Scuderia Ferrari German driver Sebastian Vettel produced what was arguably the drive of the day in Malaysia, scything through the field to finish fourth after starting from the back of the grid. But the German – who is rapidly falling out of title contention due to Ferrari‘s disastrous failure to press home their recent speed advantage – may now face the prospect of a five-place grid penalty for this weekend’s race in Japan.
A bizarre collision with Lance Stroll’s Williams on the warm-down lap left Sebastian Vettel’s car with its rear-left wheel draped over the back of the chassis, as well as possible damage to the gearbox. If that needs replacing, Vettel will have to drop down the grid at Suzuka as the existing gearbox has not completed the required six events. That would be another bitter pill to swallow for the German, who now trails Lewis Hamilton by 34 points in the drivers’ standings with just five races of the season remaining.
But whereas Vettel deserves sympathy for Ferrari’s engine shambles in Sepang, with both cars suffering from turbo issues over the weekend, his role in the incident with Stroll was less clear-cut.
Race stewards decided that “no driver was wholly or predominantly to blame for the incident” and took no action. But fans were split on who was to blame, just as they had been in Singapore two weekends ago when Vettel exited the race before he had even reached turn one, colliding with team-mate Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Stewards admitted afterwards they had not really considered the steering-wheel removal, having focused on the crash, although they did say of the lift home with the Sauber that “even though the race has ended, caution still needs to be exercised by all drivers on the slow-down lap”. Sebastian Vettel denied being at fault for the incident. “We were all going slow, I was going around the outside and then I think he wanted to pick up rubber, but he needs to look where other people are around him,” he said. “It was unnecessary.”
Asked if there was any damage to the gearbox, Vettel said: “We’ll check, but yeah, that could be another bad surprise this weekend.”