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The Malaysian weekend dawned with a change to the circuit, with banking now added to the final turn, gravel added in lieu of tarmac in some of the runoff areas, and a few other reprofiling jobs intended to aid overtaking.
There was also an engine change for Fernando Alonso, relegating the McLaren to the back of the grid, but with an upgraded engine that put him 5th in an early practice session. Despite that, a 45-place penalty finished his chances of qualifying anywhere but last.
Elsewhere in practice, Kevin Magnussen had a scary moment as a fuel leak caused him to pit amid a cloud of smoke, which quickly became a fire as the Dane leapt from his car. Extinguisher-equipped marshals wearing only shorts and t-shirts were first on scene, raising safety questions immediately.
Qualifying was a fairly tame affair; aside from Renault and McLaren, everyon lined up two by two. Hamilton led Rosberg on row 1, Verstappen beat Ricciardo on row 2, Vettel pipped Raikkonen for row 3 and Perez stole 7th ahead of Hulkenberg. Button took 9th place, leading the 2 Williams, the Haas pair, Magnussen, Toro Rosso, Sauber, and Palmer in 19th. Ocon qualified 20th ahead of Wehrlein as he continued to impress both Mercedes and Renault. Alonso, with his new engine, completed the field.
Hamilton was lining up for his 100th career front row start.
Ricciardo reckoned he and Verstappen had an extra set of softs compared to the rest of the top ten, hoping that might tip the balance in their favour against Mercedes.
A puff of smoke signalled the end of Massa's hope of completing the formation lap. He told the team his throttle wasn't working which forced Williams to roll the car into the pits and try to reset the electrics before the lights went out. Force India, fighting for 4th in the constructors' championship.
Palmer started on hard tyres, while Nasr, Bottas and Magnussen took mediums. The other 18 cars, including Massa in the pits, started on softs.
Palmer reported a loss of power on the formation lap but took the start.
Vettel piled into the side of Rosberg, spinning the Mercedes from 2nd and ending his own race. The VSC was launched but Hamilton was in a great position for the championship with Rosberg now in 21st. Gutierrez, not far ahead, was running with a rear puncture. Vettel was put under investigation after the race.
Kvyat, Massa, Magnussen and Gutierrez all pitted. Kvyat took a new front wing, having run into the back of the Renault.
Incredibly at the end of the VSC, Alonso had climbed to 12th and Ocon to 10th.
Verstappen, replays showed, passed Raikkonen before a green flag post, but technically the VSC ends at every point on track at the same time, rather than the Safety Car Line as with a full-blown neutralisation.
Another problem for Massa saw him forced to pit on lap 6 with a puncture. The team were also readying a wing for him.
Grosjean lost his rear brake at the final corner, backing it into the gravel with no hope of rejoining the race. The VSC was again deployed.
Verstappen took a pit stop under the VSC, as did both McLaren and Force India cars. On track, Rosberg was asking the team to keep an eye on a tyre for him as he drove over debris.
Ocon was investigated for speeding in the pit lane, later handed the customary 5-second penalty. He was to receive another later on.
Magnussen was forced to retire from earlier damage that seriously compromised his pace.
Hamilton and Raikkonen pitted on lap 20, Verstappen climbing to 2nd behind Ricciardo. The Australian came in for hards a lap later, staying ahead of Raikkonen and Rosberg as he resumed in 3rd.
Verstappen pitted on lap 27, dropping the Red Bull into 3rd.
Raikkonen, clinging to 4th ahead of Rosberg, was being told to back off a little to preserve battery life. For a moment it felt like a Formula E race. The front wheel of Rosberg tagged Raikkonen's wing, throwing up shards of carbon fibre as the championship leader tried to minimise the swing in Hamilton's favour. The incident went under investigation, Rosberg given a 10-second penalty.
The Red Bulls went side by side but Verstappen, with better pace at this point with about 15 laps remaining, was struggling to live with Ricciardo's experience.
Mercedes' first Sunday mechanical failure of 2016 struck at a critical point: flames blasting from the back of Hamilton's car and saving Rosberg's championship lead. Ricciardo and Verstappen now led under the VSC, Rosberg technically on the podium now. Both Red Bulls pitted under the VSC, stacking Max a little. The teenager was a little further back now but with better tyres than before, although Ricciardo took on his brand new softs. Gutierrez also pitted, but his car blew the wheel off and put the Haas out too. He was investigated after the race also.
With Rosberg's penalty just announced, he had to pull out more than 4 seconds relative to Raikkonen.
Somehow amid all the chaos, Alonso was 7th, Button 9th and Palmer 10th with just 11 laps to go.
Nasr parked with the leaders on lap 48, becoming the 6th retirement.
Kvyat reported brake problems, locking up a lot in the last few laps.
Ricciardo took his first win of 2016 ahead of teammate Verstappen, Rosberg completing the podium. Raikkonen finished 4th ahead of Bottas, Perez, Alonso, Hulkenberg, Button and Palmer. Sainz failed to score in 11th, leading Ericsson, Massa, Kvyat, Wehrlein and Ocon. Nasr, Gutierrez, Hamilton, Magnussen, Grosjean and Vettel retired.
Rosberg went into the final 5 races with a 23 point lead and greater faith in his engines than Hamilton who was suggesting sabotage after his dominant run was cut short.