Well, we are rapidly heading to the end of the 2016 Formula One season now and there is still nothing to separate the championship challengers. Malaysia, which has been early in the calendar has returned towards the end of the year one again after going through a number of changes to promoted better overtaking and faster speeds around the popular Sepang circuit.
It wasn’t a great race for Lewis Hamilton in Malaysia, he seemed not at one with either the car or the circuit, while teammate Nico Rosberg did just enough, at first to get the pole position and then to fend off Daniel Ricciardo in the race on a different strategy to the leader which if there was one more lap could have won the race.
Sepang though could swing slightly more towards a Mercedes and Ferrari battle, and was a race last year won by Sebastian Vettel. Mercedes struggled with their tyres there, just as they did in Singapore so they will certainly be aiming not to have a repeat again, although in 2014 it was a Lewis Hamilton win, his one and only in Malaysia. It will be one he wishes to make two, after having a difficult return after the summer break with Nico Rosberg winning three on the bound, and building a momentum to retake the drivers championship lead.
Red Bull didn’t get the success they wanted in Singapore, with Daniel Ricciardo narrowly missing out on the win. It was the best chance since Monaco at trying to take the victory and although the Renault engine has had a boost, the long straights of Malaysia could hurt their overall lap time. Riccairdo certainly had the upper hand over Verstappen at Singapore, but on a circuit not too different to Barcelona, could they strike another surprise. That would require something to go terribly wrong for Mercedes though…
We still haven’t heard anything from Sergio Perez on his destination for 2017. All the stars are pointing to another season at Force India, but he and his backers are hankering after something better. Eyeing a seat at Ferrari in 2018, a season at Haas could be an option replacing Esteban Gutierrez and keeping Mexican money in both Haas and Ferrari, although that would put him up against Romain Grosjean who is clearly the team leader there. There has also been speculation he could make a sensational move to Renault, given their current performance issues it would be a large bet, but with a whole season behind them to rebuild you would have to say they would be a better option in 2017 and 2018.
The next best seat, is at Williams which the Finns believe is going to Lance Stroll and the deal is already done. It does beg the question, What will happen to the Mercedes backed drivers? Pascal Wherlein could end up at Manor for another season if there is no opening at Force India, and Esteban Ocon is looking more and more likely that he will head to Renault.
The driver market is in full swing, right on the back of the new ownership of the sport. The first moves are already playing out, with new ideas and revenue streams already being talked about. With many races feeling the pinch, new revenue streams will be highly welcome to take the pressure off hosting a race. You never know, the queue may return…