Ferrari had sent out warning signs all weekend after good long run pace and tyre wear on Friday and when Vettel put the Ferrari on the front row just less than a tenth behind pole sitter Lewis Hamilton. The 2014 World Champion did get off to a good start and was able to lead from the front in the opening laps.
However on lap 4 Marcus Ericsson made a mistake at T1 and span backwards into the gravel trap and bringing out the safety car. It was one of many incidents at the start of the race where Pastor Maldonado and Kimi Raikkonen both picked up punctures on lap 1 after contact with Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Nasr.
Mercedes believed that a 3 stop strategy was the way to go, whereas Ferrari opted for a 2 stop. With not all of the cars pitting under the safety car it left Hamilton and Rosberg in traffic which took a surprising amount of time for them to get through leaving the Ferrari out front with a 9 second lead.
Vettel pitted on lap 18 for another set of the option tyres and confirming his 2 stop strategy and bringing him out right behind the 2014 Constructors Champions whom were struggling for pace on the Hard tyre. Vettel easily passed Rosberg at the end of lap 21 just as McLaren had to retire Fernando Alonso with a Honda related “car problem”.
Red Bull had struggled for pace throughout the whole race, with both cars having front brake issues which damaged Daniel Ricciardo’s front wing. Team mate Daniil Kvyat’s afternoon was also compromised by contact with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg on lap 26, where the Russian pinched the German on the apex. However Hulkenberg received a stop-go penalty and penalty points for the incident.
Hulkenberg’s team mate Sergio Perez had struggled for pace all day and when the Lotus of Romain Grosjean tried to pass the Mexican the two made contact spinning the Frenchman 360 degrees and giving the other Force India a stop-go penalty to compound their woes.
Jenson Button also had to retire with a Honda power Unit problem but the team had showed good pace during the race. Pastor Maldonado was also sidelined before the end of the race with an engine issue, meaning the Venezuelan has never seen the chequered flag in Sepang.
In similar fashion to 2014 both Williams were battling in the late stages of the race with Bottas just behind Felipe Massa. But unlike 12 months ago there were no team orders given to the drivers giving the fans an incredible battle where the Fin was able to pass Massa at T5&6.
But it was Sebastian Vettel who took the win and sent out warning signs to Mercedes that Ferrari would try and challenge them this year. The race also showed that Mewrcedes had become complacent in the last year and were rusty when another team was able to challenge them on outright pace.
Vettel secured his 4th win in Kuala Lumpur and silenced his critics who said he only won 4 titles because of Red Bull and Adrian Newy. The way in which Vettel drove was like a World Champion and it kick started the 2015 Championship leaving the German 2nd in the standings.
The next race is in 2 weeks time at the Shanghai International Circuit in China, where Hamilton, Rosberg and Vettel will be going all out again to take the win, but it was Vettel and Ferrari who grabbed the headlines in Malaysia.
1. Sebastian Vettel
2. Lewis Hamilton
3. Nico Rosberg
4. Kimi Raikkonen
5. Valtteri Bottas
6. Felipe Massa
7. Max Verstappen
8. Carlos Sainz
9. Daniil Kvyat
10. Daniel Ricciardo
11. Romain Grosjean
12. Felipe Nasr
13. Sergio Perez
14. Nico Hulkenberg
15. Roberto Merhi
Pastor Maldonado DNF
Jenson Button DNF
Fernando Alonso DNF
Marcus Ericsson DNF
Will Stevens DNS