This weekend, the 15th round of the 2017 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship takes place at the Sepang International Circuit, which is about 60 kilometres south of Kuala Lumpur, for what will be, at least for the foreseeable future, the final Malaysian Grand Prix.
The Sepang International Circuit was the second circuit ever designed by legendary circuit designer Hermann Tilke, and since 1999, it has been a circuit that has seen some crazy races in Formula One, many great triumphs, and even some heartbreak.
Someone who has experienced both emotions in Malaysia has been Lewis Hamilton, who won the Malaysian Grand Prix in 2014, but was forced to retire while leading comfortably in 2016, ultimately costing him the world championship.
Hamilton (263 points) leads the world drivers’ championship for Mercedes by 28 points over Sebastian Vettel (235 points) after the former’s victory in Singapore, which happened after the latter’s collision in wet conditions with both Max Verstappen, and his Ferrari teammate Kimi Räikkönen, which caused all three of them to retire, which was only the fourth time in Formula One history that the entire front row (Vettel and Verstappen) was wiped out on the opening lap of a grand prix.
It was a gift that Hamilton had no hesitation in grabbing to take complete control of the championship as he seeks to equal Vettel with four world championships.
Vettel and Ferrari you sense will have to find something extra special if they want to topple Hamilton and Mercedes in the championship battle in the final six races of 2017, at circuits that on balance suit the Mercedes better.
Third in the world championship is Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas (212 points), who finished third at the Singapore Grand Prix to help Mercedes gain crucial points over Ferrari, who scored zero points in Singapore, in the Constructors’ World Championship.
Fourth in the championship is Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo (162 points) after what you could say was a disappointing second-place finish in Singapore, after suffering non-terminal gearbox issues, preventing him from driving as fast as he could have, potentially costing him victory.
Räikkönen is fifth in the championship on 138 points after his retirement in Singapore, and has really got to lift his game if he wants to see his teammate, Vettel, win his fifth world championship. Räikkönen needs to steal points away from Hamilton, and when Vettel wins during the final six races of the season, he must finish second. So far, he has shown little signs recently that he is capable of stealing big points away from Hamilton, and you would think that Vettel’s attitude towards his team about his teammate will change quickly if Räikkönen can’t step up to the plate for the remainder of 2017, starting at this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix.
Verstappen (68 points) is sixth the world championship for Red Bull, and his bad luck continued at the Singapore Grand Prix, suffering his seventh retirement from 14 races in 2017 after being taken out by the two Ferrari drivers. Verstappen cannot take a trick, and while most of the retirements haven’t been his fault, somewhere along the line, you would have to look at his approach to racing, and look at ways to tinker with it slightly to ensure he doesn’t get involved in so many incidents like we saw in Singapore off the start-line.
Equal on points with Verstappen in the championship is Sergio Pérez (68 points) after finishing fifth in Singapore, and is followed by his Force India teammate Esteban Ocon (56 points), who is 12 points behind the Mexican in the championship.
Carlos Sainz Jr. is ninth in the world championship in his Toro Rosso on 48 points after signing for Renault for 2018, while his teammate for next year, Nico Hülkenberg, is 10th in the championship on 34 points in his Renault, leading a four-way battle for 10th in the drivers’ championship between Felipe Massa (31 points), Lance Stroll (28 points), and Romain Grosjean (26 points).
In the Constructors’ World Championship, Mercedes (475 points) lead by 102 points over Ferrari (373 points). Red Bull (230 points) are third in the constructors’ championship, comfortably ahead of Force India (124 points), who are comfortably ahead of a four-way battle for fifth between Williams (59 points), Toro Rosso (52 points), Renault (42 points), and Haas (37 points), while McLaren (17 points) are starting pull away from Sauber (five points) in the battle for ninth in the constructors’ championship.
So, who will win the final-ever Malaysian Grand Prix?
I think it could be an epic battle between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, similar to the battle they had in Spain earlier this year, and if that is the case, it may be too close to call, but Vettel desperately needs to win, and if he doesn’t, and Hamilton wins, it could well be game over in terms of his championship hopes!
The first two practice sessions (90 minutes each) are on Friday at 11am and 3pm local time (1pm and 5pm AEST).
The final practice session (60 minutes) and qualifying is on Saturday at 2pm and 5pm local time (4pm and 7pm AEST).
The 56 lap race is on Sunday from 3pm local time (6pm AEDT).