Sebastian Vettel emerged triumphant in a tactical battle with reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton to win the Malaysian Grand Prix Sunday for his revitalized Ferrari team.
Vettel held off the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to secure the 40th victory of his career, but his first since switching from Red Bull for the 2015 season.
Vettel took advantage of an early safety car to take control of the 56-lap race at Sepang, while a frustrated Hamilton was left to rue his team’s choice of tire and race strategy.
The four-time world champion’s impressive showing also breaths fresh life into the championship race after the Mercedes one-two in the opening round in Australia, where Hamilton was an easy winner.
In a further boost to Ferrari, Finland’s Kimi Raikkonen battled to a fine fourth place despite a early puncture, beating off the challenge of the Williams pair of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa.
Dutch teenager Max Verstappen again belied his tender years with a fine seventh place for Toro Rosso, the youngest points scorer in F1 history, while Fernando Alonso’s return to F1 after his preseason testing crash ended with a retirement in the under performing McLaren.
But the headlines will be hogged by Vettel and the most famous marque in motorsport, which endured a miserable 2014 before two-time champion Alonso left at the end of the season.
His replacement Vettel, without a win since triumphing for Red Bull in Brazil in 2013, has taken little time to show his value to Ferrari, the key to his victory being able to claim second on the grid behind Hamilton in qualifying Saturday.
After Marcus Ericsson found the gravel trap in his Sauber, Vettel and his team elected to stay out on the track and go for a two-pit stop strategy against three for Mercedes.
With Hamilton unable to make up the lost time and heard questioning the choice of tires on his team radio, the way was left clear for his old rival to take the checkered flag.
Vettel screamed with unbridled joy while his team gave out its immediate verdict. “Ferrari is back, fantastico, fantastico.”
Hamilton took a rare recent defeat with good grace, but still leads the title race by three points from Vettel, with Rosberg 10 points adrift in third.