THERE is a word in the English language that is often overused without the context of its full meaning, but as I arrived at the Sepang International Circuit for my first live Formula 1 experience, I was finally able to comprehend what the word surreal truly means. And yes, I’m still pinching myself.As the crowds streamed en masse to the final hosting of the Malaysian Grand Prix expectations were high among the colourful fans of Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull, and many others as various nationalities converged to relish in and share their passion for Formula 1 racing. While the excitement of race day reduced the sweltering heat and humidity, which consistently hovers in the high 80s Fahrenheit (above 26 degrees Centigrade), to a mere footnote, it was Ferrari who looked the real deal in practice and qualifying with Raikkonen on the front row. But while Hamilton racked up yet another pole position, albeit by half of a tenth, Sebastian Vettel ran into reliability issues, which relegated him to 20th on the grid. Still, Ferrari looked to have, in the form of Raikkonen, more than enough pace in the pocket to stroll to the chequered flag. It, however, wasn’t to be as, much to the crowd’s despair, the Finn did not even make the start of the race thanks to a similar electrical issue that afflicted his teammate, Vettel, in Saturday’s qualifying. It seemingly left the door open for Hamilton to inflict maximum damage on his rival, but the Mercedes team and championship leader suffered a humiliating defeat to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen who turned a stunning pace which relegated Hamilton to second and without any possible chance of victory. The young Dutchman was a definite crowd favourite who elicited cheers from the packed turn one grandstand every time he passed it. Imagine the roar then when Verstappen snatched the lead from Hamilton and proceeded to easily pull away from the Mercedes. With consummate ease Verstappen produced a fabulous performance to secure only his second victory in F1. Hamilton, a distant and disconsolate second, trailed home more than 10 seconds adrift. Meanwhile, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo held onto third ahead of Vettel who charged through the field to finish fourth. Valtteri Bottas’ lackluster form continued with an unspectacular fifth place some 26 seconds adrift of Vettel’s Ferrari. While Sergio Perez finished a solid sixth, one of the definite stars of the day was McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne who finished an impressive seventh overall. The Williams driver pairing of Lance Stroll and Felipe Massa finished eighth and ninth respectively while Esteban Ocon took the final point on offer for tenth in the Force India. Despite not winning, Lewis Hamilton extended his championship to 34 points ahead of this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix. The Suzuka circuit is one too that, on paper, should suit the Mercedes better than the Ferrari, but as the situation stands, the Italian team must throw all caution to the wind if they, and Sebastian Vettel, want to salvage anything from the 2017 season.