Ricciardo leads Red Bull 1-2 as ti­tle bat­tle takes new twist

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

Daniel Ricciardo won a thrilling Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang as Red Bull took full ad­van­tage of a dra­matic re­tire­ment from the lead for Lewis Hamilton and a turn one tan­gle for Nico Ros­berg that forced him to fight back from last to third.

Hamilton had looked on course for a com­fort­able sev­enth win of the sea­son that would have taken him to the top of the standings hav­ing es­tab­lished a 20secs lead over Ricciardo with 16 laps re­main­ing, only for his Mercedes' en­gine to suf­fer a rare fail­ure as the race en­tered its clos­ing stages.

A po­ten­tially piv­otal mo­ment in the cham­pi­onship fight be­tween Hamilton and Ros­berg, the un­ex­pected twist came in a race where the de­fend­ing cham­pion ap­peared set to cap­i­talise on a trou­bled af­ter­noon for his main ri­val when he was tapped into a spin by Vet­tel at the first cor­ner.

On a scorch­ing day in Malaysia, Hamilton came into the race need­ing at least his first win since the Ger­man Grand Prix, but looked set to get more than he bar­gained for as Ros­berg tum­bled to the back of the field fol­low­ing his tan­gle with Vet­tel.

Prompted by the fast-start­ing Vet­tel being caught on the inside at turn one by Max Ver­stap­pen and out-brak­ing him­self, the Ger­man clipped the Mercedes com­ing across the apex to turn him around, break­ing his front sus­pen­sion and putting the Fer­rari out on the spot.

Though he es­caped with­out dam­age, Ros­berg dropped to the back of the field, even if gained from Fe­lipe Massa, Kevin Mag­nussen, Esteban Gu­tier­rez and Daniil Kvyat all pit­ting ahea af­ter the quar­tet col­lided with one an­other in the con­certina ef­fect of the Mercedes' spin.

As such, with the Vir­tual Safety Car de­ployed to clear Vet­tel's car, Hamilton led from Ricciardo, Ser­gio Perez, Kimi Raikko­nen and Ver­stap­pen, though the lat­ter would make swift progress up to third place on the restart.

With Hamilton grad­u­ally eas­ing his lead out front as Ros­berg steadily be­gan mak­ing his way back up the or­der, a sec­ond VSC of the race on lap nine fol­low­ing a brake fail­ure and crash for Ro­main Gros­jean at the fi­nal cor­ner would see Red Bull split strate­gies by putting Ver­stap­pen on an­other set of soft tyres.

As such, when Hamilton and Ricciardo pit­ted them­selves on lap 21 and 22, Ver­stap­pen found him­self in the lead but couldn't es­tab­lish enough of a mar­gin to make a dif­fer­ence when he pit­ted for hard tyres on lap 27 he would come out four sec­onds be­hind the Aus­tralian.

Ros­berg, mean­while, was en­joy­ing a swift route up the or­der and al­ready found him­self in fifth by lap 20, but would come up against stern op­po­si­tion in Fer­rari's Raikko­nen in their fight for fourth.

How­ever, hav­ing got­ten onto the tail of the Finn on lap 37, he pounced for a move on lap 39 with a bold pass down the inside of turn two hav­ing fol­lowed an out­side line around turn one. The pair would clip front wheels though, lead­ing to some dam­age to the Fer­rari, con­tact that would earn Ros­berg a ten-sec­ond penalty later in the race.

By the time the penalty was is­sued, how­ever, the dy­namic of the race had changed en­tirely af­ter Hamilton's power unit ex­pired just as he be­gan lap 40, the Bri­ton in­con­solable on the ra­dio as the fiery W07 coasted to a halt at turn one. A bit­ter end to an other­wise dom­i­nant race, his re­tire­ment would be com­pounded by the in­ad­ver­tent ef­fect of pro­mot­ing Ros­berg onto a net podium.

It would also leave Red Bull in an un­ex­pected 1-2 po­si­tion, Ricciardo ahead of Ver­stap­pen. Iron­i­cally, the pair had al­most come to blows as they dis­puted sec­ond just a cou­ple of laps be­fore Hamilton's exit, Ver­stap­pen's fresher tyres al­low­ing him to pull along­side through turn three, four and five, only for a sim­i­larly ag­gres­sive Ricciardo to cling on.

With Red Bull now look­ing at a first 1-2 since Brazil 2013, the team opted to pit both Ricciardo and Ver­stap­pen at the same time dur­ing the third Vir­tual Safety Car to clear Hamilton's car.

Al­low­ing Ricciardo some breath­ing room in the fi­nal laps af­ter the dou­ble stack, he pro­tected a slim but un­trou­bled 2.4s mar­gin to the fin­ish line to claim his fourth ca­reer win his first since the 2014 Bel­gian Grand Prix.

Ros­berg, mean­while, be­gan the fi­nal phase of the race six sec­onds ahead of Raikko­nen al­beit now fac­ing a ten-sec­ond penalty, but would pull out 13secs over the Finn to keep his third place.

A 'save' for Ros­berg on what looked to be a tough day, the max­imised re­sult sees him ex­tend his ad­van­tage over Hamilton to 23 points with only five races of the sea­son re­main­ing.

Be­hind Raikko­nen, Valt­teri Bot­tas made an un­usual one-stop strat­egy work re­mark­ably well as he surged from 11th to fifth po­si­tion.

How­ever, with Fe­lipe Massa fail­ing to score and Ser­gio Perez and Nico Hulken­berg sixth and eighth, Force In­dia has stretched his ad­van­tage over Wil­liams in the bat­tle for fourth over­all to three points.

Be­tween the Force In­dia driv­ers, Fer­nando Alonso put in a su­perb drive from the back of the grid to fin­ish sev­enth, the Spa­niard cap­i­tal­is­ing on the car­nage at the start to make up sev­eral po­si­tions be­fore hold­ing firm in the points.

Sec­ond placed Max Ver­stap­pen, left, sprays team­mate and race win­ner Daniel Ricciardo with cham­pagne as they cel­e­brate on the podium af­ter the Malaysian GP yes­ter­day

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton leaves his car af­ter an en­gine fail­ure dur­ing the Malaysian For­mula One GP yes­ter­day Photo: AP

Daniel Ricciardo drinks from his shoe

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