Daniel Ricciardo led team-mate Max Verstappen to the flag to take Red Bull Racing’s first one-two finish since the Brazilian Grand Prix of 2013, as Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton was forced out by engine failure while comfortably in the lead.
After a dramatic start in which front-row starter Nico Rosberg was pitched into a spin by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, Hamilton looked to have the race firmly under control. But on lap 41, disaster struck when the defending champion’s power unity failed. Ricciardo inherited the lead and 25 laps later the Australian took the chequered flag ahead of team-mate Verstappen for his fifth career win.
Rosberg claimed third place despite dropping to the rear of the field at the start and being hit with a penalty for causing a collision with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.
At the start Hamilton made a good getaway and held his advantage over Rosberg. Two rows back Vettel had also made a good start from P5 and had passed Ricciardo. However, the German then took a narrow line into Turn One and, carrying too much speed, he went straight into the back of Rosberg’s Mercedes.
The championship leader was sent into a spin that resulted in a drop to P21 at the end of lap one.
Vettel, however, shipped heavy damage, breaking the front left suspension of his car. He pulled over and stopped at Turn 3, which resulted in the Virtual Safety Car being deployed.
Rosberg’s spin, and the efforts made to avoid colliding with the Mercedes, had a significant effect on the order further back. Most notably, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso vaulted up the order, rising from the P22 start caused by engine penalties to P10 soon after the action resumed. At the front though, Hamilton was comfortable, easily controlling a slender gap to Ricciardo.
The man on the move was Verstappen. The Dutchman has dropped back after the start but was soon up to P5 and then when the VSC ended he climbed to P3.
There was trouble on lap nine, however, when Romain Grosjean’s Haas arrowed off track at Turn 15 due to brake failure. The VSC was deployed again and Red Bull pitted Verstappen from P3 for new soft tyres. He dropped to P4 behind Raikkonen.
Also making his way back up the order was Rosberg and by lap 19 the German had recovered to seventh place. On the following lap he breezed past Carlos Sainz’s Toro Rosso into Turn 15 and set his sights 1.6s up the road to Valtteri Bottas.
It didn’t take long for the Mercedes man to erase the gap and he passed the Williams on lap 19, emerging just behind Raikkonen who had pitted for hard tyres. Soon after, race leader Hamilton and second-placed Ricciardo made the same strategic decision in their first pit stops and thus Verstappen was boosted to P1 on soft tyres.
By lap 26 Verstappen was reporting that he was losing grip and at the end of the following lap he made his second pit stop, this time for hard tyres. He emerged five seconds behind team-mate Ricciardo in P3.
The next stint saw Hamilton continue to extend his lead and by lap 38 he was 20 seconds ahead of Ricciardo and 21 ahead of Verstappen.
Once again, though, it was Rosberg who was on the move. This time he chased down Raikkonen and on lap 39 attempted to pass the Finn into Turn One. The move failed but he persisted and in Turn 3 he went down the inside but he went a little wide on exit and the pair banged wheels hard with Raikkonen being bounced right. The move was immediately put under investigation by the stewards.
Then, though, the race took its most dramatic turn, as on lap 41 flames burst from the back of Hamilton’s car and the race leader retired with a blown engine.
That promoted Ricciardo to the race lead but with Verstappen on newer hard tyres would the Australian be able to hold the lead?
The answer came swiftly, with the pair being pitted in tandem. Both were sent out on soft tyres. Rosberg too pitted for the same compound and set off in pursuit. The chase was quickly called off, however, the stewards handing the German a 10-second time penalty for causing the collision with Raikkonen.
It left Ricciardo in charge and he began to establish a gap to his team-mate.
Rosberg continued to push but with just nine seconds in hand over Raikkonen there was the possibility that the championship leader might miss out on a podium finish.
Raikkonen’s race engineer told the Finn “you know what you have to do”. The Finn might have but his car would not co-operate and within a few laps he began to lose time to Rosberg and when the pair crossed the line and Rosberg’s penalty was applied the German still had three seconds in hand over the Ferrari man to hold on to third place.
At the front Verstappen was pushing and with seven laps to go he was just 1.1s behind Ricciardo. But the Australian held firm and eventually crossed the line 2.4s clear of Verstappen to claim his fourth career win.
The result means that Rosberg extends his championship lead over Hamilton to 23 points, while Ricciardo further cements himself into third place in the title fight with 204 points.
In the Constructors’ battle Mercedes’ woes meant they missed out on their chance to seal the team’s title in Malaysia. They now have 533 points to Red Bull’s 359 with Ferrari third in 313.