When Mercedes locked out the front row for the Malaysian Grand Prix with Lewis Hamilton on pole, it seemed all but certain that the team would end the race with another one-two finish and wrap up their third consecutive Constructors’ Championship.
But when the lights went out things rapidly went wrong for the Silver Arrows, as Nico Rosberg got caught up in an incident between Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen and ended up dropping to the very back of the field.
Fortunately the German’s car was undamaged and Rosberg set about carving his way through the the back of the field. Before long he had returned to the points and closing on the back of Kimi Räikkönen, with Mercedes now looking at a first and fourth with Hamilton leading by some twenty seconds from Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.
But just as Mercedes seemed to be in the clear once more, tragedy struck the other Silver Arrow of Lewis Hamilton in the form of a violent engine failure, sending him spluttering onto the runoff at Turn 1 with flames rising from the exhaust.
For Mercedes, the anguish of recording their first mechanical DNF since Russia last year was clear – not only had the team been forced to delay celebrating its third World Constructors’ Championship and missed out once again on breaking McLaren’s 1988 record of eleven consecutive wins in a season, but it had done so with its lead car in flames in front of a de facto home crowd.
“It’s hard to know how to sum up a day like today,” Toto Wolff said after the race. “I just have no words for what happened to Lewis. We all feel his pain. This is a mechanical sport, with so much technology, but sometimes you just get blindsided by situations with no rational explanation.
“But we take a forensic approach to our work in how we build the engines and how we analyse failures. We have always done and we will do so again. Our guys will get to the bottom of what happened and learn from it.”
Paddy Lowe added “we’re all absolutely devastated for [Hamilton]. As a team we’ve worked incredibly hard to improve reliability over the past few years and have succeeded in doing so.
“Indeed, this was our first race failure of the year.”
Mercedes’ only consolation came when Rosberg made a bold move past Kimi Räikkönen through Turn 2 to get himself back into the podium positions, but even this was soured when the stewards deemed the move too aggressive and handed Rosberg a ten-second time penalty for making contact with the Ferrari.
Nevertheless, with some twenty laps to go to the finish Rosberg was easily able to open up the necessary gap to Räikkönen to keep his third place, thereby extending his lead at the top of the championship to 23 points over Hamilton.