FERRARI’S Sebastian Vettel struggled to keep hold of his emotions as he captured his maiden victory for the Maranello team in Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix, beating the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamiton and Nico Rosberg.
The German started second behind polesitter Hamilton but exploited both raw pace and astute strategy to inflict the first defeat for the Silver Arrows since September 2014.
“It’s been a while that I haven’t been on the top step. It’s my first time obviously with Scuderia Ferrari. I’m speechless. Obviously a big change over the winter and the welcome the team gave me is just fantastic”, said Vettel post race.
Hamilton had made the best start away from pole position, leaving Rosberg and Vettel to dispute second and third place on the run down into turn one. Rosberg resisted the temptation to slide into the side of Vettel and settled for third.
After a fourth lap safety car to recover Marcus Ericsson’s spun out Sauber, many of the front runners opted to come in for their opening stops. Vettel on the other hand, chose to stay out, sticking to a two-stop strategy.
The safety car also handed a lifeline to team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, who suffered a puncture after light contact from Felipe Nasr at the final corner. The unfortunate timing of the incident forced the Finn to complete a whole lap before reaching the pits. With the field neutralised, Raikkonen started to make inroads over the remaining 50 laps to finish a credible fourth.
“We had a pretty poor weekend in terms of things going wrong. I had too much wheelspin right off the line, I found myself fighting with all the other drivers and I had a puncture on the rear left tyre while battling Nasr at the last corner”, said Raikkonen.
“We did our best and the forth position was the maximum we could achieve. The win of Sebastian is a very good thing for him and for the whole team , knowing how difficult the last year has been; it’s a very good job what the team has done.
Vettel made perfect use of the cars between himself and Hamilton to build a 10 second lead over the Briton. Hamilton did well to scythe his way through the slower cars – including a perfectly timed out-braking manoeuvre on Carlos Sainz Jr’s Toro Rosso – to work his up to second place and start hunting down Vettel.
Vettel’s stop on lap 15 gave Hamilton the lead again, but with the reigning champion having to make one more stop than the German, he needed to eek out a margin. He couldn’t do that, and, sliding around with alarming regularity, Hamilton’s tyres were losing grip.
Vettel closed in on, and passed Rosberg on lap 21 and reduced the seven second margin of Hamilton to nothing no fewer than four laps after. Hamilton, suffering more with every passing lap was passed with ease by Vettel and the Brit pulled swiftly into the pits, abandoning an attempted switch to a two-stop strategy.
Rosberg would have a quiet, uneventful race from this moment onwards and finished a distant third place, some 12.3s behind race winner Vettel.
Vettel’s former teams Toro Rosso and Red Bull endured a race long battle with the former, sister team coming out on top. Seventeen year-old Max Verstappen had a strong race, pulling off several overtaking manoeuvres en route to becoming the sport’s youngest points scorer in seventh.
His team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr recovered well from his lowly starting position (15th) and despite falling back in the early stages of the race, the Spaniard produced a composed performance to finish just behind Verstappen in eighth to score for the second consecutive weekend.
Past champions Red Bull suffered from brake problems in a poor race. Daniel Ricciardo finished 10th after enduring a difficult race – including being passed by Verstappen. The Australian received front wing damaged and was instructed to let team-mate Daniil Kvyat through.
With the trio battling with Hulkenberg into turn one, Kvyat then got hit by the German – who received a 10-second stop-go penalty – and spun round. Miraculously the Russian suffered little damage and scored his first points for his new team in ninth.
“It [brake issue] developed pretty much after the safety car, it was definitely worse in traffic.”.
“We just struggled and then when we tried to fight we just had no cards to play with.” – Ricciardo
“Every time we tried to do something in a battle we just went wide and suffered for trying,” said Ricciardo.
Back at the front, Vettel’s mid-race pace was proving too much for Hamilton, who was becoming more and more agitated with his team’s choice of tyres. Hamilton had switched to the prime tyre instead of a used option, but was struggling to keep up.
“All day today, I was struggling with the balance, very very uncomfortable with the car, a lot of understeer in the low speed which inevitably snaps into oversteer everywhere,” said Hamilton after the race.
“When I went to the option tyre, the car was good or better so I was able to be a little bit more consistent and then closed down the gap. I hadn’t been told but I thought we would be going onto that tyre again at the end but we went onto the other one which wasn’t good for me.”
“The team made the best choices today and we’ll try to analyse it and improve for next time.” – Hamilton
More agitating for Hamilton was the frequency of radio messages which seemingly distracted the Brit in the middle of corners.
After Hamilton’s second stop, Vettel had established a 16s lead to which the Mercedes could not match. Vettel made his second and final stop on lap 38; his team’s fast pitstop made even sweeter as Vettel rejoined in front of the chasing Rosberg.
Hamilton pitted the following and relinquished the lead immediately, handing Vettel the advantage entering the closing stages. With Rosberg’s final stop coming on lap 42, Hamilton was back into second and chasing down Vettel in a desperate attempt to crack the German.
It wasn’t to be as Vettel held on to an eight second winning margin and put an end to two extended losing streaks. It was Vettel’s first victory since the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2013 and Ferrari’s first since the Spanish Grand Prix in May the same year.
Ultimately it was a refreshing Grand Prix that has invigorated the 2015 Formula One season. The first Mercedes defeat since September 2014 has ensured that the title battle has developed into a team duel with Ferrari.
And Vettel is fulfilling his childhood dreams in racing for the red of Ferrari, something the German holds close to his heart.
“I probably don’t understand yet how special it is. Very, very emotional. I really tried to soak everything in, enjoy the fans here around Malaysia and, yeah, I recognised obviously for the first time, all the Ferrari flags,” said Vettel.
“To be the first one to beat them really fair and square, I think is an incredible achievement, so big thanks to all the guys back in Maranello.”