Malaysia GP: Sebastian Vettel beats Mercedes for first Ferrari win
Vettel makes one less pit stop to see off Hamilton and Rosberg for his first win since 2013; Hamilton hot and bothered over radio as Mercedes strategy called into question; Raikkonen finishes fourth in second Ferrari after lap-two puncture; Double DNF for McLaren
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 21/04/15 3:24pm
Sebastian Vettel spectacularly announced Ferrari's return as a Formula 1 force by beating the Mercedes drivers to win an absorbing Malaysia GP.
In just his second grand prix for the Scuderia since his high-profile winter switch from Red Bull, Vettel ended his new team's 34-race victory drought with a tactical and tyre preservation triumph in the stifling heat of Sepang to ignite the 2015 season.
Confirming pre-race expectations that the impressive SF15-T would be able to complete one fewer pitstop than the Mercedes W06 as track temperatures soared beyond 60 degrees, Vettel stopped only twice and overhauled Lewis Hamilton who finished second.
Vettel's victory, the landmark 40th of his career - just one less than Ayrton Senna and the German's first since his last title triumph in 2013 - not only delivered Mercedes' first race-day defeat since last August but also arguably represented the very first time since F1's switch to hybrid engines last year that the German manufacturer has been beaten on pure performance.
"We beat them fair and square," declared an emotional Vettel on the podium. Hamilton, who finished 8.5 seconds adrift at the chequered flag, then admitted: "They were too fast for us today."
With Mercedes' domination of the season-opener having prompted much doom-mongering around the sport, Ferrari's stunning return to form is likely to provide F1 with a timely shot in the arm.
“You cannot expect that you are going to win races forever and we are here to extract the maximum performance. This is a well-deserved win for Ferrari as much as it hurts from a racers point of view, but maybe this is the wake-up call that we needed," Mercedes motorsport chief Toto Wolff admitted. "Hopefully all the nonsense of equalisation stops now. It was a good day for Formula 1, not such a perfect day for Mercedes, but we will come back stronger.”
Having forcibly held off Nico Rosberg, who finished third, at the start of the race, Vettel inherited the lead when Mercedes opted to pit both of their cars under an early Safety Car. And from there, Ferrari surprisingly took control of the race, for once putting the hitherto dominant world champions firmly on the back foot.
Vettel was able to run longer on the more fragile medium tyres for the first two stints, whereas Mercedes initially attempted to run longer on the hard, but the world champions knew the race was starting to go away from them when the German overtook Rosberg and then Hamilton on track after his first stop.
Unusually, Mercedes even split their tyre strategies from the third stint onwards as they desperately tried to respond to the flying Ferrari, something which left an increasingly agitated Hamilton perplexed after he ran the slower hard tyres to the flag.
“This is the wrong tyre, man," bemoaned Hamilton over the radio.
Sepang tyre strategies
1. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
Two stops - Medium, Medium, Hard.
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Three stops – Medium, Hard, Medium, Hard.
3. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Three stops – Medium, Hard, Hard, Medium.
Rosberg, having failed to pass Vettel off the line, finished less than four seconds behind his team-mate in third after running the medium tyres in the final stint, but in truth rarely figured during a relatively low-key performance.
Although the top three surged away from the rest of the field, fourth-placed Kimi Raikkonen underlined the sudden Ferrari resurgence by recovering from a second-lap puncture to race back through the field and beat the off-colour Williams cars.
Having ended last season as Mercedes' nearest challengers, Williams' fifth and sixth places - some 70 seconds behind the race winner - confirmed the Grove team's fears from Melbourne that they have been leapfrogged by Ferrari.
Valtteri Bottas, having missed out in Albert Park due to injury, finished as the lead FW37 in fifth after he passed Felipe Massa in the closing stages.
Still, the competitive picture is even worse for Red Bull after their promising wet-weather qualifying gave way to a race full of struggle as both Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo appeared handicapped by brake wear.
For the second successive race, the former world champions were lapped with Kvyat beating Ricciardo to ninth place. Indeed, such were their struggles, that Red Bull's 'A' squad was beaten by their junior team as Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz came home seventh and eighth respectively.
Verstappen's achievement means that the Dutchman, at just 17 years and 180 days old, replaces Kvyat as the sport's youngest-ever points scorer by a full two years.
McLaren, however, are still searching for their first points of their second Honda era after both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button failed to make the finish in the fragile MP4-30s. The double retirement clouded what had been a more encouraging performance for the team as they battled with some of the midfield runners for the first time in 2015.