Sebastien Vettel took victory in Malaysia for Ferrari today, in what was an unexpected battle for the race win between him and both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. The four-time world champion finished 8.5 seconds ahead of Hamilton, who stopped three times during the race along with his teammate Rosberg, who finished a further three seconds behind.
Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen finished in fourth place after enduring a rather action-packed afternoon from the cockpit of his SF-15T. After starting in 11th place because of getting caught out in the rain during Qualifying, he had to work his way up the field in the opening laps. The Fin got a good start, however contact with Nasr on the opening lap punctured his tyre, and forced him to make an early unscheduled stop.
From there he fought his way back up the field, getting up to fourth place before damage to his floor and running on the Hard tyre hindered his ability to get further up the order and potentially onto the podium with his teammate.
He was also helped by an early Safety Car brought out by Marcus Ericsson, who made a rather optimistic move on Daniel Riccardo into the first corner on the opening laps. This prompted most including the Mercedes drivers to pit for Hard tyres, however Vettel stayed out in order to gain the track position – which translated in the second stint when he went on another set of Mediums and was overtaking both Hamilton and Rosberg who were on the Hard tyre.
Once we reached the end of the second stint, it was clear that Ferrari were two-stopping Vettel, and Mercedes had to react. However the tyres needed for a comeback were already “well used” according to their engineers, which meant that they could only put Hamilton on a new set of Hards – which we know are eight tenths slower than the Medium – towards the end of the race having used his option tyres at the start of Qualifying yesterday.
Bottas and Massa finished in 5th and 6th place, after first getting held up by Hulkenberg during the Safety Car period – who rather impressively managed to keep a melee of cars behind him for most of the second stint – before both drivers put in lacklustre displays towards the final stint, loosing time in a brief battle with the Red Bulls and being unable to match the pace of the Ferrari’s and Mercedes.
Elsewhere we saw a lot of entertainment in the midfield between the Red Bull’s and Toro Rosso’s. 17 year-old Max Verstappen came out on top in that battle, finishing in seventh place ahead of his teammate Carlos Sainz Jr who showed some racy pace throughout the afternoon.
Both Kvyat and Riccardo meanwhile looked to be battling heating issues with their cars, with them generating a lot of brake dust heading into the corners on occasions. They finished behind the sister team in 9th and 10 places respectively, ahead of Grosjean and Nasr who seemed to get caught up in the wars with the two Force India’s of Hulkenberg and Perez, who ultimately finished in 13th and 14th after incurring 10 second stop/go penalties for collisions with Kvyat and Grosjean.
Grosjean’s teammate Pastor Maldonado retired for the second time in a row due to braking issues on lap 49. McLaren also endured a double retirement today with both Alonso and Button, presumably with Power Unit related issues. And finally Manor managed to bring Roberto Merhi home in 15th today, with Will Stevens unable to take the start due to the fuel pressure issue not being able to be resolved by the team in time for the race.