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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Malaysian GP analysis: Max Verstappen deserves day at the front

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel can take heart after finishing fourth, writes Graham Caygill

Max Verstappen was understandably glad to finally have a good result in his name this season. Diego Azubel / EPA
Max Verstappen was understandably glad to finally have a good result in his name this season. Diego Azubel / EPA

It may be a little harsh on Daniil Kvyat, but Max Verstappen could be forgiven for thinking that it would be great if the Russian was dropped before every grand prix on the Formula One calendar.

When Kvyat was demoted to Toro Rosso from Red Bull Racing in May 2015, Verstappen replaced him at the Austrian team and promptly went out and won his first race for them in Spain.

Last week, Kvyat was again the receiver of bad news as he was removed from his race seat at Toro Rosso after a spate of disappointing results, with Pierre Gasly coming in at his expense.

At the next race after that move, Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix, lightning struck twice as Verstappen was again the victor, picking up his second in the top echelon of motorsport.

Now, this was nothing but coincidence, but the result was a welcome relief to Verstappen in his first race as a 20 year old.

He was on superb form in Sepang and never looked in danger of not prevailing once he had passed championship leader Lewis Hamilton at the start of Lap 4 of the 56-lap event.

Hamilton was driving maturely, thinking about his championship challenge rather than the race win, but even so, the fact that Verstappen was able to pull away and control his advantage over the Mercedes-GP man was an impressive effort of maturity.

The result ended a miserable run of results for Verstappen as it gave him only his second podium of the season and first since China in April.

A season of bad luck with collisions and unreliability have seen him score only 93 points, 84 less than Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo, despite the fact his pace has often been more rapid then that of the Australian.

In their qualifying head-to-head it is 11-4 to Verstappen, an impressive score given how highly regarded Ricciardo is in the sport.

Ricciardo already has a win to his name this season in Azerbaijan, and Verstappen is glad to finally have a good result in his name.

“It’s been a dramatic season so far so of course I’m very happy then to win this race and hopefully from now onwards it will be OK,” he said of his campaign.

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Hamilton was content with second place as he out-scored Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by six points to move 34 points of the German with only five races of the season remaining.

His life was made even easier by the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, who had been due to start alongside him on the front row, failing to start due to a turbo problem.

Vettel will have had mixed feelings about his drive from the back of the grid, after mechanical problems had meant he failed to set a lap in qualifying, to finish fourth.

It was damage limitation in one sense, as with Hamilton starting on pole it could have been a lot worse.

But, given the speed of the Ferrari around Sepang, it was a big missed chance, for the second successive race, after he had failed to finish in Singapore, of failing to beat Hamilton on a weekend where the Mercedes team were not on the pace.

With five races remaining, it is beginning to look tough for Vettel.

But, if, and it is a big if, the Ferrari can stay reliable, and out of trouble, Vettel has the speed to push Hamilton all the way to the final round, the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 26 at Yas Marina Circuit.

F1 drivers' standings

1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes 281

2. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari 247

3. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes 222

4. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull 177

5. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari 138

6. Max Verstappen, Red Bull 93

7. Sergio Perez, Force India 86

8. Esteban Ocon, Force India 56

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