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Vettel Puts Ferrari On Top

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, March 30 2015

Sebastian Vettel made Ferrari a winner.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Sebastian Vettel reintroduced Scuderia Ferrari to the top of the Formula One podium Sunday with a tactical and emotional victory in the Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix. And then the four-time World Driving Champion showed off his Italian.

“As I said to the whole team, ‘Grazie!’ ” a physically drained Vettel said after scoring his first F1 victory since the 2013 season and snapping Ferrari’s 34-race winless streak. “I think today is a very special day and will always remain a part of me. Thank you very much.”

Vettel, who launched his mercurial F1 career with Infiniti Red Bull Racing, began his Ferrari tenure with a third-place finish in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix two weeks ago. But that result was muted by the fact the German finished a massive 34.523-seconds behind Lewis Hamilton, the two-time/reigning world champion, and Mercedes AMG teammate Nico Rosberg.

That gap was closed around the 3.444-mile/15-turn Sepang International Circuit in Kuala Lumpur via a tire strategy that allowed Vettel to make one less pit stop for Pirelli rubber than runnerup Hamilton and third-place Rosberg.

Pole-sitter Hamilton’s race began to unravel when Marcus Ericsson spun his Sauber/Ferrari in Turn 1 on Lap 4 to bring out the safety car. Hamilton and Rosberg immediately pitted for Pirelli’s hard compound tire in place of the mediums on which the top-10 qualifiers had started the 56-lap/192.878-mile event. Ferrari, meanwhile, kept Vettel out on the medium tires. That sequence locked the Mercedes Twins into three pit stops, while Vettel parlayed Ferrari’s lower tire degradation into a two-stop race.

Vettel’s winning time of 1:41:05.793-seconds was 8.569-seconds ahead of championship leader Hamilton, with Rosberg 12.31-seconds behind his teammate. Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion for Ferrari and Vettel’s current teammate, recovered from a first-lap puncture of his Ferrari’s right rear tire after contact with the Sauber/Ferrari of Felipe Nasr _ and two scheduled pit stops _ to finish a credible fourth.

Only the top seven cars completed the 56-lap distance, with Vettel lapping both entries by his former Red Bull team four laps from the finish. Valtteri Bottas rallied from a first-lap clash with Lotus/Mercedes’ Pastor Maldonado to push ahead of Williams/Mercedes teammate Felipe Massa on the penultimate lap.

Rookie Max Verstappen finished seventh, making the 17-year-old the youngest driver to score world championship points (six) with the final car on the lead lap. Toro Rosso/Renault teammate Carlos Sainz Jr., another rookie, followed Verstappen in eighth. Red Bull/Renault’s Daniil Kvyat finished ninth after being spun by Force India/Mercedes’ Nico Hulkenberg in Turn 2 while Daniel Ricciardo’s RB11 sustained front wing damage on the opening lap en route to 10th.

“A phenomenal day,” said Vettel, who fulfilled a childhood dream when he joined the famed organization based in Maranello, Italy. “How does it feel? It feels incredible. 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 (Alonso) had with Ferrari and recall especially the victories Michael (Schumacher) celebrated with the team _ I think there were one or two _ it’s incredible.

“To become part of that team is something special. It makes me very happy, obviously. Last year was tough. The first win since more than a year’s time now. I definitely missed not just the champagne but the top step in particular. So great to come back after a tough season last year where I think I just didn’t get on top of the car. This year the balance of the car seems to suit me and has come my way, also I think Kimi’s way more than last year in general. Very pleased.

“The strategy today was also ace. So big thanks to the guys. They (Hamilton and Rosberg) pulled in obviously, which I think we were a bit surprised by, but we saw on Friday that they weren’t too happy on the medium compound. 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 tires last and trying to go as fast as I can.”

Hamilton _ who leads Vettel by three points (43-40) after two rounds _ admittedly struggled with his car’s balance in the intense heat. But the Brit also credited Ferrari and Vettel for a “fantastic job” all weekend.

“We were not, and I was not, expecting them to be as quick as they were today,” Hamilton said. “I think it’s great for the fans to see. I don’t really know whether, if I’d stayed out with him, whether that would have made much of a difference. They were probably just as good if not a little bit better perhaps on tire deg. So I think it would have still been very, very close. But I think naturally after that first stop I had so much ground to catch up it was pretty much impossible.

“Generally, all day, I was struggling with the balance…very, very uncomfortable with the car, a lot of understeer in the low which inevitably snaps into oversteer everywhere. So I couldn’t really look after my tires and I was doing everything with my controls but it wasn’t… I couldn’t really find a good balance.

“When I went to the option tire, the car was good or better so I was able to be a little bit more consistent and then closed down the gap. I hadn’t been told but I thought we would be going onto that tire again at the end but we went onto the other one which wasn’t good for me as I’d experienced before, but I did the best job I could with it. I think ultimately the team made the best choices we could today and we’ll try to analyze and improve for next time.”

Rosberg, seven points behind Vettel (40-33) in the championship, was reminded that he had teased his countryman about getting closer to the top of the podium after Mercedes landed its impressive 1-2 punch in Melbourne. Asked if he regretted that message Sunday, Rosberg retorted, “No. But all I can say now, on behalf of our team is: ‘Game on, Ferrari!’

“Big difference between ‘get closer’ and ‘beat us’ because they are faster, massive difference there. Happy? No, not at all. Definitely the opposite of happy. But for sure, on behalf of our team, as I said on the podium, bring it on. We’re going to fight back big-time.”

FIA Formula 1 Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix results after 56 laps/192.878-miles around the 3.444-mile/15-turn Sepang International Circuit in Kuala Lumpur with car number in parentheses, driver, country, chassis/engine, laps completed, and time/gap:

1. (5) Sebastian Vettel, Germany, Scuderia Ferrari, 56, 1:41:05.793

2. (44) Lewis Hamilton, Great Britain, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team, 56, plus-8.569-seconds

3. (6) Nico Rosberg, Germany, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team, 56, plus-12.31-seconds

4. (7) Kimi Raikkonen, Finland, Scuderia Ferrari, 56, plus-53.822-seconds

5. (77) Valtteri Bottas, Finland, Williams Martini Racing/Mercedes, 56, plus-70.409-seconds

6. (19) Felipe Massa, Brazil, Williams Martini Racing/Mercedes, 56, plus-73.586-seconds

7. (33) Max Verstappen, The Netherlands, Scuderia Toro Rosso/Renault, 56 laps, plus-97.762-seconds

8. (55) Carlos Sainz Jr., Spain, Scuderia Toro Rosso/Renault, plus-1 lap

9. (26) Daniil Kvyat, Russia, Infiniti Red Bull Racing/Renault, plus-1 lap

10. (3) Daniel Ricciardo, Australia, Infiniti Red Bull Racing/Renault, plus-1 lap

11. (8) Romain Grosjean, France, Lotus F1 Team/Mercedes, plus-1 lap

12. (12) Felipe Nasr, Brazil, Sauber/Ferrari, plus-1 lap

13. (11) Sergio Perez, Mexico, Sahara Force India F1 Team/Mercedes, plus-1 lap

14. (27) Nico Hulkenberg, Germany, Sahara Force India F1 Team/Mercedes, plus-1 lap

15. (98) Roberto Merhi, Spain, Marussia/Ferrari, plus-3 laps

16. (13) Pastor Maldonado, Venezuela, Lotus F1 Team/Mercedes, DNF

17. (22) Jenson Button, Great Britain, McLaren/Honda, DNF

18. (14) Fernando Alonso, Spain, McLaren/Honda, DNF

19. (9) Marcus Ericsson, Sweden, Sauber/Ferrari, DNF

Fastest lap _ Nico Rosberg, 1:42.062-seconds (Lap 43)

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, March 30 2015
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