The Malaysian GP produced such a fluctuation of emotions from the teams in contention for the title. Friday belonged to Ferrari as they looked quick over one lap and in race pace whilst Saturday belonged to Lewis, as he took advantage of Sebastian’s poor reliability to claim pole position number 70.
Despite reliability again hitting the Scuderia on race day with Kimi Raikkonen, Vettel produced a great drive to climb from last on the grid to fourth. With the German’s impressive performance, this left Mercedes with a conflict of feelings as they look back on the weekend.
Hamilton was left pondering how a 34 point advantage could’ve been 41 had he been able to win the 19th (and supposedly final) Malaysian Grand Prix – but he simply didn’t have the pace. The Brit finished 12 seconds behind race winner Max Verstappen and in the closing laps Sebastian was only 10 seconds behind before having to back off.
Heading into the final five races of the season it appears as though Lewis is starting to etch his name onto a fourth world championship trophy. Yet, as we leave Malaysia and head to Japan, let’s ponder whether the 2017 championship is a case of delaying the inevitable or is going to a decider in Abu Dhabi.
Done deal for Lewis?
In the famous words of the late great Bruce Forsyth ‘points make prizes’ and with a 34 points advantage over his German rival, Hamilton is in prime position to claim his fourth world title.
We head to Suzuka, Austin Texas, Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi in the final rounds of the championship; all races in which Lewis has claimed victory (excluding Suzuka, he won all of these races last year). He won his 2014 title in the twilight setting of Abu Dhabi and Austin Texas hosted the celebrations of his 2015 title. While it is numerically impossible for Lewis to wrap up the title in Texas, it is still a good omen.
It can be argued that the Brit still has the fastest car. Singapore and Malaysia proved troublesome in regards to performance for Mercedes but this is thought to be due to the higher temperatures at these circuits and Suzuka may be a much better track for Mercedes to prove their dominance with lower temperatures and quick corners. Additionally, despite this being partially a result of Ferrari’s downfalls, Hamilton still achieved a race win, a second place and a pole position at tracks the Mercs struggled.
Lewis Hamilton seems poised to be on his way to a fourth world title and another factor helping him on his way is the pressure heaped on his rival for various incidents. Hitting the side of Hamilton’s Mercedes in Baku, crashing out spectacularly of the Singapore Grand Prix and even colliding with Williams’ Lance Stroll on the cool-down lap in Malaysia have not helped Sebastian’s title hopes. These incidents have cost the Ferrari man a potential 40 points, a possible 5-place grid penalty for Japan and with it a much better chance of his fifth world championship and first for Ferrari.
A Ferrari fight back?
A point’s gap of 34 to a triple world champion who is hoovering up the pole positions, podiums and wins at the moment seems insurmountable. Nevertheless it would be naïve to count out Sebastian for the 2017 title and here’s why.
There is a weakness in Lewis that Sebastian can look to exploit in the remaining races; wheel to wheel combat. The Lewis Hamilton we know has been a ruthless character on track in the past but at times in 2017 he has changed his mentality to thinking more about the championship more than the race he’s in. Lewis claimed he didn’t fight Verstappen for the lead in Malaysia because he had the championship to think about. This is not the only occasion Lewis has shied away from a tussle on track. In Austria, Hamilton claimed he was ‘too kind’ when battling Daniel Ricciardo for the final podium spot. This is something to look out for more when Lewis is in wheel to wheel combat later in the season.
Ever since Silverstone in mid-July, the Ferrari has been a very quick car at most circuits with Monza being the only exception. Ferrari’s impressive race at Spa was an interesting display; it was thought the Ferrari’s weakness was high speed circuits but Seb was able to hustle Lewis to the line. This bodes well that the Ferrari can be competitive at Suzuka this weekend and with this circuit being a favourite for Sebastian don’t count on this being a dominant Mercedes weekend.
A Red Bull revival may turn out to be a big helping hand for Ferrari and Sebastian. At circuits such as Suzuka and Interlagos the Red Bull can be very competitive and this may mean that more points are taken off Lewis Hamilton. Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo form one of the best driver partnerships on the grid in terms of pure speed, as we saw in Malaysia they can take advantage of Hamilton’s championship mind-set to take more points from the Brit.
Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are two competitive racing drivers and whilst they possess very different positions in the championship standings it is going to be very interesting to see how the championship plays out over the last five races. Will Lewis claim his fourth championship to equal the tally of his rival or will Sebastian fight back to win his fifth world title and much craved first for Ferrari?