Sepang, Malaysia - Red Bull’s Max Verstappen celebrated his 20th birthday in style over the weekend by winning his first ever Grand Prix and also Malaysia’s final F1 race. The young Dutchman had a splendid drive that saw him beat Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton soundly while his team-mate, Daniel Ricciardo fended off Sebastian Vettel for third. The Ferrari driver narrowly missed out on podium starting the race from the back of the grid.
The race started with a tussle between Valtteri Bottas’ Mercedes and Verstappen with the latter coming out ahead, from there the Red Bull chased down Hamilton who was upfront and took his spot on the fourth lap. From there on out, Verstappen never looked back leading the points leader by 12.7 seconds by race end. Hamilton’s race was pretty quiet but not so for his pursuers.
Ricciardo had best Bottas to move up into third before coming under immense pressure from a storming Vettel in his Ferrari who had started the race at the back of the grid. The German had started on Pirelli soft tyres and was on light fuel and supersofts by the time he got behind the Red Bull and started clocking faster sector times who in turn was closing in on Hamilton.
Vettel almost had Ricciardo on Turn 1 Lap 49 when he got on the inside but the Australian was not letting the Scuderia car pass him and held his ground. That was Vettel’s final stab at third place as the Ferrari’s tyres began to fade and his engine started giving him problems. Vettel’s 0.5 second gap with Ricciardo grew to 14.8 seconds by the chequered flag.
There was further drama for Vettel as he collided with the Williams of Lance Stroll on the slow-down lap and grinded to a halt with the Ferrari’s left rear wheel on top of his engine cover. Vettel hitched a ride back to the pits on the side-pod of Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein. With that, Hamilton now leads 34 points ahead of Vettel with five more races remaining.
Ferrari was not having the best of days at Sepang as Kimi Raikkonen was a non-starter having being pushed off his front row slot and into the pits with a power loss while on his way to the starting line. Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas was not having it good either finishing a distant fifth just ahead of Sergio Perez who had a fantastic race for Force India despite being unwell.
McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne had an equally fine drive taking home seventh place while his team-mate, Fernando Alonso could only muster up an 11th placing. In eighth was Stroll and ninth was Felipe Massa, the latter had two incidents with Esteban Ocon though he brought Williams a lot of points to aid in their fight with Toro Rosso and Renault, who both had terrible outings.
Ocon had to pit his Force India early on in the race after contact with Massa at Turn 2 right at the start where he got squeezed between his team-mate and the Williams, sustaining a puncture. From there on, Ocon went on for a brilliant drive to take the final point after doing 54 laps on a set of soft tyres.
In 12th was Kevin Magnussen who survived through incidents with Alonso and Renault’s Jolyon Palmer as he fended off Haas team-mate, Romain Grosjean and Toro Rosso rookie, Pierre Gasly. Palmer, who had spurn twice during the race crossed the line in 15th, just a tenth of a second ahead of his team-mate, Nico Hulkenberg. Wehrlein and Sauber team-mate, Marcus Ericsson completed the last of the finishers. Non-finishers also included Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz who had to retire due to engine trouble.
Special thanks to Rewind Images and Timothy Tan for all the photos taken during the race!