SEPANG (Malaysia) • Red Bull's Max Verstappen won the final running of the Malaysian Grand Prix yesterday as Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton finished second to extend his championship lead over Sebastian Vettel to 34 points.
Verstappen, who celebrated his 20th birthday a day earlier, overtook pole-sitter Hamilton on lap four before clinching the second victory of his Formula One career, after winning in Spain last year.
Hamilton was second with Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo third and Ferrari driver Vettel, who started at the back of the grid, fourth.
With five races to go, Hamilton is edging ever closer to the title.
Ferrari had a weekend to forget, after Kimi Raikkonen did not even make the starting grid and Vettel lost a rear wheel in a bizarre smash after the finish line.
Verstappen won by nearly 13 seconds from Hamilton to embellish what has been a tough season after he failed to finish seven races and only once reached the podium.
"The car was unbelievable, if I had to speed up I could. It was a very tough race and incredible to win," said the Dutchman.
MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX
1 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 1hr 30min 01.290sec
2 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes +12.770sec
3 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull +22.519
4 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari +37.362
5 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes +56.021
6 Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India +1:18.630
7 Stoffel Vandoorne (Bel) McLaren 1 lap
8 Lance Stroll (Can) Williams 1 lap
9 Felipe Massa (Bra) Williams 1 lap
10 Esteban Ocon (Fra) Force India 1 lap
DID NOT START
Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari
OVERALL STANDINGS - DRIVERS
1 Hamilton 281pts
2 Vettel 247
3 Bottas 222
4 Ricciardo 177
5 Raikkonen 138
6 Verstappen 93
1 Mercedes 503pts
2 Ferrari 385
3 Red Bull 270
4 Force India 133
5 Williams 65
Hamilton admitted the Mercedes had been second-best.
"Big congratulations to Max and happy birthday, he did a fantastic job today," the Briton said. "The race was a tough one, obviously they just had the upper hand on us today. I feel good but I think we have some work to do with the car. Obviously we didn't have the pace this weekend."
Ricciardo fought off a strong challenge from Vettel, who had started from the back following engine problems in qualifying.
"Seb came really quick at the end and I thought he was going to be a handful," said the Australian. "But he only had one strong attack and then we were able to pull away."
Ferrari's fortunes had dimmed when Raikkonen's car suffered a turbo failure before the start. He was pushed back to the pit and the race was over before it had even begun for the former world champion, who had enjoyed his maiden win at Sepang in 2003.
"Obviously, we had some issues. I don't think any of us know what it is exactly," he said.
Vettel, who led the championship until just a month ago, now has only five races left to overhaul Hamilton's big lead, starting on Sunday in Japan.
"I think we have a very good car. If we start ahead, we win the race," he said. "We had a little bit of a sniff at the podium but unfortunately we ran out of tyres."
He was picking off the back markers with ease courtesy of his second new engine of the weekend.
On lap 41 of the 56-lap race, Vettel managed to set a race lap record of 1:34.218, bettering Juan Pablo Montoya's 2004 mark of 1:34.223. By the next lap, he rewrote the record books again with an effort of 1:34.080.
He made one daring attempt to grab the last podium spot up the inside of Ricciardo at the end of the pit straight with seven laps to go, but the Australian closed him off.
The drama did not end there as on his slow-down lap Vettel collided with the Williams of Lance Stroll which left his Ferrari with one rear wheel on top of his car.
"Stroll just drove into me. I mean, seriously," Vettel exclaimed.
The impact smashed the rear left of the Ferrari with potential damage to the gearbox, which would incur a five-place penalty if it needs to be replaced for Japan. "I hope not because, as I said, it was completely unnecessary," said Vettel.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS