There was another driver change when F1 returned at Spa following the summer break. Manor announced that Esteban Ocon was replacing Rio Haryanto after he failed to meet his contractual obligations.
The other news was that Hamilton would take a double engine penalty following failures earlier in the season meaning he would start last. Joining Hamilton with engine penalties was McLaren’s Alonso, would join him on the back row for the same reason.
Rosberg took pole, while Hamilton and Alonso focused on race strategy and 107% rule. Joining Rosberg at the front and looking to be his main threat this weekend were the Red Bulls with Verstappen the Belgian born Dutchman starting on the front row ahead off the Ferrari’s. While Ocon would make his debut from eighteenth.
Rosberg took control, as it appeared that no one could catch the Mercedes which was suited to the circuit. Renaults Kevin Magnussen came a casualty of Spa, the Dane lost control at the top of Eau Rogue spinning off a 150mph shattering his car and bringing the red flag out!
This was good for Hamilton and Alonso, by this point they had reached the top ten. When the race got going again they were in good position with Hamilton going onto finish on the podium and Alonso holding off Massa to finish sixth. While Sainz was another casualty as his rear tyre exploded on the Kemmel Straight sending him spinning breaking his rear wing and putting him out of the race.
There was more driver news four days later when F1 arrived in Monza, Felipe Massa made an announcement that he was retiring after making the decision not to talk about renewing his contract Williams. His announcement at Monza was symbolic after an eight years at Ferrari and it prompted the Button return to Williams rumour into over drive.
Hamilton was again at his best during qualifying, going half a second quicker than Rosberg to take pole. It was a good session and weekend toping nearly all the session. Rosberg did go faster in Q2 tho after Hamilton flat spotted his tyres. Red Bull once again which was a surprise as they were expected to be behind the Ferrari’s.
After qualifying it was McLaren’s turn to make an announcement about their line-up. Everyone was expecting with Massa now gone that Button was leaving for Williams, but he wasn’t he was to remain with the team. But after his brilliant drive in Bahrain the team has chosen Stoffel Vandoorne to drive alongside Alonso next season.
Hamilton made an awful start allowing Rosberg into the lead and losing five places on the first lap. But he tried to come back at him and he come back. Ferrari were looking strong this weekend, but the Tolfi knew that really it would be difficult for them to take victory. However, there was some delight as Vettel gained a podium for the team.
The only incident and retirements in the race was Renault’s Jolyon Palmer and Sabuer’s Felipe Nasr. Nasr appeared to squeeze Palmer on the exit of turn two when the pair made contact, with him being given a ten second penalty by the stewards
Rosberg dominated qualifying in Singapore going half a second faster than the lap record set by Hamilton. It was a strong weekend for Red Bull once again with Ricciardo having spilt the two Mercedes with Verstappen in fourth. Hamilton messed up his last run in Q3 as for Vettel he dropped out in Q1.
Neither of the Williams made it through to Q3 following Romain Grosjean crashing his Haas into the wall at turn 10. The Frenchman lost grip going in locking up sliding into the barrier. But the big question was had Mercedes learnt the mistakes that they made last year?
Rosberg’s form carried into Sunday after holding off a serious challenge from Red Bull in the closing stages to take victory. It was a clos fought battle at the front between Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari, with Ricciardo pushing Rosberg at the front and Raikkonen pushing Hamilton.
Hulkenberg tired an ambitious move on Sainz, but that ended with them both crashing into retirement bringing out the safety car. But this caused drama on the restart, a marshal was still on circuit when the race restarted! Alonso managed to use the crash of Hulkenberg to his advantage to hold off pressure through the pit stops of Carlos Sainz, Daniil Kvyat and Max Verstappen.
Hamilton took pole in Sepang, going half a second faster than Rosberg and broke the lap record. Hamilton seemed full of confidence after that lap, saying that he “could of gone faster.” Red Bull once again out qualified the Ferrari’s which puts them in a fight tomorrow after both teams looked strong in practice.
Verstappen celebrated his nineteen birthday, by out-qualifying team-mate Ricciardo followed by the two Ferrari’s. While another engine penalty meant Alonso would start last.
Hamilton dominated most of the race until, “oh no, no” on lap forty one his engine gave up. He was on course for taking the win and more importantly the lead of the championship. What unfolded next, was an intense battle between Rosberg, Verstappen and Ricciardo.
Verstappen was getting caught in traffic, which was holding Ricciardo up. This meant Red Bull was forced to allow Ricciardo past allowing him to go on to victory.
Vettel was out at the first corner after the German hit Verstappen going into Turn One which then caused him to tag Rosberg. Rosberg then fought with Kimi Raikkonen, but his five second lead was wiped out by a ten-second penalty applied by the stewards for causing a collision.
Both McLarens however, had their best results of the season with Alonso finishing seventh after starting at the back and Button ninth.
What would happen in the next five races, now with the title wide open?