start.
Season: Wehrlein 2 – Ocon 1
While watching the fabulous opening lap of Alonso, also keep an eye out for a similar banzai performance from Sebastian Ocon. He was 10th on Lap 1, mostly though hustling.
Season: Nasr 7 – Ericsson 8
These two are still pretty evenly matched. And that’s just on the sponsorship money.
Arse of the Race: Sebastian Vettel. Imagine if Max had done that…
Best impersonation of the BBC comedy programme Fleabag: Daniel Ricciardo in the post-race chill-out area.
Mark Webber: “Secretaries and lawyers do my head in.”
Steve Jones talking to Christian Horner after the race about the emotional win: “You looked like you were about to burst into tears.”
Christian Horner: “After drinking from Daniel’s shoe I felt like bursting into tears.”
Mark Webber: “Daniel got a bit of a sniff of Vettel’s tow.”
David Coulthard: “Manor have put in some very respectful performances this year.”
Kimi Raikkonen on team radio: “What do you want me to do in the pits. Go faster?” ***
Mark Webber: “I don’t care who you are, when you see your team-mate parked at T1 with a barbecue coming out of the back of the car you feel good.”
*Rubens in his Ferrari years with Michael Schumacher was always selected by the almighty to receive any mechanical problem.
**A metaphorical one, obviously. He was 17 at the time.
***This was actually from Singapore but it was too Kimi to leave out.