Sebastian Vettel stormed to victory at the Malaysian Grand Prix this afternoon, combining the Scuderia’s strong pace with a peculiar Mercedes strategy to take his fourth victory in Sepang.
The start of Vettel’s victory came with Marcus Ericsson botching an overtake on Romain Grosjean and spinning into the gravel at turn 1. His beached car brought out the Safety Car for several laps, and importantly saw the Mercedes duo dive for the pit lane, but second-placed Vettel staying out.
Several laps later, when the Safety Car came back into the pit lane, Vettel raced away in the front but Hamilton and Rosberg were stuck in traffic. Vettel had Hulkenberg, Grosjean, Sainz and Perez to act as a buffer zone in front of Hamilton, with Rosberg another few cars behind again.
The reigning World Champion struggled more than expected to get past the misplaced midfield, and when he did finally get into free air, Hamilton surprisingly could not close the gap to the leading Ferrari. The gap lingered at the ten second mark until Vettel finally pitted.
Judging by Mercedes’ form last year and so far this year, it could be expected that the race was over with Vettel emerging from the pits in third place. On the contrary, the German sped up to his compatriot Nico Rosberg and took second before beginning his bloodthirsty chase of Hamilton who had a twelve second lead on him.
Within no time though, Vettel was within two seconds of Hamilton as the latter frantically reported that his tyres were degrading rapidly. The Ferrari was drawing even with the Mercedes later on the same lap and Hamilton ducked into the pit lane to adopt a new set of boots.
Vettel stayed out in front until his second stop, by which Hamilton had closed the gap to fifteen seconds. Crucially, Vettel emerged from his final stop ahead of Rosberg while Lewis reported that his tyres felt very bad and soon pitted again.
Emerging from the pits, Hamilton complained that his tyres were the hard compound as opposed to the faster medium tyres, but was told that he had the only fresh tyres available to him. His team-mate also pitted and slotted back into the race in third.
With the top three drivers having completed their final stops for the race, the Grand Prix turned into a procession to the flag, with Vettel unchallenged on his way to the 56th lap where he took the chequered flag. Crossing the line, he secured his 40th victory in Formula One – putting him one behind Ayrton Senna’s tally of wins.
In contrast to his team-mate’s straight-forward day, Raikkonen fought an uphill battle on his way to fourth. The Finn took a stab from Felipe Nasr’s front wing on the first lap and had to endure a full lap with a flailing Pirelli carcass. The rest of his afternoon was spent clawing back from the very back of the grid.
Pastor Maldonado also suffered a puncture this weekend, an innocent victim for the second weekend in a row. He was nudged by the returning Valtteri Bottas and also dropped down the classification. The Venezuelan’s afternoon ended prematurely when he was beckoned into the pit lane to retire the car.
In the other Lotus, Romain Grosjean finished just outside the points, as he crossed the line eleventh. The Frenchman was hit by Force India’s Sergio Perez as he attempted an overtake, but made a fantastic save in an out-of-control spin, which prevented him from ending in a similar fate to that of Ericsson in the earlier part of the race.
Perez was awarded a ten-second penalty for causing the incident, and his team-mate took the same penalty for a similar infringement: he kicked Daniil Kvyat’s Red Bull into a spin at the second turn, losing the Russian time and a place to Daniel Ricciardo. The latter suffered throughout with a plume of brake dust shooting from the car at every corner, but survived the race to finish tenth.
Both Red Bull men were behind their sister team. The young and impressive Max Verstappen finished ahead of Carlos Sainz when an out braking incident turned into an impromptu overtake, while Kvyat finished ninth ahead of Ricciardo.
The Williams team-mates were a lap down by the end of the race, which seems to be a step down from their 2014 showing. The Grove-based drivers battled tooth-and-nail over the final stages of the race and it was Bottas who emerged on top, finishing fourth ahead of Massa in fifth.
Roberto Merhi was the sole Manor car driving today after an issue was discovered on Will Steven’s car shortly before the race. Despite losing one car, the team were fairly upbeat as they celebrated getting their car to the end of the race: an impressive feat for a team which didn’t exist two months ago.
Ferrari’s Team Principal Mario Arrivabene said pre-season that the team’s goal for the year was to win two races. With half of the objective met after just two races, it seems hard to imagine them not achieving it. But can Vettel and Ferrari challenge Hamilton for the title?
Full Race Results:
- Sebastian Vettel
- Lewis Hamilton
- Nico Rosberg
- Kimi Raikkonen
- Valtteri Bottas
- Felipe Massa
- Max Verstappen
- Carlos Sainz
- Daniil Kvyat
- Daniel Ricciardo
- Romain Grosjean
- Felipe Nasr
- Sergio Perez
- Nico Hulkenberg
- Roberto Merhi
- Pastor Maldonado
- Jenson Button
- Fernando Alonso
- Marcus Ericsson
Image courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari