After a two year hiatus from podium wins, Ferrari finally ended its drought with a highly sought after 1st place finish in the FIA Formula 1 championship in Sepang.
With Sebastian Vettel at the wheel, he managed to beat the race favorites Mercedes Petronas team. Behind the fleet-footed German was reigning champion and pole sitter Lewis Hamilton.
Although Hamilton managed to maintain his lead in the championship, he struggled with pit-stop tactics and his Mercedes’ balance on to second place at 8.5 seconds behind Vettel but 3.7 seconds ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg.
Hamilton leads from the flag off but things took a turn for the worse for Mercedes as Marcus Ericsson in his Sauber managed to spun his car at Turn 1 at the fourth lap which brought the safety car out from its leash. Both Mercedes drivers immediately pitted for Pirelli’s hard compound where crucially Ferrari had Vettel maintain his medium compound tyres of which most of the other top 10 qualifiers had started with.
Now with Mercedes ensuring they need to adopt a three-stop strategy, Vettel was able to make use of the tyre’s lower degradation to control the race with a two-stop strategy. This left Mercedes at a great disadvantage.
Highlighting the Ferrari’s excellence and determination of the team to shake up the Formula 1 scene under the humidity and high temperatures of the Malaysian weather and track conditions, Kimi Raikkonen recovered from a first-lap puncture after an unfortunate brush with Felipe Nasr and a two-stop strategy to take fourth in the race standings.
Well ahead of a tension filled battle which saw Valtteri Bottas coming back from a first-lap clash with fellow driver Pastor Maldonado of Lotus-Mercedes to edge ahead of Bottas’ Williams teammate Felipe Massa on the second to last lap.
Young rookie Max Verstappen came in as a strong challenger for points and duly replied with some great driving to claim the 7th placing while being the last untapped driver of the race. At the tender age of 17, he is the youngest driver ever to score in the world championship points.
To add some joy to his team, Torro Rosso, teammate Carlos Sainz followed him home to claim 8th place.
It was a bleak race for both Red Bull drivers was being lapped by former driver and eventual the race winner, Sebastian Vettel. He had Daniil Kvyat took a lowly 9th placing after surviving an attack from Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg that forced him to spin at Turn 2 after a tough battle with teammate Daniel Ricciardo.
Daniel Ricciardo’s race is also an eventful one with his RB11 suffering front wing damage since the opening lap mishap.
Force India’s aggressive approach also claimed another victim with Force India’s Sergio Perez forcing Lotus driver Romain Grosjean into a spin after an overtaking attempts midway through the race.
But the Lotus driver recovered to claim 11th place ahead of troubled Sauber-Ferrari driver Felipe Nasr who struggled all afternoon and failed to repeat his brilliant Australian GP debut.
Force India’s Sergio Perez eventually led Hulkenberg home by just four-tents of a second but due to their aggressive approach has been given 10-second penalties for their gung-ho driving by the race stewards. Roberto Merhi finished the race for Marussia but teammate Will Stevens was unable to start his car due to his fuel-system problems on Saturday.
McLaren-Honda’s race was lacking as both drivers retired from the race due to technical mishaps. Jenson Button suffered a power loss on his car while teammate Fernando Alonso experienced undisclosed technical problem. Marcus Ericsson could not restart his car after spinning and consequentially became the day’s race’s first retirement. Joining him in the pits as well was Pastor Maldonado and both of the McLaren drivers.
With his victory, Vettel is closer than ever to current driver championship’s leader Lewis Hamilton with just three points separating the German and Hamilton. After two rounds the driver’s standing favored Hamilton leading the drivers standings with 43 points followed by Vettel with 40 and rounding up the top three is Nico Rosberg with 33 points. The constructors standing stood with Mercedes leading with a commanding 76 points followed by Ferrari boosted with Vettel’s win at 52 points and Williams who has 30 points going into the next round.
Photos: Roy Zakaria