Sebastian Vettel won a thrilling Malaysian Grand Prix as Ferrari outpaced Mercedes in hot conditions at Sepang.
Starting from second on the grid, Vettel held off Nico Rosberg at the start and then stayed out on track during an early safety car period as both Mercedes drivers switched to hard tyres. Ferrari had made the right strategy call, however, and was better on the medium tyres which allowed Vettel to build up a substantial lead which Lewis Hamilton could not close down in the final stint.
Hamilton eventually finished 8.5 seconds behind the Ferrari, with the Scuderia taking its first victory in 35 races following a drought stretching back to the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix. Nico Rosberg completed the podium but was never a realistic threat to Vettel having struggled to climb through traffic early in the race, finishing 12.3 seconds adrift of the winner.
Vettel’s win is the first of his Ferrari career in only his second race for the team, and the manner of his victory suggests he could be a genuine title contender this season following his third place in Australia.
Kimi Raikkonen highlighted Ferrari’s pace with fourth place as he had to recover from a puncture at the end of the first lap which saw him complete a full lap at slow speed before being able to pit. While aided by a safety car at the start of the following lap, Raikkonen still had to climb through the field.
The safety car was a pivotal moment in the race, with Marcus Ericsson spinning off at the start of lap three as he attempted to pass Nico Hulkenberg around the outside of Turn 1. Both Mercedes drivers immediately swapped their medium tyres for hards, but Vettel stayed out and had an advantage of 10 seconds once Hamilton had climbed back up to second place after the restart.
With Vettel able to go until lap 18 on his first set of mediums, he immediately signalled himself out as two-stopping while the Mercedes cars were struggling with degradation. When Vettel made his first stop and emerged in third place on mediums, he reeled in both Rosberg and Hamilton, passing the latter for the lead just as the 2014 world champion peeled off in to the pits for his second stop.
Hamilton opted for medium tyres when he pitted again on lap 24, but was such was the Ferrari tyre advantage that Vettel’s second stop came just one lap before Hamilton’s final one, leaving the Mercedes to try and chase him down in the final stint. While Mercedes initially told Hamilton he would catch Vettel with five laps to go, the four-time champion managed the gap to take an emotional first victory for Ferrari.
Behind the Ferrari and Mercedes battle, Williams finished fifth and sixth with Valtteri Bottas leading team-mate Felipe Massa over the line after a late move. However, the pace shown by the front runners was highlighted by Bottas being over 70 seconds adrift of Vettel at the flag.
Max Verstappen in seventh place was the final driver not lapped by Vettel, with the 17-year-old becoming the youngest driver to score points in F1 history. Verstappen overtook team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr late in the race as the two Toro Rossos beat the two Red Bulls of Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo in to ninth and tenth places respectively.
While it was a bad day for Red Bull, it was an even worse day for McLaren as Fernando Alonso was able to watch Vettel's march to victory in the seat he vacated at the end of last season. Alonso ran competitively before having to retire with what McLaren said was an ERS cooling issue, and Jenson Button later suffered a loss of power due to a turbo problem as the team failed to have a car classified in a race for the first time since 2006.
While neither McLaren finished, Manor got its lone challenger to the end of the race as Roberto Merhi finished three laps down in 15th place on his F1 debut. Merhi's team-mate Will Stevens was unable to start the race following a fuel system issue on Saturday which the team could not resolve in time.
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|01||S. Vettel||Ferrari||56 laps - 1h41m05.793s||2|
|07||M. Verstappen||Toro Rosso||+1m39.085||3|
|08||C. Sainz||Toro Rosso||+1 lap||2|
|09||D. Kvyat||Red Bull||+1 lap||3|
|10||D. Ricciardo||Red Bull||+1 lap||3|
|11||R. Grosjean||Lotus||+1 lap||3|
|12||F. Nasr||Sauber||+1 lap||4|
|13||S. Perez||Force India||+1 lap||2|
|14||N. Hulkenberg||Force India||+1 lap||3|
|15||R. Merhi||Manor||+3 laps||0|