Malaysia GP 2017: Hair-raising drama for both red-suited warriors

Round 15 brought the Formula 1 circus to the hot and humid Malaysia. Malaysia hosted the grand prix weekend for the 19th and, for now, the last time. And what a drama-filled weekend it was! 

Already qualifying saw a breath-taking turn in Q1, as Sebastian was hit with a turbocharger failure. Sebastian was unable to set a lap time, and, although the team did everything they could to fix the problem, it came to nothing. Sebastian was cruelly and inevitably out of qualifying! What a true moment of despair it was. I couldn’t believe it was actually happening! Although Mercedes had been struggling with their pace in the free practice sessions, Hamilton took provisional pole in the decisive last session. Ferrari showed excellent performance, and Kimi was absolutely flying on his second run. The Iceman even set the fastest time on sector 2. Such a shame that Kimi had a tiny lock-up going into the very last corner, making him marginal 45 thousandths of a second down on the pace-setter Hamilton! Without the small lock-up, pole would have been there for Kimi to grab. Red Bull’s Verstappen improved his lap time on his last flyer, jumping up to third. Teammate Ricciardo qualified fourth, and Mercedes’ Bottas had to settle for the lame P5, being six tenths down on his pole-setting teammate. Kimi’s stunning performance made me so happy, although at the same time I was extremely sad because of Sebastian’s qualifying-ending technical failure. 

After the disappointing Singapore GP, all Kimi had hoped for from today’s race was that he would make further than 100 meters in the race. However, to Kimi’s crushing disappointment his hopes weren’t answered! The Iceman’s problems started already on the installation lap, as all of a sudden Kimi reported loss of power on the team radio. The mechanics pushed Kimi’s SF70-H into the garage and put every effort to fix the problem in the car. But there was no quick fix to the problem, and Kimi was inevitably out of the race - before it had even started! What a shocking turn after a brilliant performance in the qualifying yesterday! I couldn’t believe my eyes what had just happened! 

The start was electrifying. Hamilton held on to his lead, with Red Bull’s birthday boy Verstappen right at his tail. Bottas had taken an excellent start from P5, and the Finn made his way past Ricciardo, moving fourth. In terms of Sebastian, a lion was unleashed at the start. During the opening lap, Sebastian had made his way up to P13 already. The German had started to the race on the more durable soft rubber, which was possibly going to benefit him at the end of the race. 

Red Bull’s race pace was absolutely convincing, and it was only a matter of time before Verstappen would challenge Hamilton for the lead. On lap 4, Verstappen attacked, snatching the lead from the Briton. Hamilton didn’t defend his position too aggressively, knowing the importance of every point. Ricciardo, too, had closed the gap to Bottas, and the Australian made his move on lap 9. Bottas was toothless against Ricciardo’s storming RB13. By this time, Sebastian had attacked McLaren’s Alonso, moving already tenth. 

Surprisingly, similar to Verstappen in the lead, Sebastian pitted on lap 28 as well. Sebastian benefitted from the undercut, as Bottas pitted a lap later, snatching the fourth place from the Finn. After the pit stops the situation in the lead stabilised. Verstappen was leading the race, with Hamilton second, Ricciardo third and Sebastian fourth. Sebastian was absolutely flying on the fresh set of super soft tyres. The Ferrari ace kept banging fastest lap times, being 1.5s faster than Ricciardo. It was only a matter of time until the "fighting lion" would catch the escaping Australian. With ten laps to go, Sebastian had closed the gap to his ex-teammate. The German was already within DRS distance from Ricciardo, but overtaking proved extremely challenging. Setting a new lap record lap after lap had destroyed Sebastian’s tyres. He made one serious overtaking move on the Australian, going into Turn 1, but then the overheating of the front tyres forced him to withdraw from the fight. 

Verstappen took his second career win, which was well deserved after all the difficulties. Hamilton finished the runner-up, extending his lead into 34 points in the drivers’ championship standings. Ricciardo held on to his third place and completed the podium. I would have wanted to see Sebastian on the podium, but fighting his way up to P4 from the very back of the grid was definitely the kind of driving that makes me admire Sebastian so very much. Sebastian showed absolutely amazing fighting spirit and racing attitude today. With this kind of attitude, he has every opportunity to win the world title this year! 

But what a bizarre-looking episode took place on the cool-down lap! Sebastian drove in the outside of Williams’ Stroll to pick up rubber on his tyres. At the very same moment, Stroll changed his line and drove to the outside as well, which made the Canadian hit Sebastian’s SF70-H! In spite of the low speed, there was massive damage to Sebastian’s Ferrari; poor Gina turned into a three-wheel wreck! Sauber’s Wehrlein stopped on the track and gave Sebastian a lift into the pits, although it wasn’t allowed by the rules. Although Sebastian commented the incident with a sense of humour, I really hope that there won’t be a gearbox change needed, which could possibly cause a grid penalty! 

Luckily, the Japanese GP is just around the corner. I hope Sebastian will keep up this incredible fighting spirit, which makes anything possible as long as you believe in it. Forza Ferrari! 

With passion for racing red, 
Iina Huhmarniemi

Oct 03, 2017