In seven attempts Lewis Hamilton had never won in Malaysia, but he put that right eighth time around in the most emphatic manner on Sunday with a perfect performance to trounce his Australian GP-winning Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg.
Sebastian Vettel got his points score off the ground for the season too, but his was a very distant third place for Red Bull, nearly 25 seconds behind the winner.
Hamilton graciously responded to the minute’s silence on the grid prior to the start by dedicating his success to those still missing on Malaysian Airlines’ MH370 flight. Later, reflecting on the race, he said: “I’m incredibly happy to win for the first time here. Finally we got it. It’s also special to get a one-two, because there haven’t been many of them in my career.
“I don’t think any race is ever easy, but obviously opportunities present themselves and you have to take them in both hands, and that’s what I did. I had to look after the car and the fuel and not make any mistakes, while reacting to what Nico did without damaging the tyres. It was a great challenge but I was able to do that well, as the car was spectacular this weekend.”
Malaysian Grand Prix: In pictures
Malaysian Grand Prix: In pictures
Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes pitstop at Sepang Circuit on March 30, 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Getty)
Nico Hulkenberg of Germany and Force India drives during the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at the Sepang Circuit on March 30, 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Getty)
Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing drives during the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at the Sepang Circuit on March 30, 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Getty)
Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP leads the field at the first corner during the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at the Sepang Circuit on March 30, 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Getty)
Race winner Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates on the podium after the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at the Sepang Circuit on March 30, 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Getty)
Jean-Eric Vergne of France and Scuderia Toro Rosso prepares to drive during the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at the Sepang Circuit on March 30, 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Getty)
There were only two moments in the 56-lap race when a Silver Arrows one-two came under threat. The first was at the start. As Hamilton lit off from the pole position that had brought his tally of them to 33 – equal to that of Britain’s best qualifier, the great Jim Clark – Rosberg got great traction and was alongside Vettel as the second-placed German moved ever closer to the pit wall.
“It was close!” Rosberg said. “It’s not easy to make starts in these new cars but I made a great one. Then I thought that Seb was going to put me in the wall but he just stopped short. I admit that my heart skipped a beat but I kept right on it and it wasn’t that bad. Then I had a bit of a tank-slapper in turn three and that gave everyone another run on me, but fortunately it all worked out.”
As Hamilton immediately pulled away in one of the most dominant drives of his career, Rosberg lost ground as he struggled with his rear tyres in the searing heat. “The track was poor and I was sliding around so much, with the rear tyres especially,” Rosberg admitted. “But in any case Lewis was a bit quicker today.”
The other moment of anxiety came as Vettel began a charge and closed in dramatically at mid-distance. By the 34th lap he was within 0.7sec and appeared ready to strike, but Rosberg had things under control and eventually pulled away to finish 7.2sec clear. “Seb was pushing me, but I had some pace in hand,” he revealed. “But the way they’ve ramped theirs up at Red Bull is impressive.”
Vettel, in turn was impressed, by the scale of the Mercedes mountain he needs to climb. “I had a really good race, the first race distance I’ve actually done since Brazil last year,” he said. “I thought I had a good start until I saw Nico to my right. I’d been focusing on how I could tow up to Lewis and challenge him in the first corner, and then suddenly Nico was there and Daniel [team-mate Ricciardo] was coming too. Later I tried to get as close as I could to Nico and we seemed evenly matched, but then he found another gear and was pulling away and I just tried to get the car home. Probably we could all have gone a little faster but in the end our priority was to secure the podium.”
That, and to save some fuel in the closing stages, as instructed by his team.
“Congratulations to them,” Vettel said of Mercedes. “They did a very good job and looked seamless in winter testing and the package they have is very, very strong. These guys are bloody quick! But we are here on the podium and much better than what we at some stage expected during the winter. The question now is time and how soon we can catch up and give them a hard time.”
Red Bull should have had fourth place too for Ricciardo, who led Vettel initially after some tough wheel-to-wheel intra-team racing. The Australian, who finished second on the road in Australia before being disqualified for fuel flow irregularities, had dropped back nearly 10sec by the time his race went awry during his pit stop on the 40th lap. He stopped as soon as he realised that his left front wheel had been improperly secured and was wheeled back to the Red Bull garage to have the wheel fitted properly. He was then given a 10sec stop-and-go penalty because the team had released his car unsafely.
In between the bodged stop and the enforced one he had to make another after breaking his front wing by running over a steep kerb in turn 14 and damaging the right front tyre.
Ricciardo’s misfortunes promoted Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso to fourth place, 11.4sec behind Vettel, after he had made the best use of fresh tyres and a three-stop strategy to catch and pass the yet again impressive Nico Hulkenberg, who made it through on two stops to score points again for Force India.
Sixth place was the subject of heated battle between Jenson Button and the Williams drivers. Early in the race Williams told Valtteri Bottas not to challenge his team-mate Felipe Massa as the Brazilian fought Button. But in the closing stages, when Bottas was faster because he had fresher tyres, Massa caused ill feeling within the Grove team when he refused a team instruction to let the Finn overtake. They thus finished behind the McLaren, when the team were convinced they should have beaten Button.
None of that mattered to Hamilton. Happy that forecast rain never materialised beyond a few drops mid-race, he savoured his success as he ticked another career box and moved to 18 points behind Rosberg in the drivers’ table.
- More about:
- Formula 1