Farewell Malaysia: 2017 Formula 1 Grand Prix

With the birth of my son in May 2016, I had mentally prepared myself to forego any travel plans that may have lay dormant in my mind. I mean, parenting was a life skill my wife and I had no concept of! Fast forward 5 months and as it turns out, babies are pretty hardy creatures. From early on it was apparent that our little one had given us a soft-start to parenthood. “Parenting for dummies” we joke. It was the exact reason I was fortunate enough to travel with friends half-way around the world to attend Italian Grand Prix in 2016. A caring and understanding wife who appreciates my love for F1 gave the green light as if she were Charlie Whiting herself, and we duly traveled afar to witness one of the most historic and prestigious motorsports events.

Fast-forward to April 2017 and the FIA had announced that the upcoming Malaysian Grand Prix to be held in October would be the last. The governing body and the promoter could not agree on terms for future events. Rising hosting fees were no longer viable against declining ticket sales. A friend suggested; “We should go, it will be the last race there, and the Malaysian GP is one of the closest to us!” (Living “down-under” can limit your options relating to world motorsport events).

As weeks went by, discussions amongst friends gained momentum;
“As things turn out, the Japanese GP is only the week after!”
“If we travel that far, we may as well see both!”
“The Malaysian dollar is so cheap against ours!”

Again, my ever supportive Wife waved the green flag and after some online searches for accommodation and air-fares, we were confirmed and booked. Sydney, Australia – Sepang, Malaysia – Suzuka, Japan…

Blessed with beaches, forests, and all of nature’s bounty, Malaysia, in many ways lives up to its reputation of being ‘truly Asia’. From the clash of history and modernity in glittering Kuala Lumpur, to the rich cultural heritage of Penang and the pristine white beaches of Langkawi – Malaysia did not disappoint. Whilst spending the majority of our time trackside, we managed to experience the rich culture and nightlife of Kuala Lumpur, A highlight being Jalan Alor food street markets. Whilst Western and European cuisine was hard to come by, the spicy Malaysian food proved a suitable and tasty alternative. Once known as the red light district, several facelifts over recent years transformed the Jalan Alor literally into a food haven.

Rain… that’s what we expected, and as we arrived for Free-practice 1 on Friday, the heavens opened. Malaysia is situated on the equator, 2,300km (1,480Mi) East of Sri Lanka and 2,500km (1,550Mi) West of the Philippines, just north of Singapore. Subject to humid, tropical conditions, the event is notorious for delayed race starts and canceled sessions ever since its inaugural race in 1999. Fortunately, the forecast was kind for us, but with the threat of rain in some capacity daily, the teams elected to run the cars in every session.

Two races prior, Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari held a 7 point lead over challenger Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes Benz. At the Singapore event, prior to Malaysia, the Ferrari drivers imploded at the start. With the fastest car and race set-up, both Vettel and teammate Raikkonen collided with Red Bull Diver Max Verstappen at the start, resulting in a double DNF (did-not-finish) for the Italian team, and a cake-walk for Hamilton who went on to win and take an 18 point lead into Malaysia. Ferrari needed a result here in Malaysia and early form in free practice suggested they had brought the upgrades needed to stay ahead of Mercedes.

Unfortunately, as qualifying unfolded, trouble struck with Vettel suffering an engine issue that forced him out of Qualifying. Hamilton claimed pole for the starting grid whilst Raikkonen went on to secure a front-row start out of position 2. The Red Bull cars of Verstappen and Ricciardo were 3rd and 4th, edging out Bottas in the second Mercedes.

As the cars warmed up for Sunday’s race Ferrari would face even further turmoil as Raikkonen withdrew – His engine too had suffered problems on the way to the start, retiring without completing a lap of the race.

Hamilton lead from the start but was pushed hard all race by the Red Bull cars who were surprisingly quick. An entertaining race saw Hamilton win from Max Verstappen in second and Aussie Danial Ricciardo in 3rd place. Despite the issues he succumbed to in qualifying, Sebastian Vettel was able to bring his Ferrari home in 4th place, however dropping more points to championship leader Hamilton.

Next Race – Suzuka, Japan! 

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