Lewis Hamilton extended his advantage over Sebastian Vettel at the top of the Formula 1 drivers’ standings to 34 points, but the German did enough at the Malaysian Grand Prix to suggest the title race is far from over.
Vettel had a torrid time in qualifying, with his engine giving out and needing to be replaced – which resulted in him failing to register a time and stuck at the back of the grid.
All the while, Hamilton was locking down another pole position, his ninth of the season, to reinforce his position as favourite for the title.
Hamilton got off the line well, but he did not have the pace to fend off Max Verstappen in his Red Bull – as the Dutchman who turned 20 at the weekend got the perfect birthday present with an excellent victory in the final race to be held in Malaysia.
”I think in the beginning, the car felt good and I saw Lewis was struggling a bit more with traction, so I used my battery a bit more,” Verstappen said, per the BBC. “He has more to lose than me in terms of the championship. From then on, I could race my own race. It’s a very tough race and it was incredible to win.”
Hamilton had no real trouble in holding on to second, for 18 points, but the story of the race was about how Vettel charged through the field from 20th to finish in fourth place.
It was a quite brilliant effort from the German driver, who showed tremendous pace to cut through the field and he looked like he may take a podium finish at one stage, but was unable to get past Daniel Ricciardo in the final few laps and had to back off to preserve his tyres.
Still, for all Vettel’s efforts – his post-race ended in controversy as he collided with Lance Stroll on the in-lap and his Ferrari ended up without a left rear wheel.
It could cost Vettel a five-place grid drop next week in Japan, if his car requires a new gearbox, but the positive for the German is that with five races remaining in the season his Ferrari looks seriously quick.
”We should have won but starting last we did what we could,” Vettel said, per the BBC. “Not a great weekend but for sure the speed is promising. “The car is quick so we have reason to believe we can be strong [in Japan].”
The 34-point margin could prove too much for Vettel to peg back, but the performance in Malaysia means Hamilton and his Mercedes team cannot take anything for granted.