Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) qualified on the pole, with Sebastian Vettel thwarting a Mercedes lockout of the front row by putting his Ferrari in P2 on the grid. It was Ferrari’s first visit to the front row since Malaysia 2013. Max Verstappen (Toro Rosso) became the first teenager ever to qualify in the Top 6 of an F1 event. He is 17.
Nico Rosberg lined up behind his Mercedes teammate in third, with Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) next door. Row 3 consisted of Daniil Kvyat in the second Red Bull and Verstappen. Q3 took place on a wet track with all runners posting their best times on intermediate tires. Ferrari has the most wins and most laps led at Sepang of any team since the circuit opened in 1999.
The Top 4 runners remained in place on the start and through the end of Lap 1, with Felipe Massa moving his Williams up to P5. The safety car came out during Lap 4 when Marcus Ericsson spun his Sauber going into Turn 1 and beached it in the gravel on the outside of the corner.
All of the leaders except Vettel came in under the caution to changes tires. All who pitted switched to new medium compounds, except for Hamilton, Rosberg, and Verstappen, who switched to hards. All drivers have to run both compounds during the race. The move put Vettel in the lead for the moment, followed by Nico Hulkenburg (Force India) and Romain Grosjean (Lotus). Hamilton ran P6 as the leading driver to have pitted.
Hamilton moved into P4 during Lap 10, passing Grosjean for third later in the lap and Hulkenberg for third at the start of Lap 11 (of 56). Vettel led the reigning champion by nearly 10 sec. Rosberg returned to third during Lap 15. Vettel pitted from the lead during Lap 18, returning the track P3 behind the two Mercedes on new medium-compound tires.
Vettel closed to within 10 sec of Hamilton as Lap 20 played out, Rosberg remaining between the two. Rain loomed, opening up the possibility that tire requirements would be waived before race-end. Vettel made it past Rosberg for second two laps later. Vettel closed to within 5 sec of the lead during Lap 23, Hamilton reporting that the performance of his rear tires was dropping off. Vettel cut the lead in half over the course of the next lap. Hamilton pitted at the end of Lap 24, ceding the lead to Vettel and returning to the track in third.
Rosberg pitted and took another set of hards during Lap 27. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) moved into third, with Rosberg returning to competition behind him. Hamilton was running on medium tires, Mercedes having split its strategy. Rosberg retook P3 at the end of Lap 29. Vettel led Hamilton by 20 sec.
Hamilton cut the lead to 14.7 sec with 20 laps remaining. Vettel pitted at the end of Lap 37, putting on hards and coming out in front of Rosberg. Hamilton pitted one lap later, Mercedes also going with the hards but Hamilton complaining about it as he tried to chase down Rosberg and subsequently putting down the fastest lap of the race.
Rosberg pitted at the end of Lap 41 and put on option tires, returning to the fray in third and setting a new fastest lap, 1.5 sec quicker than Hamilton. Hamilton ran 11.2 sec behind Vettel during Lap 46. The Brit closed to 10.1 sec with four laps remaining, leading Rosberg by 6.4 with three to go.
Vettel took the win, Ferrari’s first since Alonso won the Spanish Grand Prix in 2013. Hamilton (+8.5 sec) and Rosberg (+12.3) completed the podium. Raikkonen finished fourth and Valtteri Bottas (Williams) fifth. Massa was P6 and Verstappen finished seventh to become the youngest points scorer in F1 history.
The win moved Vettel into second in the driver championship, just 3 points behind Hamilton.
Lewis Hamilton (Great Britain), Mercedes – 43
Sebastian Vettel (Germany), Ferrari - 40
Nico Rosberg (Germany), Mercedes – 33
Felipe Massa (Brazil), Williams-Mercedes – 20
Kimi Raikkonen (Finland), Ferrari – 12
Felipe Nasr (Brazil), Sauber-Ferrari – 10
Valtteri Bottas (Finland), Williams-Mercedes – 10
Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Red Bull-Renault – 9
Nico Hulkenberg (Germany), Force India-Mercedes – 6
Max Verstappen (Netherlands), STR-Renault – 6
Carlos Sainz (Spain), STR-Renault – 6
Mercedes (Rosberg, Hamilton) – 76
Ferrari (Vettel, Raikkonen) – 52
Williams-Mercedes (Massa, Bottas) – 30
Sauber-Ferrari (Nasr, Marcus Ericsson) – 14
Toro Rosso-Renault (Sainz, Verstappen) - 12
Red Bull Racing-Renault (Ricciardo, Daniil Kvyat) – 11
Force India-Mercedes (Hulkenberg, Perez) – 7
Next event: Chinese Grand Prix (Shanghai) – Apr. 10-12, 2015