Birthday boy Verstappen pips Hamilton to Malaysia win

Sebastian Vettel battled back admirably from the back of the grid to finish fourth in Malaysia, but the day belonged to race winner Max Verstappen.

Max Verstappen during the Malaysian GP.   -  Getty Images

Birthday boy Max Verstappen claimed the second victory of his career at the Malaysian Grand Prix, as Sebastian Vettel limited the damage caused by his qualifying nightmare.

Engine trouble prevented Vettel from posting a time on Saturday, forcing the German to start from the back of the grid while championship rival Lewis Hamilton — 28 points clear heading into Sunday’s race — sat on pole.

Race Centre - Malaysian GP

But Mercedes' fears about their race pace rang true when Verstappen, who turned 20, overtook Hamilton on lap four.

The Dutchman set about stretching his advantage as Hamilton struggled to match his lap times, and he was a comfortable leader throughout, taking the chequered flag ahead of the Briton and Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.

Vettel's relentless charge through the field ultimately earned him a fourth-place finish, while he even threatened to grab third from Ricciardo late on. As a result, Hamilton only added six points to his advantage in the title race and now leads by 34.

Read: Verstappen delights in Sepang triumph

It had threatened to be a shocking day for Ferrari after a turbo issue prevented Kimi Raikkonen from starting the race, but Vettel's recovery will provide some consolation to the Scuderia.

That said, a coming together between Vettel and Williams driver Lance Stroll after the race had finished, which left the wrecked Ferrari needing to be lifted from the track, provided a bizarre ending to the race.

Bad weekend for Ferrari

To have one driver — a contender for the title, no less — start from the back of the grid and another fail to make the race was, to put it mildly, not the ideal scenario for Ferrari at Sepang.

Coming on the back of a first-lap crash that took out both drivers on the opening lap in Singapore last time out, this looked like being a defining weekend in the title race.

Hamilton seemed almost certain to significantly extend his lead at the top of the championship, but a combination of his own lack of pace and Vettel’s relentless charge into the top four reduced the impact of the qualifying no-show.

Vettel will, however, have questions to answer regarding his curious collision with Stroll after the race had ended — the four-time world champion appeared guilty of a lack of concentration as he turned into the Williams.

Ferrari can only hope the incident does not lead to any gearbox or engine changes and the grid penalties that would follow as a result.

Happy Birthday Verstappen

It has been a tough season for Verstappen, who won last year's Spanish Grand Prix on his Red Bull debut.

Before Sunday, the Dutchman had managed only one podium in 2017 and suffered seven retirements.

 

Speaking after qualifying third on the grid on his birthday, Verstappen maintained that his go-karting world title remained his greatest achievement in motorsport.

Verstappen’s win in Spain came after dominant Mercedes pair Hamilton and Nico Rosberg took each other out on the opening lap and he stressed on Saturday that "I want to win a race on merit and not with luck".

While this latest victory came without the threat of the two Ferraris, Verstappen will be delighted to have beaten Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, as well as team-mate Ricciardo, fair and square.

Malaysia has been a happy hunting ground for Red Bull over the years — this was their fifth win in Sepang since 2010.

Farewell Sepang

This was the last race to be held in Malaysia after the country pulled out of the sport from 2018 and, after an entertaining Grand Prix, the circuit has certainly finished on a high.

How they finished

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +12.770seconds
3. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) +22.519s
4. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +37.362s
5. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +56.021s
6. Sergio Perez (Force India) +78.650s
7. Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) +1 lap
8. Lance Stroll (Williams) +1 lap
9. Felipe Massa (Williams) +1 lap
10. Esteban Ocon (Force India) +1 lap

 

Driver Standings

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 281
2. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) – 247 (-34)
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 222 (-59)
4. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) – 177 (-104)
5. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) – 138 (-143)
6. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 93 (-188)

 

Constructor Standings

1. Mercedes – 503
2. Ferrari – 385 (-118)
3. Red Bull – 270 (-233)
4. Force India – 133 (-370)
5. Williams – 65 (-438)
6. Toro Rosso – 52 (-451)

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