Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari beat Mercedes in a battle of tyre strategy to win the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Vettel pulled off a two stop strategy to beat Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to the chequered flag in a thrilling race at Sepang, securing his maiden win for Ferrari and ending both his and the team’s win droughts.
Pole man Hamilton retained the lead during a frantic start as Vettel defended second from Rosberg, while further down the field Pastor Maldonado suffered a puncture.
Kimi Raikkonen – starting 11th – was another driver to pick up an early puncture after contact with Felipe Nasr, which dropped the Ferrari racer to the back of the field, while the Brazilian was forced to stop for a new nose.
The safety car was out on lap four as Marcus Ericsson beached his Sauber at Turn 1, prompting a flurry of early stops from the front runners, with race leader Hamilton and Rosberg both switching to the harder tyres.
Vettel, running a different strategy from the two Mercedes team-mates, was promoted into the race lead, and led comfortably off the restart, building a ten second cushion back to Hamilton by the end of lap ten, as he cleared Hulkenberg for second.
Rosberg recovered into third on lap 14, but lost around six seconds to Hamilton in the traffic.
Vettel was in for his first stop on lap 18, switching to a fresh set of medium tyres, rejoining in third, behind the three stopping Mercedes team-mates, but clear of the chasing Williams duo of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas.
Lapping on fresh rubber, Vettel slashed Rosberg’s advantage and snatched second from his compatriot into the hairpin on lap 21, before passing Hamilton at the same point four laps later to retake the lead, prompting the reigning champion to duck into the pits.
Hamilton switched to the medium compound Pirellis, rejoining the track some 11 seconds behind Vettel in the Ferrari, inheriting second from Rosberg when the German stopped on lap 27.
Vettel was in for a set of the medium tyres at the end of lap 37, coming out marginally ahead of Rosberg, while Hamilton followed suit a lap later, moving onto the slower hard rubber and rejoining in third, some 14 seconds shy of Vettel, the new race leader.
Rosberg made his third and final stop on lap 42 to release his Mercedes team-mate, but Hamilton could not catch Vettel, who came home eight seconds clear to secure his first win for Ferrari, and the team’s first since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix.
Hamilton was forced to settle for second at the flag, with Rosberg completing forMercedes.
Kimi Raikkonen recovered from an early puncture to finish fourth in the second Ferrari, while Valtteri Bottas beat his Williams team-mate Massa to fifth with a sensational last lap pass.
Max Verstappen passed his Toro Rosso team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr. in the closing laps to cross the line seventh and become the youngest points scorer in the history of the sport.
The two Red Bulls of Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo completed the top ten, with the pair both lapped by the leaders.
Romain Grosjean survived contact with Sergio Perez to finish 11th for Lotus, just shy of the points, but ahead of Sauber’s Felipe Nasr, who tagged Raikkonen on the opening lap.
Perez placed 13th after serving a penalty for his scrap with Grosjean, while Nico Hulkenberg was slapped with a penalty of his own after he collided with Kvyat, coming home 14th.
Roberto Merhi recorded his, and Manor Marussia’s first finish of the season after a lonely run to 15th on his debut.
Fernando Alonso ran inside the points on his racing return, but was forced to park the McLaren-Honda just before half-distance, while team-mate Jenson Button retired late on after a loss of power.
Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado retired in the closing stages of the race, while Will Stevens failed to take the start for Manor after a fuel system problem.
Images courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari