PREVIEW: 2017 Formula 1 Malaysian Grand Prix – Mayhem in Malaysia

by Tom Jeffries

The Malaysian Grand Prix is held at the Sepang International Circuit – a 3.4 mile-long track that consists of 15 turns linked together by some long straights. The Sepang circuit has held a total of eighteen grands prix so far and, though some historic moments have occurred at the track, this weekend’s race will be its last.

Malaysia’s grand prix has suffered thanks to Singapore’s glamour, and a mixture of falling ticket sales and increasing hosting costs mean the track won’t feature on next year’s calendar. What better reason, then to enjoy this weekend’s race?

Sepang – a circuit with a story

Torrential rainfall, blistering heat, teammates turned enemies and title hopes going up in a literal puff of smoke – Sepang has seen it all. This year’s title challengers both have stories from this circuit that they’d rather not tell.

Lewis Hamilton

Fresh from a crucial, and entirely unexpected, victory, Lewis Hamilton will arrive at the Malaysian Grand Prix very much in the fight for this year’s title. Whilst it might be a track that he’s won at before, it’s also the very same track where he saw his title hopes go up in a very literal puff of smoke just twelve months ago.

Hamilton was locked in a bitter title battle with old friend, turned teammate, turned rival, Nico Rosberg, and was fighting hard to make headway. Having battled through the season to find pace and take the lead of the championship, the momentum seemed to be with the Brit heading into the grand prix. Indeed, it was with him during the grand prix – that was, until lap 40.

Hamilton’s engine gave up as he headed into the first corner, igniting in a puff of smoke and setting itself on fire. He stopped and, as his engine died a fiery death, so did his title hopes. He lost momentum, lost points, and ultimately lost the championship. He’ll be hoping that engine issues will be long behind him this weekend.

Sebastian Vettel

2013 saw Sebastian Vettel perform one of the most shocking, and possibly reputation-damaging moves of his career.

Vettel was still at Red Bull Racing – on his way to collecting his fourth (and, to date, final) World Driver’s Championship – and was joined by Australian Mark Webber. The race was panning out well for the team, with Webber ahead and Vettel in second. Team orders were still banned, though when the now infamous “Multi 21” call came through, everyone understood – Vettel was to stay behind Webber.

That didn’t happen.

Vettel charged along the pit straight and, in an act of defiance, pulled between Webber and the pit wall, overtaking the Australian and taking the win for himself. The previously cool, calm, witty Vettel had shown a different side – the fiercely competitive, occasionally angry side that sometimes comes out when he’s under pressure.

He went back and forth between apologising and saying it was the right thing to do, and though he tried his best to mitigate any damage, one thing was for certain; a different side had been shown.

It’s unlikely another Multi 21 call will come this weekend, both because teammate Kimi Raikkonen seems to have been put in a number 2 driver status and team orders are allowed, though the fiery temper that saw him swear at race director Charlie Whiting, and pressure mounting over a championship that’s not going his way, this should be one exciting grand prix.

Who’s where in the Championship?

Fresh from his win in Singapore, Lewis Hamilton heads up the Driver’s Championship over Vettel by twenty-eight points – more than an entire race win. Teammate Valtteri Bottas is in third, just twenty-three points shy of the man in second place. Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team are leading the Constuctors’ Championship, leading the rest of the pack by over 100 points.

Both Scuderia Ferrari drivers scored zero points after their joint retirement from the Singapore Grand Prix. Vettel sits second, whilst Raikkonen has slipped down to fifth – behind teammate Vettel, both Mercedes drivers, and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.

Ricciardo is faring much better than the luckless Max Verstappen who’s down in sixth – nearly 100 points behind his teammate.

Sahara Force India F1 Team are fourth in the Constructors’, with drivers Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon fighting it out in seventh and eighth respectively. Perez’s fifth place last time out has helped him to a slim twelve-point lead over the young Frenchman.

Williams Martini Racing are sixth, with Lance Stroll closing the gap on the far more experienced Felipe Massa. Stroll is just three championship points behind the Brazilian, with the two in eleventh and twelfth in the driver’s standings.

Fresh off the back of his equal-best result in Formula 1, Scuderia Toro Rosso‘s Carlos Sainz Jr. is in ninth in the driver standings, whilst teammate Daniil Kvyat‘s two points finishes this season are just enough to keep him from last in the table.

Renault Sport Formula 1 Team‘s Jolyon Palmer took his first points finish of the season in Singapore to put him sixteenth. Nico Hulkenberg rounds out the top ten.

McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team had a mixed result in Singapore – whilst Fernando Alonso might have been taken out in the first corner, Stoffel Vandoorne finished in seventh place – giving the team some much-needed points.

Sauber F1 Team round out the teams, their five points not enough to save them from the bottom of the table. 

Should you watch it?

Singapore is a track that gives. It’s seem engines explode, rain-related red flags and champagne-soaked shoes. This, coupled with it being potentially the last ever race at the circuit, make it a race you shouldn’t miss.

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