Perhaps the most significant sporting result over this weekend – one that even trumps Mumbai FC beating Pune FC in the ISL, and USA defeating Europe in the Ryder Cup (finally!) – was the podium at Sepang on a hot, humid Sunday.
It was another 1-2 for a team, but this time it wasn’t Mercedes for a change. Previous dominators Red Bull made an appearance on the top steps after three long years – their young guns, Aussie Daniel Ricciardo winning the fourth race of his career, and 19-year-old Max Verstappen (who is impressing more and more as his phenomenal young career advances), battling right till the finish line to finish first and second respectively.
But it wasn’t always like this. A bit of luck played its part in handing over maximum points to Red Bull – and team chief Christian Horner couldn’t be happier after the disaster at Monaco earlier last month. Lewis Hamilton had been leading until lap 43, without a worry in the world, after dominating every session all weekend and looking in no danger whatsoever. He had the lead by 22 gigantic seconds.
You could literally hear the happy music in his head, until disaster struck. For the third time this year, his engine burst into flames. “No, No, Nooo!” he screamed over the radio as he parked his car on the side and walked away in complete disgust. This wouldn’t have been as significant if it weren’t the 15th race of the season, with Hamilton trying to chase down teammate Nico Rosberg in the championship and only seven points separating them.
This internal combustion blow may have just cost the Brit his third consecutive drivers’ title. And what a turnaround in just one hour for Rosberg’s team, who saw him drop right till the back after clipping Sebastian Vettel during a clumsy overtake maneuver early on. Rosberg had to steam his way back into the field, only to be handed a 10-second penalty after he got back up to fourth place while trying to pass Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. It didn’t feel like Rosberg’s day, until Hamilton was knocked-out of the race late into the day. Christmas came early for the German driver, who then passed Raikkonen to finish third – a phenomenal result, given where he was an hour ago in the race. The whole season must have flashed by his eyes when his engineers informed him of Hamilton’s exit. As a result, Rosberg extended his championship lead to 23 valuable points – a cushion that could just be the difference this year to give him his much-deserved and long-in-the-making title. Everything has changed for Mercedes after the season break, with Rosberg going from 23 points behind to 23 in front, and Hamilton wondering why his is the only engine in the entire garage that keeps failing. Perhaps it has something to do with the aggression he races with? But as of now, he has demanded answers from his team for this retirement, and doesn’t seem happy heading into the race next week at Japan.
Ricciardo also became only the fourth race winner this season after his teammate Max Verstappen (Spain) and the two Mercedes drivers who’ve won 13 races between them. The Aussie defended admirably and fended off some savage attacks by the teenager, eventually winning by a couple of seconds after Verstappen’s tyres seem to keep him in check.
And so we head into Suzuka before the celebrations wear down. Red Bull on a high, Mercedes quite reflective and the rest playing catch up. Five races to go.
Is that happy music we hear, Rosberg?