Wednesday 20 June 2018

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Hamilton wary of car concerns after Verstappen victory

Race winner Max Verstappen celebrates on the podium. Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images
Race winner Max Verstappen celebrates on the podium. Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Tom Cary

Sitting in Mercedes' motor home in the sweltering Sepang paddock a couple of hours after the denouement to yesterday's last ever Malaysian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton was clearly struggling to process his emotions from what had been a topsy turvy weekend.

On the one hand he knew he had extended his lead in the drivers' championship to 34 points, with just five races of the season remaining.

He had finished second while title rival Sebastian Vettel could only grab fourth. Combined with his win in Singapore two weeks earlier that was a 31 point swing on the German in just a fortnight. He should have been happy.

He knew, though, that this was another bullet dodged. In Singapore, where the Ferraris were clearly the pick of the pack, it was Vettel's reckless swerve across the track which took both himself and his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen out, not to mention Red Bull's Max Verstappen.

Here Vettel should have won by 30 seconds, so dominant was his car. Instead, an engine problem meant the German started from the back of the grid while Raikkonen's car lost power en route to the grid. The Finn never started the race.

It was another absolute gift for Mercedes, who struggled for pace all weekend. They were lucky that Hamilton's talent is such he can paper over cracks. The Briton took pole with a sensational lap (although still it required a mistake from Raikkonen and Vettel's problem) but could do nothing about Verstappen (below) in the race.

The Dutch driver, who had celebrated his 20th birthday on Saturday, took just four laps to pass Hamilton and never looked back, celebrating his second win in the sport almost 18 months after his first.

Hamilton's team-mate Valtteri Bottas, meanwhile, struggled so badly he actually finished 20 seconds behind Vettel having started 15 places in front.

"I don't know what I'm able to say or not," Hamilton replied warily when asked what the problem with the car had been. "I don't want everyone knowing all the problems we have but I think it's unknown at the moment.

"We put on this update package which was supposed to have brought performance and downforce but perhaps weren't able to utilise the downforce. We definitely have work to do, that's for sure. It's strange because the car works in some places but then, at hotter circuits like this, we have overheating of the tyres and we struggle more."

Hamilton said he was at least happy that the team had had a constructive debrief, which was why he was so late arriving for his media duties.

Despite his clear exhaustion, he also insisted that his overriding emotions, ahead of a trip to China and then on to next weekend's Japanese Grand Prix, were positive.

"Honestly," he said. "That debrief was one of the best debriefs we had.

"It's often the case when you have a win there's not a lot to say. A lot fewer questions. When you have a difficult day - when the s**t really hits the fan - that's when there are more questions.

"I think my comments, Valtteri's comments, it was a real hit for us to discuss certain issues we've had, stuff you don't even know about that's been happening through the weekend that's just not acceptable for this great team."

Moments

All in all, it was not a classic final Malaysian Grand Prix. The rain held off which meant fewer fireworks than you sometimes see at Sepang. But it had its moments.

Verstappen's win, by 12.7 seconds, was a welcome reminder of a rare young talent and a nice moment for a driver who has suffered seven retirements in his last 14 races.

He had his father Jos and his sister Victoria out here, too. "Yes! Great start to a new decade for you," said his team principal Christian Horner over the radio.

Vettel's drive from 20th on the grid to fourth at the finish was also superb and he nearly passed Daniel Ricciardo, too, but the Australian drove a superbly measured race himself to keep the charging German at bay. Vettel then blotted his copybook by colliding with Williams' Lance Stroll on his warm-down lap.

Further back, there were plenty of other bumps and bruises. Haas driver Kevin Magnussen seemed to be involved in most of them, incurring the wrath of McLaren's Fernando Alonso, before Magnussen turned his ire on Renault's Jolyon Palmer, whom he labelled a "f*****g lunatic".

The Dane has plenty to ponder, with Alonso suggesting afterwards that the drivers were "19-1" of the opinion that he is not up to it.

Hamilton added: "Suzuka is a much cooler circuit and the corners are a little bit different. We should be better there," he said cautiously. He had better hope so. Ferrari cannot keep being so charitable. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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