Red Bull’s Max Verstappen took a surprisingly dominant win at the Malaysian Grand Prix to comfortably beat Lewis Hamilton and team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.
Hamilton’s second-place finish now gives him a 34-point lead over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. The German started at the back of the field after failing to take part in qualifying but pushed his way through the pack to end in fourth and limit the damage to his title hopes.
Valtteri Bottas ended the race in fifth almost a minute behind Verstappen, while Force India’s Sergio Perez took sixth, McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne claimed seventh in an impressive drive, and the two Williams cars finished in eighth and ninth.
Verstappen Gets Deserved Victory
Verstappen has suffered through a miserable season with a series of reliability issues and a handful of driver errors causing the DNF’s to mount up and fuelling speculation that the ambitious young talent could move teams.
But Verstappen took early control of the Malaysian Grand Prix and was never challenged – aided in part by Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen unable to even start the race because of an engine problem.
The Dutchman started strong off the line to withstand an attack from Valtteri Bottas in the first corner and then sit behind Lewis Hamilton through the opening laps before making a move down the inside into Turn 1 at the start of lap 4 to take the lead.
From there, Verstappen edged away and easily finished 12.770 seconds in front of Hamilton.
“It is amazing to win the race today,” said Verstappen. “Straight away I could see our pace was good and that Lewis was struggling with traction.”
“I knew that he was fighting for the championship and wouldn’t take too many risks, so I went for it. As soon as I passed Lewis I knew from there onwards I could control the race. The car was really good and our pace on the soft tyre was better than I expected.’
The Ferrari fight-back
Both Mercedes and Ferrari under-performed at the Malaysian Grand Prix and neither will leave Sepang content with the outcome.
For Ferrari, it was the race that got away from them. The Scuderia showed excellent pace during the practice sessions that pointed to a one-two finish. But a last-minute engine change spelt trouble for Vettel who lost turbo at the start of qualifying and was forced to start the race from last on the grid.
Even worse was that the same problem seemed to inflict Kimi Raikkonen during the out lap before the race and he couldn’t even start.
Vettel, though, mounted a fight-back to charge through the field and get close to third-placed Ricciardo with ten laps to go. But some strong defending from the Australian thwarted Vettel’s attack and with three laps remaining he fell back with low grip.
Vettel then became involved in a bizarre incident on the warm-down lap after the race when Williams driver Lance Stroll swerved into the Ferrari at Turn 5 destroying his rear left side. The German now faces the prospect of a five-place grid penalty if the gear box needs to be replaces as a result of the damage.
Mercedes were markedly off the pace the entire weekend and Hamilton’s excellent qualifying was more a result of the driver than a well-tuned car.
Still, Hamilton comes away from the Malaysian Grand Prix with a healthy 34-point lead over Vettel with just 5 races remaining and 125 points up for grabs.
The Englishman said that the six-point gain on Vettel was “pretty good considering the pace deficit we had in the race.”
“We knew going into the race we didn’t have the quickest car – on our deltas, the Ferraris were 0.8secs faster than us, which they were at least, and the Red Bulls 0.5-0.6secs, which they were.”
“I’m hoping it’s not like this at the next few races. It feels like it is getting worse as the season goes on but it has been great in other races. I have no idea where it will be an issue and where it will be fine. Hopefully it won’t be so bad.”