It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It’s part of the reason we watch, but the sheer accompanying misfortune and injustice can be crushing. For Lewis Hamilton the misfortune was desperate.
For most of the Malaysia Grand Prix weekend he was on a plateau. Firmly checking and reversing the momentum of previous rounds it seemed impossible that he wouldn’t win and at the very least take back almost all of the points deficit to his Mercedes team mate and title rival Nico Rosberg. It got even better for him at the start, as at the point of the weekend that has tripped him so often, this time it hardly could have been better. He led, and Nico was tapped by an errant Sebastian Vettel, spinning his Merc and leaving him last.
That was until lap 41, when Lewis’s power unit unglued itself, leaving him with nothing, just like that.
A roller-coaster race
It provided a reminder of a few perennials. That motorsport is not much like most other sports. Not least in that literally nothing is handed out until the end. Nothing done matters unless you finish. And sheer random chance can go a long way to deciding even the biggest prizes.
Nico’s day also went through a roller-coaster, appropriately. He recovered in fine style to finish third, enduring an additional dip and crest by getting ten seconds over Kimi Raikkonen to ensure his place, as the stewards fatuously thought he deserved that sanction for making contact with Kimi when passing.
His resultant 23 point title lead with five to go looks healthy, and hard to surmount. It was unfortunate that Lewis, with his usual heart on sleeve, talked darkly and apparently of conspiracies afterwards (later retracted). But we know of his emotional nature, and can appreciate how crushing this one was.
Someone worked out that for Nico one more win, and following Lewis home everywhere else, will be enough for the title. But the way this one is going it’s unwise to extrapolate. It probably won’t be any sort of comfort to Lewis but if the same thing happens to Nico in Suzuka in seven days, and he wins, then he leads the table himself.
Bull fight for the win
Lewis’s swift departure equally suddenly put an almost conjoined Red Bull pair one and two. Max Verstappen looked for a time that he might even beat Lewis after a smart decision to pit under an early Virtual Safety Car. Not so, but by this point he had much fresher tyres than his team mate Daniel Ricciardo and was attacking him vigorously. Ricciardo was defending equally vigorously.
But this battle ended literally as suddenly as Lewis’s race. When the Virtual Safety Car was deployed to clear up the stricken Merc both Bulls were pitted, and that – equalising things – was that.
In keeping with the day there was muttering that the Red Bull team had sought to guarantee Ricciardo’s win to make up for ones lost earlier in the year from team errors. Not so, insisted boss Christian Horner, it simply made most sense to take the ‘free’ pit stop. And it did.
It also was hard to deny that Ricciardo deserves a win from this campaign, and as he noted to a TV camera: “Sometimes you need a little bit to go your way. Swings both ways.” It’s also hard to deny Ricciardo’s sheer star quality both in and out of the car, on full display today. Or that his spontaneous emotion at the win was captivating.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.