After a season full of bad luck, Max Verstappen finally broke his curse by taking his first victory of the season. A phenominal race in which Red Bull showed to have a much more competitive pace than Mercedes led to their second consecutive double podium at the Sepang International circuit. Lewis Hamilton split the two Red Bulls to take second and increase his championship lead over Sebastian Vettel.
It did not take long for Verstappen to get the edge on Hamilton and take the lead. Hamilton held first off the line but Verstappen hung onto his rear wing. Within five laps there was a change in the lead and Verstappen started on his easy drive to victory, where he finished 12 seconds ahead of Hamilton.
It was not the start Ferrari wanted as their second-placed driver Kimi Raikkonen sufferend an engine issue on the way to the grid. The team tried to fix the issue but it was too extensive to get repairs before lights out. Raikkonen did not take the start of the race, becoming the first retiree of the race. On the flip side, Vettel made a fastastic start getting to P13 by Turn 1 from the back of the grid.
Vettel kept pushing hard, using his reverse tyre strategy to get up to sixth on the grid before the top five had made their pit stops. Having the pace on the Mercedes, Vettel took fourth from Valtteri Bottas with ease and set his sights onRicciardo’s third place. It looked like he had the pace to catch and pass the Australian before the chequered flg but his super soft tyres lost too much grip at the end of the race and he dropped out of contention for the podium.
It had been an up and down race for Vettel, but the drama did not end on the chequered flag. A post-race clash saw Lance Stroll and Vettel come together on the cool down lap which wrecked the rear left suspension on the Ferrari. Vettel was forced to pull the car up and get a lift back to the pits with Pascal Wehrlein with the incident still under investigation.
Finishing fourth, Vettel now trails Hamilton by 34 points in the championship with 125 points left to be claimed.
Bottas had a difficult race. After a fantastic start that saw him up to third, threatening Verstappen for second, the Finn struggled with pace throughout the race and was an easy target for Ricciardo and Vettel. He managed to hold of Force India’s Sergio Perez and take fifth after quite a lonely race.
Stoffel Vandoorne was another driver who had a stellar race. A brilliant start saw him up to fifth off the line, which he managed to hold onto for a while. Perez was too fast for Vandoorne to hold off, however, and a flying Vettel fored the Belgian driver to settle for seventh. The was also a brilliant moment for the McLaren driver after his sole pit stop. McLaren timed it to perfection so Vandoorne came out of the pits alongside a dueling Williams duo. Keeping his nose clean, Vandoorne managed to stick his car on the inside line and hold off both Willaims, gaining two positions in two corners.
Willaims could do nothing to reel Vandoorne in and so, after a small inter-team battle, had to settle with eighth and ninth. A scruffy race for Esteban Ocon saw him settle for tenth after a close fight for an extra point with Felipe Massa. Fernando Alonso finished 11th, angoisingly close to points when the chequered flag flew.
An engine issue for Carlos Sainz Jr saw him become the second and only other retiree of the race.
(Images: @F1, skysports.com, @RedBullRacing)