Max Verstappen wins in Malaysia as Hamilton unable to keep up
Lewis Hamilton finishes second to extend championship lead
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won the Malaysian Grand Prix, having led from early in the race, showing pace the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton was unable to match. The British driver finished second ahead of his championship rival Sebastian Vettel who put in a remarkable comeback to claim fourth place having started at the back of the grid. The second Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo was in third with the Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas in fifth.
Vettel started in last place after a turbo problem in qualifying meant he could not set a time. A strong recovery drive was the most he could hope for and coming back to fourth place was hugely impressive. It means Hamilton has extended his championship lead over the German from 28 points to 34, not the advantage he might have been expecting to gain having started from pole in Malaysia.
The race however belonged to Verstappen. A day after his 20th birthday he has his second grand prix win after victory in Spain last year in his debut drive for Red Bull, when he became the youngest winner of a grand prix , aged 18. Red Bull now have two wins this seasons, after Ricciardo’s victory in Baku and Verstappen, who has suffered seven retirements this season, finally managed to make the finish in some style.
Their car is still yet to match the Mercedes or Ferrari but the team is proving adept at ensuring they take advantage of every opportunity and Verstappen did well to take the win from third on the grid. It was a victory they had absolutely earned - Ferrari’s travails had ruled them out of a win but Verstappen’s Red Bull proved to have outstanding speed out front, proving the team have made great strides in moving closer to their rivals.
Hamilton made a good start on the 683m run to turn one and held his lead but was complaining of de-rating - a failure to receive the maximum from the energy recovery systems - and Verstappen passed him for the lead up the inside of turn one on lap four. However the British driver’s issue only affected him in the opening laps after which the Mercedes simply could not match the Red Bulls.
The promising race pace they had shown in practice proved to be genuine when it mattered. On lap nine after a fine fight, Ricciardo passed Bottas for third, while Verstappen out front put his advantage to good use, opening up a three second gap on Hamilton.
By lap nine Verstappen had opened up an almost nine-second lead at the front as the front three began matching times and the gaps stabilised.
Hamilton pitted on lap 27 and took the soft rubber emerging ahead of both his team-mate and Vettel. Verstappen covered him off a lap later as did Vettel with the latter taking the supersoft tyre. Bottas came in on lap 29 and came out behind Vettel and when Ricciardo pitted to complete the leader’s stops, the German had made it up to fourth.
Vettel, who had started on the harder, soft tyres, was on an absolute charge from the off. He made a succession of slick passes on the back markers and was up to 13th from 20th after the first lap. But having moved up to 11th several laps later passing the midfield proved a tricker task. He stuck to it however and was up to seventh by lap 13. By lap 16 he was just 18 seconds back from Hamilton.
Having begun on the harder rubber and going long, Vettel was looking at finishing the race on the faster supersoft tyres. The Mercedes-powered Force India of Sergio Pérez was no hindrance to the German as he passed him for fifth through turn one on lap 21 and he had caught Bottas by lap 27.
After the pit stops were completed he was 26 seconds back from Hamilton - and on the faster tyre but that he had to ensure made it to the end of the race. Verstappen remained in control out front, maintaining his eight-second lead over Hamilton. Vettel however began pumping in some fastest laps and was taking a second a lap from Hamilton and Ricciardo. He had caught the Australian by lap 45, and made a dive up the inside of turn one on lap 49 that he could not quite make stick - with the tyres going off it was his last opportunity and he had to settle for fourth. But his finish was not without incident after he hit Lance Stroll on the slowing down lap and took major damage to the left rear of his car. A gearbox replacement may yet cost him a grid penalty in the next race. Verstappen however, remained in complete control and completed a fine performance to take the flag just under 10 seconds ahead of Hamilton.
Ferrari’s difficult weekend had become worse before the off when Kimi Raikkonen was unable to start the race due to an energy recovery problem.
The Force India’s of Pérez and Esteban Ocon were in sixth and 10th place respectively, with Stoffel Vandoorne completing a strong weekend in his McLaren in seventh, ahead of his team-mate Fernando Alonso who was 11th. The two Williams’ of Stroll and Felipe Massa were in eighth and ninth. Pierre Gasly, the young French driver on his first F1 start, replacing Daniil Kvyat at Toro Rosso, made an impressive debut, finishing in 14th place. Guardian Service