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Vettel channels his inner Schumacher to spring Sepang surprise

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Vettel channels his inner Schumacher to spring Sepang surprise
Mar 29, 2015, 10:58 AM

Sebastian Vettel breathed life into the 2015 Formula One season with a sensational victory for Ferrari in Sepang, as Mercedes found themselves com...

Sebastian Vettel breathed life into the 2015 Formula One season with a sensational victory for Ferrari in Sepang, as Mercedes found themselves comprehensively outplayed for the first time in over a season.

While Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg ran reliably to the remaining podium positions, Vettel was a comfortable 12 seconds clear before he throttled back in the closing stages to secure the 40th victory of his career.

The 27-year-old scored his first win for 21 races and gave Ferrari their first victory since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix on only his second start for the Maranello squad which spent much of the winter in political turmoil.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Malaysian Grand Prix - Race Day - Sepang, Malaysia

"It's been a while since I've been on the top step," he said on the podium. "A big change over the winter, it's really a great atmosphere in the team. I'm proud of today, we beat them fair and square. We have a great car.

"My mission is to bring the championship back to Maranello - but today we just need to enjoy the day," says Vettel who sat exhausted on the top step of the podium. "I'm going to celebrate tonight!"

His fourth victory in Malaysia, which eclipses the record jointly held by his childhood idol Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso, was founded on impressive pace, stunning pit work and sound strategy in the searing Malaysian heat as he made do with two stops to his Mercedes rivals' three and relied on Pirelli's medium compound for two of his three stints.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Malaysian Grand Prix - Race Day - Sepang, Malaysia

In contrast, Mercedes were left regretting their early visit to pit lane for Hamilton and Rosberg during an early safety car and both drivers used the hard Pirellis for two of their four stints.

Ultimately that appeared to be the wrong call, perhaps forced on them by having used medium rubber in the first part of Saturday qualifying, but it is to Vettel and Ferrari's credit that Mercedes had a much smaller margin for tactical error than in recent times.

Afterwards, Hamilton admitted that he had struggled with balance and tyres all afternoon.

"All day I was struggling with the balance," he said. "It was very, very uncomfortable, a lot of understeer, I couldn't  look after tyres. When I went to option tyre the car was better I was able to be a bit more consistent. I was able to close the gap. We went on the other tyres at the end, which weren’t good for me. I tried my best and the team made best choice they could."

Vettel took the lead at the early safety car and made certain of his famous win with two pieces of on track work dicing with Rosberg. He passed his fellow countryman on lap 21. Later he just about retained second place from Rosberg following his final stop and was perfectly placed to take over the lead when Hamilton made his final visit to pit lane on lap 38.

Behind the top three there was plenty of entertainment, giving lie to the doom-mongers' pessimism, with Kimi Raikkonen recovering from a first-lap puncture following contact with Valtteri Bottas to finish fourth, albeit 41 seconds behind his team-mate.

Bottas for his part won the Williams battle with a hectic last lap dice with Felipe Massa ending in favour of the Finn on a weekend when Williams appeared to have slipped into a distant third on pace.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Malaysian Grand Prix - Race Day - Sepang, Malaysia

Behind Massa was the other hero of Sepang, the sport's youngest ever points scorer Max Verstappen. The 17-year-old passed his team-mate Carlos Sainz in the late stages having recovered from a fraught run through the early laps.

Daniil Kvyat led home Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo after a difficult day for the Milton Keynes squad. Kvyat was lucky to see the flag having been pitched in the air while passing Nico Hulkenberg's Force India. Both cars suffered with excessive brake wear and Ricciardo hung on for the final point.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Malaysian Grand Prix - Race Day - Sepang, Malaysia

It was a disappointing weekend for Lotus, too, as Romain Grosjean's great qualifying form ultimately translated into a finishing position of 11th. The Frenchman started 10th with a two-place grid penalty and recovered from a high speed spin trying to overtake Sergio Perez for which the Mexican was penalised. Pastor Maldonado punctured on lap one and was the final retirement

Perez did at least manage to beat team mate Hulkenberg, the latter having run in the points early on before dropping back through the field to an evetual 13th.

Roberto Merhi was the final finisher, the Spanish rookie doing well to bring the sole Manor in the race  home to the flag, three laps down.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Malaysian Grand Prix - Race Day - Sepang, Malaysia

McLaren Honda failed to finish either car but the team will have been very encouraged having run in the points with both cars for much of their time in the race.

Jenson Button retired on lap 44 shortly after reporting a "loss of power" while Fernando Alonso was running a fine eighth for McLaren Honda when he was retired to the pits with an unspecified terminal technical issue on lap 21 while running eighth.

Despite stopping early the Spaniard was upbeat, describing the weekend and the performance delivered buy the team as a "nice surprise".

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Malaysian Grand Prix - Race Day - Sepang, Malaysia

After the highs of his top-10 qualifying performance, Marcus Ericsson came back to earth when he posted the first retirement of the afternoon. The Swede spun into the turn one gravel which called for the safety car.

Malaysian GP, Sepang, 29th March

1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1h41m05.793s

2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 8.569s

3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 12.310s

4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 53.822s

5 Valtteri Bottas Williams1m10.409s

6 Felipe Massa Williams1m13.586s

7 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso 1m39.085s

8 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1 Lap

9 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull 1 Lap

10 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1 Lap

11 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1 Lap

12 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1 Lap

13 Sergio Perez Force India 1 Lap

14 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1 Lap

15 Roberto Merhi Marussia 3 Laps

- Pastor Maldonado Lotus R

- Jenson Button McLaren R

- Fernando Alonso McLaren R

- Marcus Ericsson Sauber R

- Will Stevens Marussia DNS

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