Vintage Vettel spoils Mercedes party, wins Malaysian GP
Sebastian Vettel stunned world champion Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes on Sunday with an audacious Malaysian Grand Prix victory which ignited the Formula One season.
The Ferrari man took advantage of an early safety car as he hit the front and held off Hamilton and Nico Rosberg after pitting only twice, compared to three for the Mercedes pair. The four-time world champion has now racked up 40 career wins but it is his first with Ferrari, breaking a dry spell which stretches back to his last race with Red Bull in 2013.
Few of the German's victories can have been as telling or as satisfying as Sunday's, since he shattered assumptions of Mercedes' unassailable superiority in 2015.
Hamilton got away smoothly from pole and Vettel aggressively defended second from a charging Rosberg, helped by a nudge against the Mercedes as they battled round the first corner. Kimi Raikkonen and Pastor Maldonado were quickly hit by punctures, and Sauber's Marcus Ericsson lasted just three laps before he spun off on Turn 1, prompting the safety car. Vettel chose not to follow Hamilton into the pits during the intervention and had built up a healthy lead by the time the Briton weaved from sixth to second by lap 11. When Vettel finally pitted after lap 17, he re-emerged behind the two Mercedes but he set the day's fastest lap so far and scorched past his fellow German at the end of lap 21. Vettel was on Hamilton's tailpipe when the Briton made his second stop at the end of lap 25, dropping back behind the Ferrari driver and Rosberg. Rosberg pitted to promote Hamilton to second, and the Briton floored it with a pair of fastest laps as he set about whittling away Vettel's big lead of more than 20 seconds. With 14 laps and a gap of 14 seconds, the chase was tense and Hamilton snapped: “Hey man, don't talk to me through the corners!” as Mercedes tried to update him over the radio. But Hamilton, who won the season-opener in Australia, was unable to catch Vettel as the German claimed Ferrari's first win since Spain 2013 by a gap of 8.5 seconds.
Raikkonen was fourth for Ferrari, ahead of the Williams cars of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa. Young Verstappen finished a brilliant seventh in just his second drive. But there was more woe for former superpower McLaren as ex-world champions Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button were both forced to retire.
Force India draw blank
Sahara Force India drew a blank from the Formula 1 Malaysian Grand Prix after Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg finished 13th and 14th on Sunday. Force The Silverstone-based team had done well for a double points finish at Melbourne. Hulkenberg jumped to seventh from 13th on the grid with the entry of Safety Car in the opening few laps. Later on, both Hulkenberg and Perez were handed a 10 second penalty for a contact with Romain Grosjean and Daniil Kvyat, ending all hopes of finishing in the top-10. “It was a tough afternoon and I was always kept very busy with lots going on around me,” said Hulkenberg.