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Ricciardo heads Red Bull 1-2 in drama filled Malaysia GP

NEWS STORY
02/10/2016

In 1999, the Sepang International Circuit, hosting its inaugural Grand Prix, witnessed the return of Michael Schumacher, several months after the accident at Silverstone in which he broke his leg.

2016, the Sepang International Circuit, hosting the Malaysia Grand Prix for the eighteenth time, witnessed the return of Lewis Hamilton's mojo.

It's fair to say that Lewis' pole-winning lap was quite sublime, right up there with the like of his hero Ayrton Senna, a lap worthy of one of the sport's true greats.

Of course, Nico Rosberg did well to take second, though, following a nervous weekend, the German almost fluffed that as well.

Check any of the major sport websites, even some of the F1 specialists, and in the days heading up to this event they were warning of a new Nico, a re-born Nico, a more determined Nico.

Sadly, the Rosberg we have witnessed for much of this weekend is the old Nico, the one so easily overawed by his teammate's talent. Suddenly it is the German who is on the back foot.

However, having started from pole on seven occasions previously this year, due to a number of reasons, he has only converted this into a win three times. Fact is, as witnessed in Italy, and talking of feet, starts are currently Lewis' Achilles heel.

With Rosberg clearly rattled by Hamilton's rediscovery of his mojo, this could be a crucial point in the 2016 season, for we know that once the German's head lowers it remains there for some time. Now, more than ever, Rosberg must show his mettle, and not rely on his teammate poor starts, over enthusiasm or poor reliability.

Behind the Mercedes, Jenson Button, about to take part in his 300th Grand Prix, spoils what would have seen perfect symmetry in the first six or seven rows - or maybe the blame lies with Honda and its decision to give Alonso a new engine and thereby consign him to the back of the grid.

Anyway, other than Jenson, who starts ninth, behind the Silver Arrows we have Red Bull, Ferrari, Force India, Williams, Haas, Toro Rosso, Sauber and Manor, only the McLaren and Renault duos not starting side-by-side.

While not wanting to resort to the usual broadcaster hyperbole of promising that anything might still happen, the fact is that while Mercedes has strong single lap pace here, over long runs the Red Bulls have looked stronger this weekend.

Therefore this is not a race simply about the silver cars, the Red Bulls, and to a lesser extent the Ferraris, are still in it.

Despite his 'collapse' on Friday, young Max Verstappen has been looking very good this weekend, and certainly had the edge over his teammate Daniel Ricciardo in qualifying. However, being the veteran that he is, and having the benefit of an extra set of softs, we wouldn't write off the Australian's chances. Both drivers look capable of pulling off something special today.

Eighteen months ago, Sepang saw Ferrari pull off a shock win, the first of three that year. Hard to believe that currently the Maranello team has yet to open its 2016 win account. For much of the weekend Kimi Raikkonen has been the quicker of the two, however Sebastian dug deep yesterday. Nonetheless, all that the Italian team can really count on today is the weakness of its rivals and the hope that its tyre strategy is better.

As ever, Force India remains the dark horse, and while we don't expect to see either Nico or Sergio on the top step of the podium this afternoon, the team looks likely to extend its lead over Williams in the battle for fourth in the team standings.

With the McLaren drivers starting ninth and last, we can expect some fun and games this afternoon, even if Honda's mind is on next week's home race. Fernando Alonso appears delighted with the latest upgrade and is talking of a good point finish - and who are we to doubt him - while JB would dearly love to mark this personally historic event with a decent points haul.

Be it engine mode settings or seatbelts, Williams is having a torrid time of it of late. Nonetheless, it has two strong drivers and a decent car and should be able to leave here without allowing Force India to extend the gap too much.

What with Romain Grosjean's incessant moaning it's hard to believe that the Haas duo is as high as 12th and 13th on the grid. However, while Honda looks ahead to Suzuka, so Haas is anticipating Austin, aware that the last time it scored points was Austria. Whatever the issues are, and they appear to be many, the team must knuckle down and deal with them.

Renault's weekend got off to a fiery start, literally, and in many ways that's been the main excitement here for the French outfit. If Honda is looking ahead to Japan, and Haas Austin, Renault can only be dreaming of Melbourne 2017 and the hope that things are better.

Toro Rosso's chief race engineer, Phil Charles, summed up the situation perfectly when he said last night: "A very difficult day today unfortunately. P15 and P16 in qualifying is a big jolt back down to earth from the P6 and P7 we had in Singapore." Fact is, the Faenza team is struggling here, and both Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat will need to dig deep today.

Whether Sauber can finally open its points account here today remains to be seen, but in all honesty that would take something out of the ordinary, and at this stage it doesn't look as though the weather gods will be intervening.

Finally Manor, and both Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon can expect another long, hot unrewarding afternoon. Unless the same act of god that might benefit Sauber intercedes on them also.

Other than Magnussen's fire, we've seen a number of incident this weekend, most the result of the changes made to the circuit, changes which include a new track surface and the re-profiling of a number of corners. T15 is proving particularly difficult, witness Rosberg's mistake on his final Q3 run yesterday. And let's not forget, Hamilton has had his fair of moments here also.

Two stops is likely to be the optimal strategy, with wear and degradation reduced compared to previous years as a result of the new track surface.

Much is being made of the fact that Mercedes CAN secure the constructors' title today, though with a 222 point advantage does it really matter when it happens, surely it's a forgone conclusion and a mark of the marque's total dominance.

The pitlane opens and the drivers begin making their way to the grid.

Raikkonen and Hamilton both query a sign that states the pitlane speed limit is 60 km/h as opposed to 80. Both are told that this is "left over from the GP2 race".

The air temperature is 33 degrees C, while the track temperature is 52 degrees. There is a 20% chance of rain.

And in case you are wondering - and if you don't listen to our podcasts you won't have a clue what we are talking about - the shortbread biscuits are sitting here unopened.

The field heads off on the warm-up lap. All are on softs bar Bottas, Magnussen and Nasr who are on mediums and Palmer on hards. Sadly, Massa doesn't get away; "the throttle is not working, it's not working," he urges. His crew rushes to his aid, the Williams pushed back to the pitlane.

As the field makes its way down the back straight, Massa gets going and heads to the end of the pitlane from where he will start.

Palmer complains that his is losing power.

The grid forms... very, very slowly.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Sepang, here.

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1. Posted by Spindoctor, 03/10/2016 8:19

"Apparently Verstappen was "Driver of the Day", strange given that he was beaten in a wheel to wheel race by Ricciardo. Truthfully I think it was pretty much honours even.
"

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