SEPANG: Sebastian Vettel put Ferrari back on the winning trail after delivering a surprise triumph at the Petronas Malaysian Formula One Grand Prix at the Sepang International Circuit.
It was a brilliant strategy by the four-time world champion. He opted to stay on the track when the safety car emerged on lap four. Both Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg – pitted. It proved to be the wrong call for Mercedes as neither Hamilton nor Rosberg had the pace to catch and pass Vettel in the final stint.
The German clocked 1’41:05.793 over the 310.408km race to give Ferrari their first win since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix. Hamilton was 8.569 seconds adrift in second place while Rosberg finished third in 1’41:18.103.
With four wins in Sepang, Vettel is now the most successful driver in Malaysian GP history. He and compatriot Michael Schumacher and Spain’s Fernando Alonso, who retired half-way through the race in his McLaren car, were on three wins each.
Hamilton, however, retained the world championship lead on 43 points. Vettel is three points adrift in second while Rosberg is third with 33 points.
A jubilant Vettel, who pumped his fists in joy as he crossed the finish line, was left speechless for a brief moment as the impact of his 40th victory sank in.
“It has been a while since I’ve been on the top step. My first time with Scuderia Ferrari, I’m speechless.
“Obviously it was a big change over the winter, it’s really a great atmosphere in the team.
“I’m very happy, very proud of today, we beat them fair and square. It is a special day – that is why I am emotional,” said the 27-year-old, who also spoke of his joy of watching boyhood hero Schumacher during his days at Ferrari.
Vettel left Red Bull to join Ferrari after a trying season last year.
“Last year was not a good year for me. It was a great car but I struggled to extract performance from it. This car suits me very well.
“It was a big change last year but the team welcomed me from the very first day. When the gate opened at Maranello, it was like a dream come true.
“The last time I was there I watched Schumacher over the fence and now I’m driving that red car,” said Vettel.
Hamilton was gracious in defeat and admitted Ferrari were too quick.
“Huge congratulations to Ferrari and Sebastian. They had some very good pace today. I gave it everything I could.
“We knew coming into this weekend that Ferrari had made a step but didn’t know how big. They were too quick today,” said the reigning world champion.
The next race is the Chinese Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit on April 12.