Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari have won again after not doing so for more than 1.5 years. Vettel showed strong pace and with a better strategy than Mercedes handed Mercedes an unexpected defeat.
Track conditions for this year's Malaysian Grand Prix are hot as usual, with 61°C on track and 33°C air temp. Humidity is moderate at 44% but rain is a possibility towards the closing stages of the race.
At the front of the grid is Hamilton, ahead of Vettel, Rosberg, Ricciardo, Kvyat, Verstappen, Massa.
As the lights went out, Hamilton made a solid start to keep his lead. Vettel was initially overhauled by Rosberg but had the edge through the outside of turn 1 and came back into second. Rosberg retained third, ahead of Ricciardo while Massa squeezed himself into 5th. Kvyat is 6th, ahead of an impressive Hulkenberg. Ericsson is 8th, Verstappen 9th and Grosjean 10th.
Pastor Maldonado dropped down the ranking order as he suffered a puncture in the squeeze in turn 2. Raikkonen was even worse off as he was clipped by Nasr through the final corner of lap 1, forcing Raikkonen to continue another lap with a puncture. Nasr also pitted at the end of lap 2 but arrived in the pits almost 10 seconds ahead of Raikkonen.
On lap 2, Grosjean got past Verstappen through the outside of the final corner and subsequently pulled away from the Renault-powered Lotus on the pit straight.
In turn 1 of lap 3, Ericsson had one of his moments as he failed to keep his car under control and spun into the gravel, ending his endeavours for a points scoring finish. This strangely brought out the safety car and triggered numerous pitstops.
Most drivers stopped, with the Mercedes switching from medium to hard tyres while Ricciardo, Massa and Kvyat took on the mediums. Bottas also had mediums fitted, but during a rather sluggish pitstop as the left rear tyre wasn't ready for him when he entered the pits.
With Vettel, Hulkenberg, Grosjean, Sainz and Perez not stopping, they are of course ahead of the pack behind the SC. Next up is Hamilton, ahead of Ricciardo, Massa, Rosberg, Kvyat, Merhi, Verstappen, Bottas, Alonso, Button, Nasr, Raikkonen and Maldonado.
2 laps later the SC is gone again. Rosberg immediately attempted to pass Massa through turn 1 but failed whereas Hamilton got past Perez through turn 8, followed by Ricciardo.
By lap 11, Hamilton has moved up into second place, by which time Vettel has 10 seconds in hand. Hulkenberg is third and effectively backing up everyone. Grosjean is a close fourth, ahead of Sainz, Ricciardo, Rosberg, Massa, Verstappen and Bottas.
On lap 15, Sainz and Raikkonen pit, dropping both down to 16th and 17th with 1s in between them. Hulkenberg and Grosjean pit one lap later. On lap 17 it's Vettel who pits with 8.6s in hand over Hamilton. Ferrari did a proper job there changing the tyres, allowing Vettel to rejoin the track 12.2 second behind Rosberg, who himself is 7.7s down on his team mate.
On lap 20, Vettel eases past Rosberg, lapping around 2 seconds a lap faster than both Mercedes. The Ferrari driver really made the Mercedes look like a Lada on that event as both Mercedes drivers are experiencing high degradation on their older hard tyres, whereas Vettel is on much fresher mediums.
At around the same time, Alonso retired from 9th as the team reported a car problem for him.
On lap 25, Hamilton got Vettel alongside and past him on the back straight and eventually handed the lead to the Ferrari driver as the World Champion dove into the pits for a change onto new medium tyres.
2 laps later, as Ricciardo attempted to let Kvyat pass due to ever increasing brake wear on his own car, Kvyat immediately attempted to pass but got bumped into on turn 2, eventually ending up in 13th place while, also behind Perez who was close behind. Hulkenberg later got a 10s penalty for that incident.
At the same time, Rosberg pitted and took on new hard tyres. He returned to the track in 4th place but managed to get ahead of Raikkonen one lap later. The Finn has made remarkable progress through this race, having started from 11th.
Few lap later the other Force India of Hulkenberg also got involved in an incident through turn 5. Grosjean was attempting to pass through the outside of the fast left hander but saw Hulkenberg bump into his left rear. As Grosjean was ahead at the time of the accidents, stewards judged a 10s penalty just for the German.
At the end of lap 36, Vettel pitted from the lead, 13.5s ahead of Hamilton and another 10.9 to Rosberg. His change to hard tyres was extremely smooth, coming out on track just ahead of Rosberg. Rosberg pitted another lap later and changed to the medium.
Meanwhile, Jenson Button reported a loss of power and subsequently returned to the pits to retire from the race.
Towards the end of the race, it became ever more clear that Vettel's Ferrari worked to excellence in these hot conditions, matching the pace of Hamilton and Rosberg on the hard tyres in the final stint. 3 laps from the end, Vettel also ironically lapped both Red Bull Racing cars, even though that was mostly due to them struggling with their brakes.
In the final lap, Bottas again drew the spotlights onto him as he impressively passed Massa through the outside of turn 5. Massa earlier made it clear through turns 1 and 2 that he wouldn't just move over, the in the end, that proved unnecessary for the Finn.
|7||Max Verstappen||Toro Rosso||+97.762s||6|
|8||Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso||+1 lap||4|
|9||Daniil Kvyat||Red Bull||+1 lap||2|
|10||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||+1 lap||1|
|11||Romain Grosjean||Lotus||+1 lap||0|
|12||Felipe Nasr||Sauber||+1 lap||0|
|13||Sergio Perez||Force India||+1 lap||0|
|14||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India||+1 lap||0|
|15||Roberto Merhi||Marussia||+3 laps||0|