Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel achieved his first victory for Scuderia Ferrari in a thrilling Malaysian Grand Prix.
The Ferrari driver took advantage with track position thanks to staying out during a safety car period and assumed the lead.
Vettel then made a two-stop strategy work while Mercedes did three stops with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
It proved to be the wrong strategy call for the world champion team as neither Hamilton nor Rosberg had the speed, tyre longevity or enough laps to catch and pass Vettel in the final stint.
This was Ferrari’s first victory since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix, with Vettel’s first since that year’s season finale in Brazil.
Hamilton maintains the championship lead with 43 points, with race winner Vettel three points adrift and Rosberg, who finished third, seven further back.
Following a dominant Mercedes performance in Australia, this result was well deserved for the sport and Ferrari. The Manarello-based team provided a challenge to the reigning world champion squad.
Vettel held onto second at the start, behind Hamilton, and chose to stay out when the safety car was called into action following Marcus Ericsson’s spin into the Turn 1 gravel on lap four, while Hamilton and Rosberg, in third, pitted for the hard compound.
Vettel pitted at the end of lap 17 and fitted the medium compound before chasing down and passing both Rosberg and Hamilton on their older Pirelli.
The Mercedes had needed to fight back through traffic as several midfield cars followed Vettel’s strategy and Rosberg was delayed in the pits queuing behind Hamilton.
The Brackley-based team then decided to split the strategy when it pitted Hamilton and Rosberg for the second time, with Hamilton taking the mediums and Rosberg the hards.
Vettel only made his final pitstops with 14 laps to the flag after a long middle stint, taking on the hards and crucially rejoining ahead of Rosberg in second.
The Ferrari driver then regained the lead when Hamilton pitted and had hard tyres fitted a lap later.
Hamilton was unhappy with the choice, with the defending world champion saying on team radio: “This is the wrong tyre, man,” but being told Mercedes only had used mediums as an alternative.
While Mercedes assured him that he would be in a position to catch and pass Vettel for the win, it soon became clear that that wasn’t the case, with Hamilton unable to close in.
Kimi Raikkonen recovered from a poor start with a solid fourth position having dropped to the back of the field following a puncture sustained in contact with Felipe Nasr’s Sauber on the first lap.
Valtteri Bottas passed his Williams team-mate Felipe Massa with a brilliant late move around the outside at Turn 5 to finish fifth, with the duo followed by Max Verstappen, who passed Toro Rosso team-mate Carlos Sainz late on.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat, who recovered from a spin having made contact with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, completed the top ten.
And yet, Red Bull faced some embarrassment by being lapped by their former driver during the race. While Toro Rosso scored some championship points to be ahead of the main factory team in the constructors’ standings.
Romain Grosjean had an eventful race, the Lotus driver trying an ambitious move around the outside of Sergio Perez at the fast Turn 12, only to clip the Force India and spin.
Though he rejoined, Grosjean finished outside the points in P11, with Perez receiving a 10-second time penalty for causing the incident and ultimately finishing P13. Felipe Nasr in between them.
Hulkenberg was P14 in the Force India, having been given a 10-second time penalty for hitting Kvyat at Turn 2, with Manor’s Roberto Merhi the last driver to see the chequered flag in P15.
At least Manor made the finish considering a complete lack of testing. A remarkable achievement for everyone at this little team.
Pastor Maldonado retired the Lotus, having run well down the field after picking up a puncture on the first lap, while the McLaren-Hondas showed improved form but had nothing to show for it as Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button retired with mechanical problems.
Will Stevens did not start the race – his Manor team was unable to cure the fuel system issue that stopped his car running in qualifying.
So a brilliant result for Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari. After a period of Mercedes victories, it’s refreshing to see the four-time world champion put on a fight and won. Ferrari have a good car and can mount a challenge to the Silver Arrows.
Malaysian Grand Prix, 56 laps:
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1h41m05.793s
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 8.569s
3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 12.310s
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 53.822s
5 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes 1m10.409s
6 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 1m13.586s
7 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso-Renault 1m37.762s
8 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso-Renault 1 Lap
9 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull-Renault 1 Lap
10 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 1 Lap
11 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Mercedes 1 Lap
12 Felipe Nasr Sauber-Ferrari 1 Lap
13 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1 Lap
14 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1 Lap
15 Roberto Merhi Manor-Ferrari 3 Laps
– Pastor Maldonado Lotus-Mercedes Retirement
– Jenson Button McLaren-Honda Retirement
– Fernando Alonso McLaren-Honda Retirement
– Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari Retirement
– Will Stevens Manor-Ferrari Withdrawn
1 Lewis Hamilton 43
2 Sebastian Vettel 40
3 Nico Rosberg 33
4 Felipe Massa 20
5 Kimi Raikkonen 12
6 Felipe Nasr 10
7 Valtteri Bottas 10
8 Daniel Ricciardo 9
9 Nico Hulkenberg 6
10 Max Verstappen 6
11 Carlos Sainz 6
12 Marcus Ericsson 4
13 Daniil Kvyat 2
14 Sergio Perez 1
15 Romain Grosjean 0
15 Jenson Button 0
17 Roberto Merhi 0
1 Mercedes 76
2 Ferrari 52
3 Williams-Mercedes 30
4 Sauber-Ferrari 14
5 Toro Rosso-Renault 12
6 Red Bull-Renault 11
7 Force India-Mercedes 7
8 Lotus-Mercedes 0
8 McLaren-Honda 0
10 Manor-Ferrari 0
Next race: Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai. April 10-12.