Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

Next race: Australian Grand Prix, Melbourne
Class of the Field
Adam Barton

A Formula One fan since he was six, back while Häkkinen and Schumacher were having many an epic battle, Adam has seen a great deal. From German domination (twice), to British determination (once) and a Spanish invasion. A near compulsive fan who one day hopes to write about the sport for a living, outside of F1 Adam also authors his own blog One Guy's Opinion.

V for victory // Verstappen puts Hamilton’s title dream on ice

Published

As Malaysia waves goodbye to F1, it served up another unpredictable race with a fifth winner of the season and quality drives throughout the field, including a solid debut for Pierre Gasly. But all three stars of the race had one thing in common: the letter V.

Verstappen strikes to end rotten luck

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing: Started 3rd, Finished 1st

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing
Credit: Thompson/Getty

Just when it looked like Max Verstappen was destined not to have another podium, a guilt-edged opportunity came his way. Once again, the Flying Dutchman showed great pace in qualifying, easily beating his Aussie teammate to third on the grid, comfortably ahead of Valtteri Bottas’ Mercerdes in fifth. Verstappen’s cause was helped by a double helping of Ferrari misery as first Sebastian Vettel suffered a second Ferrari power unit issue in a matter of hours on Saturday, resulting in the German being unable to set a lap time in qualifying and stuck at the back of the grid. Nearly 24 hours later the power gremlins returned to the Scuderia as Kimi Räikkönen’s stunning qualifying performance was destroyed by an issue on the grid leaving him unable to start the race.

Ferrari’s trouble left Verstappen as the challenger in chief to polesitter Hamilton, a role that Verstappen relished. Starting from the damp side of the grid, Max got his elbows out and held firm as Bottas made an aggressive run around the outside of turn one and continued his attack until the exit of turn four. Verstappen knew the importance of holding position and once he had, the battle was on.

Verstappen’s maturity really began to show as he gradually opened the gap by a few tenths a lap

Hamilton couldn’t escape at the front with fuel saving at the end of the straights. It kept the Red Bull within range and before everyone settled into a pattern, Verstappen went for it with the help of DRS, making a late aggressive lunge going into turn one. The move worked to perfection, the Dutchman knew that Lewis Hamilton has a title to think about and couldn’t risk any aggressive defence and damaging his car.

The next challenge was to clear the DRS zone. Even in the improved Red Bull, if Hamilton had a sniff with a more powerful Mercedes and DRS, he would find a way through. With that complete, Verstappen’s maturity really began to show as he gradually opened the gap by a few tenths a lap without taking the life out of his tyres too early. Preserving the tyres proved key as it allowed Red Bull to be reactive to Mercedes. Eventually it was the Silver Arrows who had to blink first in the hope that Hamilton could make the undercut work. With Hamilton pitted, Red Bull were able to pick their moment and stop. The gap was cut to Hamilton to around five seconds but Verstappen could now manage the gap and once again it began to grow as Verstappen cruised to his second victory and unbelievably a first podium since China.

Vettel recovers to keep title race alive

Sebastian Vettel, Scuderia Ferrari: Started 20th, Finished 4th

Sebastian Vettel, Scuderia Ferrari
Credit: Ferrari Media

On Saturday evening, Sebastian Vettel was staring a 53 point championship deficit in the face. While he was most at fault for his non-score in Singapore, it was pure bad luck that cost him across the Malacca Straight in Malaysia. After an engine failure in FP3, Ferrari were forced into a lightning fast engine change. As good an effort as they made, something wasn’t quite right and a turbo issue cost Vettel a chance to set a time, even in Q1, leaving him rooted at the back of the grid. Even with Räikkönen’s non-start, Vettel made a great start to jump up to 13th on the first lap and 11th on lap three, giving a great chance of decent points.

Despite getting stuck behind his Ferrari predecessor Alonso for five laps, Vettel’s strategy looked to be working as he made progress through the midfield while on the slower tyre. By the time Vettel pitted on lap 27 he was up to fifth, past Magnussen, Massa, Stroll, Vandoorne and Pérez. He lost out to Sergio at the stops, as the Mexican pitted on lap 30, leaving Vettel fifth and in a chase for a podium. He was soon past the disappointing Pérez and started taking huge chunks out of the gap to Daniel Ricciardo in third. The former champion had made up the 14 second gap from lap 31 to 45 and had a few laps putting real pressure on Ricciardo his tyres gave out. Fourth was a great result, helped by Verstappen’s win, limiting the championship damage to just six points and keeping Vettel in reach of Hamilton. The downside? A bizarre crash with Stroll on the slowdown lap that will almost certainly dock Vettel five places on the grid in Japan.

Vandoorne stars in improved McLaren

Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren Honda: Started 7th, Finished 7th

After a frustrating start to the year, Stoffel Vandoorne is really starting to show the performance that took him to a dominant GP2 title in 2015. The Belgian thoroughly put Alonso in the shade and proved himself as McLaren’s main focus when Alonso retires. Despite the long straights of the Sepang circuit, the McLaren looked like a real midfield challenger, as both cars made it into Q3 but it was Vandoorne who starred once they made it there. He posted the second fastest time, just a tenth of a second behind the Force India of Esteban Ocon for best of the midfield runners, but over two tenths faster than Alonso. At the start, Vandoorne jumped up to fifth, past Ocon, aided by the retirement of Räikkönen.

Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren Honda
Credit: McLaren Honda

With Ocon suffering an early puncture, it was the other Force India of Pérez that demoted Vandoore to sixth on lap eight before the Belgian bit on the undercut on lap eight. The stop dropped Vandoorne to tenth on the road with runners still to stop. As the long runners then made their mandatory stops, Vandoorne made his way back up to seventh ahead of Ocon once again, Sainz and teammate Alonso, although Sebastian Vettel was long gone. With fellow rookie Lance Stroll behind, Vandoorne was able to control his pace, opening up a 10 second gap by the end of the race for Vandoorne, for a second consecutive points finish and a third of the season.

The result may mark a changing of the guard at McLaren too, as he finished 35 seconds ahead of Alonso after a disappointing performance. He moved ahead of his predecessor Magnussen in the championship, as well as his teammate, with 13 points to Alonso’s ten.