The German made his first visit to the pit lane on lap 17, taking on more medium tyres and rejoining in third place behind the Mercedes cars of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, who had both pitted during the safety car period brought about by Sauber’s Marcus Ericcson beaching his car on the edge of the gravel trap in turn one. A strong second stint saw Vettel maintain his challenge but when Hamilton took on medium tyres for his next stint the gap closed as the Mercedes driver closed in on the German by upwards of a lap per second.
Vettel then took on hard tyres in his second stop on lap 37, but when Hamilton then made his third stop with 18 laps to go – having to take on hard tyres with only heavily used mediums as the alternative - Mercedes’ challenge evaporated. Vettel controlled the gap with ease and eventually took the chequered flag with eight seconds in hand to claim his first victory since Brazil 2013 and Ferrari’s first win since Spain of the same season.
“A phenomenal day. It feels incredible,” said Vettel afterwards. “To see the guys when I was on the podium, to look down, it was an incredible atmosphere. I can only recall from the victories Fernando had with Ferrari and recall especially the victories Michael celebrated with the team – I think there were one or two – it’s incredible. The strategy today was also ace. Mercedes pulled in [during the safety car period], which I think we were a bit surprised by, but we saw on Friday that they weren’t too happy on the medium compound and Lewis was struggling in the first stint and I was able to keep up with him, which I enjoyed a lot. And then I knew I had to deliver, trying to make those tyres last and trying to go as fast as I can. Second stint he was chasing me down, which was tough, so he had a string second stint. In the end I think I was able to rebalance the car a little more and I was able to, yeah, have a solid gap the last couple of laps."
Hamilton, meanwhile, admitted that he had struggled with the balance of his car all afternoon: "All day I was struggling with the balance. It was very, very uncomfortable, a lot of understeer, I couldn't look after tyres. When I went to option tyre the car was better I was able to be a bit more consistent. I was able to close the gap. We went on the other tyres at the end, which weren’t good for me. I tried my best and the team made best choice they could."
Malaysian Grand Prix, Sepang, Malaysia. 56 laps, 310.408km., Weather: Dry.
CLASSIFIED: P. DRIVER TEAM TIME 1. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1h41:05.793 2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG + 8.569 3. Nico Rosberg Mercedes AMG + 12.310 4. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari + 53.822 5. Valtteri Bottas Williams + 1:10.409 6. Felipe Massa Williams + 1:13.586 7. Max Verstappen Toro Rosso + 1:39.085 8. Carlos Sainz JR. Toro Rosso + 1 Lap 9. Daniil Kvyat Red Bull + 1 Lap 10. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull + 1 Lap 11. Romain Grosjean Lotus + 1 Lap 12. Felipe Nasr Sauber + 1 Lap 13. Sergio Perez Force India + 1 Lap 14. Nico Hulkenberg Force India + 1 Lap 15. Roberto Merhi Manor + 3 Laps Fastest lap: N. Rosberg - 1:42.062 (2014 1:43.065) NOT CLASSIFIED: DRIVER TEAM ON LAP Pastor Maldonado Lotus 48 Jenson Button McLaren 42 Fernando Alonso McLaren 22 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 5 Will Stevens Manor not started AFTER 2 RACES: DRIVERS: CONSTRUCTORS: 1. Lewis Hamilton 43 1. Mercedes AMG 76 2. Sebastian Vettel 40 2. Ferrari 52 3. Nico Rosberg 33 3. Williams 30 4. Felipe Massa 20 4. Sauber 14 5. Kimi Raikkonen 12 5. Toro Rosso 12 6. Felipe Nasr 10 6. Red Bull 11 7. Valtteri Bottas 10 7. Force India 7 8. Daniel Ricciardo 9 9. Nico Hulkenberg 6 10. Max Verstappen 6 11. Carlos Sainz 6 12. Marcus Ericsson 4 13. Daniil Kvyat 2 14. Sergio Perez 1