Bottas nearly bags both Bulls
He may not have had their ultimate pace in the race, but Valtteri Bottas got off to an absolute flyer in Malaysia, coming oh-so-close to picking off both Red Bulls. In the end Max Verstappen was able to hang tough around the outside of Turn 2 and maintain second place, but had the Finn been able to get ahead and make a nuisance of himself, who knows how much further ahead Lewis Hamilton would have been able to scamper?
Ocon the meat in the sandwich
Those on the Force India pit wall must have closed their eyes as Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon went wheel-to-wheel through Sepang’s often treacherous opening turns at the start – especially when Felipe Massa made it a three-way fight. In such situations the man in the middle is often left with nowhere to go, as was the case here, with Ocon banging into the side of the Williams and sending him into a half spin. That both drivers escaped with very little damage was somewhat amazing.
Start as you mean to go on
Last year it was Fernando Alonso who made a flying start from the back row of the grid in Sepang – this time it was Sebastian Vettel. By the apex of Turn 1 the Ferrari driver had made up three places and, by straddling the kerb, avoided contact with Carlos Sainz’s Toro Rosso. Cleanly through the first corners – something he didn’t manage last year – the German pulled off a further three passes over the remainder of the lap to move up to P13. The fightback was on…
Verstappen claims a rare prize
When Lewis Hamilton looked in his mirrors and saw Max Verstappen looming large he had a choice to make. “I had to really make a decision when Max was closing me down, to not fight him and risk him crashing into me,” explained the world championship leader, "because he’s going to give it everything – he’s got nothing to lose, whereas I’ve got everything to lose. So I didn’t make it very hard for him.” Whether Hamilton made his life easier or not, this was a rare moment: passes on the Briton don’t come around very often. Indeed, getting in position to do so is often achievement in itself.
A pass four corners in the making
Daniel Ricciardo began his lap 9 pass of Valtteri Bottas by opening the DRS on the pit straight. He ended it four corners later after a well-judged and very respectful wheel-to-wheel duel with the Finn. The only problem for the Australian was that this move came several laps too late - by the time he’d got the job done the leading duo of Verstappen and Hamilton were eight seconds up the road…
Alonso and Magnussen square off
The opening turns weren’t particularly kind to Kevin Magnussen in Malaysia. A few laps before being inadvertently tagged by Jolyon Palmer at Turn 1 (see below), the Dane rubbed elbows with Fernando Alonso at Turn 2 and was bluntly nudged aside as the duo fought over P13. Neither driver was happy with the other’s conduct – as evidenced by their subsequent team radio messages – but there was nothing for the stewards to see here – just hard racing.
30 seconds to forget
In F1, one thing can lead to another in no time at all – and in Malaysia Jolyon Palmer provided the proof. Fresh from spinning at Turn 14 – the result, according to the man himself, of a sudden increase in tailwind – the Briton then pirouetted again at Turn 1, clipping Kevin Magnussen – who he’d been battling – in the process. "I had very hot rears from the [first] spin and then spun turning [to rejoin]," Palmer explained. “Then I had Verstappen lap me and then pull right in front, so I had no aero. It was ambitious trying to keep Kev behind after I spun once…”
Blue flags, blue flags
Lapped traffic can be both a blessing and a curse when you’re trying to catch the driver in front. In the case of Sebastian Vettel and his late-race pursuit of Daniel Ricciardo, it was definitely the latter. McLaren’s Fernando Alonso was the man inadvertently caught in the middle of the battle for the final podium spot, staying ahead of Vettel through the opening sequence of bends before the Ferrari slipped past into Turn 4. “Come on Alonso, I thought you were better than that,” bemoaned Vettel over team radio, but while the German was undoubtedly hindered, by the letter of the law, the Spaniard did nothing wrong.
A bit of afters
Sebastian Vettel said Lance Stroll had turned into him. Stroll said Vettel was driving too fast and too recklessly. The stewards said no one was to blame. There was a lot to unpick in the Vettel-Stroll post-race incident (shown above from Vettel's and the trailing Grosjean's viewpoints), but whoever’s side you’re on, most would agree that it was one of the strangest accidents of recent times. And if it ends up costing Vettel a five-place grid penalty for a change of gearbox in Japan, it could be championship defining…