Malaysia hosted its first grand prix in 1999, and will, unfortunately, host its last one before leaving the calendar this weekend. Here are a few things to keep an eye out for as the 2017 championship nears completion.
Vettel on the back foot
The biggest story from the last race in Singapore was the spectacular first-lap crash that resulted in the retirement of Kimi Raikkonen, Max Verstappen, and championship contender Sebastian Vettel. That incident led to championship leader Lewis Hamilton taking the lead and the win 2 hours later.
It’s difficult to imagine a worse situation for the four-time champion. After losing the championship lead in Italy, he lost another 25 points on a track where all the experts seemed to think he’d bounce back. As a result, his 2017 title prospects look pretty dire. He needs a good result and for Lewis Hamilton to have a bad weekend for anything to change.
What now for Palmer?
There is also the question of Vettel’s temperament. Last time out was not the only occasion where the German has let the red mist come down, with notable outbursts on team radio and his move in Baku springing to mind. Will he calm himself down or be even more fired up now that the championship is slipping away?
Rejoice and sing, Jolyon Palmer is a 2017 points scorer! Palmer’s sixth place in Singapore finally put a stop to us at RealSport poking endless fun at his results (especially when compared to his teammate Nico Hulkenberg). Just as with Stroll in Baku, it was a sensible race where lots of other drivers made mistakes, whilst Palmer allowed the race to come to him and took 8 points back to the team whilst Nico was forced to retire with car troubles.
Despite this, Palmer has found himself without a drive for 2018. Carlos Sainz Jr will be moving to Renault for next season, meaning Jolyon has to be courting Williams or Sauber for one of the last remaining spots on the grid. To do so, he needs another result to show that his 6th place was not a one-off.
A top ten appearance in Malaysia will definitely help. The Brit has qualified tenth twice before this season (just missing out in 11th three times out of the last five races). If he can get a solid performance in qualifying, that will undoubtedly boost his own confidence and may start to attract attention from other teams.
Red Bull to carry their momentum?
Red Bull came to Singapore with a lot of expectation. The third-ranked team in the championship seemed to have a car that would enjoy the Marina Bay track, and the pace seemed good enough to challenge for the win. Unfortunately though, and despite the team’s best efforts, Daniel Ricciardo could only finish second behind Lewis Hamilton.
If that sounds familiar, it should. 2016 saw the same scenario play out, with Red Bull once again coming away with a good result, but not what they thought they could get. After that came the Malaysian race where the team took a fondly remembered one-two (their most recent) and Daniel Ricciardo’s fourth career win.
Yes, they were fortunate with Hamilton’s engine blowing up, and there were a few nail-biting moments when Verstappen was trying to pass Ricciardo, but the two drivers thought to be the most exciting pairing on the grid showed that they have what it takes to bounce back after disappointment. Could they spring a similar story on us again this year?
What do you think?
This weekend’s race in Malaysia is a pivotal moment in the championship and will give a lot of momentum to either Sebastian Vettel or Lewis Hamilton, depending who can come out on top. Both drivers will be looking at their teammates to give the other driver a hard time, but don’t expect much wheel-to-wheel action between teammates now that the championship moves closer to being decided.
With that, it’s over to you. Who do you think can take the chequered flag first in Malaysia? Can Lewis make it four wins from four? Will Vettel find the speed around the gruelling Kuala Lumpur circuit to start an epic fightback? Will fan favourite Daniel Ricciardo take his second win of the season? Or will it be someone else instead?