This weekend saw Formula One head to Sepang for the last ever Malaysian F1 Grand Prix.
Having been on the calendar for just shy of 20 years, this weekend sent F1 racing out of the country in style with a new lap record, traditional rain shower and Max Verstappen finally ending his miserable run with victory.
What more drama could a circuit want for its final F1 race weekend?
Getting back on track now, there were plenty of talking points to discuss.
Three team fight?
For the final five races, we could be in store for a three team fight at the front, if Red Bull’s pace isn’t circuit based.
Like last year, Red Bull has experienced an autumn blossom and with two quick drivers in Verstappen and Ricciardo, will surely only grow stronger in coming races.
Ferrari and Mercedes either have reliability, pace or set up problems at present, which is slightly bizarre at this stage of the season (except reliability) when would expect them to be quick from FP1.
If they can’t get on top of those issues quickly, Red Bull might start nicking more poles and perhaps some key wins.
Heading into 2018, this would be a great thing but be interesting to see how Red Bull’s surge affects Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel’s title fight for rest of this season.
Ferrari’s reliability wobble
Usually one of the most reliant teams, Ferrari certainly wouldn’t of seen this weekend’s mess coming.
After an impeccable Friday of practice, Saturday saw Vettel’s car hit trouble with an electrical fault in FP3 before a turbo issue wrecked his Q1 run and left him in plum last.
Race day then came and Kimi Raikkonen suffered a similar problem on way to grid, leaving the Finnish driver free to go and enjoy one last scoop of Malaysian ice cream.
Vettel on the other hand, produced a brilliant recovery drive to fourth.
His strategy was quite clever because he started on softs and once in 11th, he held off for a bit to save his tyres before charging up to fifth. In the end, a fourth place finish was his best result.
Solid Force India
Force India have definitely had a solid weekend compared to their recent record at Sepang.
Their aero and engine upgrades have clearly benefitted them because both cars were in the top ten throughout FP2 & 3, which is better than how they have fared in the past.
Qualifying certainly saw them build on that form with 6th and 9th place spots on the grid.
The race is one of two halves because Esteban Ocon really didn’t have lady luck shining on him. You can’t deny his determination to come home with one point because after a first corner clipping then mid race spin caused by Carlos Sainz, he kept going to get that reward.
Sergio Perez deserves a shout out here because he has been suffering from a stomach infection, which must be terrible at a track like this in hot and humid conditions.
That makes his sixth place finish all the more impressive and a clear sign of a quality driver.
Throughout this season, Force India have surprised me by the strides that they have been making.
This is a clear signal that with extra investment, this team could go far and potentially challenge the front runners more.
Youngsters start to emerge
A wet FP1 saw two youngsters take the headlines.
New Toro Rosso driver, Pierre Gasly produced a stunning ninth place on a wet track in just his first practice session.
His teammate for that session, Sean Gelael lagged behind by 2.2 seconds despite having driven the car in Singapore unlike Gasly making that result all the more spectacular.
Once Sainz came back in from FP2, the Frenchman certainly matched him for pace and recorded a decent race result beating Renault’s Jolyon Palmer
Over at Sauber, Marcus Ericsson was replaced by Ferrari protégée, Charles Leclerc. Leclerc might only of finished 16th but managed to outpace Pascal Wehrlein by three tenths on his F1 debut.
For the soon to be crowned F2 champion, that is a great marker for him to build on when he resumes his FP1 duties in Texas on Friday 21st October.
With Gasly and Leclerc laying down markers, the future is definitely looking bright.
McLaren on rise
McLaren surely has to be this weekend’s surprise package without any doubt.
Sepang is a power based track but for a team with poor power delivery, McLaren certainly were at the higher end of midfield.
Stoffel Vandoorne will certainly be delighted with what this weekend has done for his confidence.
Saturday saw him outqualify Fernando Alonso for the first time and he backed that up with a seventh place finish come the chequered flag.
Hopefully this marks a huge step forward heading to Suzuka, which is Honda’s home race.
*Notable mention to Williams for a double points finish and great start but need to improve their practice and qualifying pace.
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