Lewis Hamilton's hopes of a third consecutive F1 drivers' championship title were dealt a massive blow after the Briton retired from the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix, which he was comfortably leading, with an internal combustion engine failure. Daniel Ricciardo won ahead of his teammate Max Verstappen while Nico Rosberg took the third place with a gritty drive from the back of the field to increase the championship lead to 23 points with five races remaining.
It all looked to be going Hamilton's way when Rosberg had a spin in Turn 1 on the opening lap, when he made contact with Sebastian Vettel, who was trying to make a pass on Verstappen. The Ferrari driver is being investigated for causing the collision with the decision likely to be revealed before the end of the day.
The collision put the championship leader right at the back of the pack, and ended Vettel's race leaving Hamilton in the lead and a great chance to close the gap and probably take the lead in the championship. The incident between Vettel and Verstappen also gave Ricciardo, Sergio Perez and Kimi Raikonnen the chance to pass the Dutch driver. A virtual safety car was deployed to clear the Ferrari and Verstappen wasted no time in overtaking the Finn and the Force India driver immediately after the restart to take the third place.
Red Bull clearly had good pace in the race and a brilliant strategy call from the team saw the 19-year-old Dutchman come into the pits for a fresh set of soft compound tyres during another virtual safety car, while Hamilton and Ricciardo decided to stay out. This seemed to be a great decision as Verstappen made up a big chunk owing to the virtual safety car and it ensured that he took the lead when the two race leaders pitted later in the event.
Hamilton, however, was much quicker after he switched to the hard compound tyres and eventually retook the lead when Verstappen made his second stop and looked comfortable for victory after building a 20-second gap on the Red Bull driver. But it was not to be as 13 laps from the end smoke began to pour out of the Mercedes and eventually there was a fire with the Briton screaming "Oh!, No No," in despair as his car came to a halt at the end of Turn 1.
Ricciardo was handed the lead while a virtual safety car was initiated and both Red Bulls made their final stops of the race. Verstappen had come close to passing his teammate a few laps prior to
Hamilton's incident and tried again in the final stint, but in the end settled for the second place as Red Bull celebrated their first one-two finish since 2013.
Rosberg, meanwhile, had made his way up the grid with some gritty driving and was battling Raikonnen for the fourth place which then became third after his teammate's exit. After following the Ferrari for a number of laps, he made a move at Turn 2 and was involved in a minor collision, but was adjudged to have done it unfairly and was handed a 10-second penalty.
The Mercedes was much too quick for the Ferrari and he was comfortably able to open up a 13-second gap with Raikonnen ensuring he finished third to increase the gap with Hamilton. The British reigning world champion was unhappy following the race and made it clear that he will be questioning Mercedes regarding the engine failures, which have happened on more than one occasion this season, but has not affected Rosberg.
"My question is to Mercedes. We have so many engines made, but mine are the only ones failing this year. Someone needs to give me some answers because this is not acceptable. We are fighting for the championship and only my engines are failing. It does not sit right with me," Hamilton said, as quoted by BBC Sport.
The McLaren-Honda team will be delighted after seeing both their cars finish in the points with Fernando Alonso finishing seventh despite starting at the back of the grid, and Jenson Button taking the ninth place in what was his 300th Grand Prix start. Sergio Perez, Valtteri Bottas and Nico Hulkenburg were the other cars in the top 10.