Ver­stap­pen gets edge over Hamil­ton at Sepang

Red Bull driver stuns Mercedes star to clinch his sec­ond grand prix vic­tory

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Sports - GILES RICHARDS

For­tune fi­nally favoured Max Ver­stap­pen in Malaysia as the Red Bull driver who has en­dured a try­ing season se­cured his sec­ond grand prix vic­tory at Sepang.

He and the le­gion of Dutch fans were all smiles af­ter­wards. But the form on dis­play from both Red Bull and Fer­rari has left only frowns at Mercedes in their wake, as Lewis Hamil­ton and his team were forced to con­sider why they had been com­pre­hen­sively beaten on a track at which they were ex­pected to dom­i­nate and how it has ren­dered their cham­pi­onship chal­lenge a far from fore­gone con­clu­sion.

Os­ten­si­bly, Hamil­ton’s sec­ond place to Ver­stap­pen was a good re­sult. He has ex­tended his lead over his ti­tle ri­val Se­bas­tian Vet­tel to 34 points with five races re­main­ing. But while Vet­tel scythed through the field af­ter start­ing from the back of the grid to take fourth, Hamil­ton could do noth­ing about Ver­stap­pen and on this form might have been out­paced by both Fer­raris had they started at the front.

Mercedes and Hamil­ton took their points ad­van­tage but were far from cel­e­brat­ing. They had en­tered the race with the pos­si­bil­ity of putting an al­most in­sur­mount­able lead on Vet­tel but ended it rather lick­ing their wounds and con­tem­plat­ing just how much work they have to do be­fore the meet­ing at Suzuka next week­end.

Hamil­ton be­lieved that even the sec­ond they achieved had been “lucky” and sug­gested that the team had been far from at their best across the week­end. His team, in turn, were left un­usu­ally per­plexed as to why they strug­gled when not only Fer­rari had such strong pace but also the Red Bull proved su­pe­rior. How­ever, Fer­rari too en­dured a far from sat­is­fac­tory week­end.


A turbo prob­lem put Vet­tel out of qual­i­fy­ing and his team-mate, Kimi Raikko­nen, was un­able to start the race from sec­ond place af­ter he suf­fered what is be­lieved to be a sim­i­lar prob­lem.

Then, af­ter Vet­tel’s charge back into the points, what might have been con­sid­ered a highly suc­cess­ful ex­er­cise in dam­age lim­i­ta­tion was some­what tar­nished when he col­lided with the Wil­liams of Lance Stroll af­ter the race had con­cluded and the pair were re­turn­ing to the pits on the slow­ing down lap.

Vet­tel did not look at fault, hold­ing his line as Stroll moved out­wards look­ing to pick up dis­carded rub­ber with his tyres, in or­der to make the weight limit. The stew­ards de­clared nei­ther driver to blame but it may prove costly for the Ger­man. He took ma­jor dam­age to the left rear of his car and if a re­place­ment gear­box is re­quired, he will likely take a grid penalty in Ja­pan.

Or­di­nar­ily this would be classed as a dis­as­trous week­end for the Scud­e­ria but it was mit­i­gated by the fact that Vet­tel was able to show such strong pace through­out. They were us­ing an up­graded en­gine and sev­eral new aero up­grades and have taken the pos­i­tives from that in look­ing for­ward to the fi­nal five races.

“It’s been a dif­fi­cult week­end, but nev­er­the­less the speed is there,” Vet­tel said.

Hamil­ton does re­main on the front foot in the ti­tle fight but rightly has cause for con­cern, while Fer­rari must trans­late their pace into a trou­ble-free week­end in Ja­pan.

But for Ver­stap­pen at least, just re­turn­ing to the top step was enough to en­sure he for one leaves Malaysia on a high. “I didn’t expect to win here and be faster than the Mercedes,” he said. “You know, es­pe­cially af­ter the season I’ve had, I think this vic­tory came at a very good time.”

Max Ver­stap­pen: “I didn’t expect to win here and be faster than the Mercedes”

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