Hamilton goes wire-to-wire to win first Malaysian GP

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Lewis Hamilton has won the Malaysian Grand Prix for the first time with a faultless performance at the Sepang International Circuit today.

The British driver went wire-to-wire on Sunday afternoon as he eased his car home by 17 seconds ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg, marking Mercedes’ first one-two finish since returning to the sport as a works team back in 2010. Sebastian Vettel claimed Red Bull’s first points of the season in third place, but teammate Daniel Ricciardo endured a luckless race as a pit stop error and front wing failure denied him a near-certain fourth place finish.

The start of the race saw Nico Rosberg make a good start to get past Sebastian Vettel and up into second place behind his teammate, who held onto the lead from the line. Daniel Ricciardo also made a good start to pass both Ferraris and move up into third place ahead of Vettel. Both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen struggled at first as they lost positions to Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen respectively, but Raikkonen soon hit trouble as a puncture forced him to crawl back to the pits and make an unscheduled stop. Jean-Eric Vergne and Jules Bianchi also had to pit early on due to problems, but Felipe Massa – searching for his first points of the season – was looking quick as he fought for position with rookie Kevin Magnussen.

Not wishing to be upstaged by his new teammate, Vettel soon found a way past Ricciardo to move up into third place. However, at the front, Hamilton had already forged a five second lead ahead of Rosberg, suggesting that Red Bull could face an uphill struggle to wrestle the race away from Mercedes.

Lotus’ poor start to the season continued as Pastor Maldonado was forced to retire his car after just seven laps, whilst Valtteri Bottas began to complain over the radio that Williams teammate Massa was too slow behind Magnussen. The McLaren driver was forced to pit due to front wing damage, but the stewards lay blame with him for causing Raikkonen’s puncture, and handed him a five second stop/go penalty.

With most drivers set to utilize a three-stop strategy, the majority of drivers made their first stop between lap ten and fifteen. Alonso – after re-passing Hulkenberg – was the first front-runner to take on fresh tires, with Ricciardo following the Spaniard’s example just one lap later. The two drivers were side by side at pit exit, and fought cleanly for position through the first few corners until Alonso was finally forced to yield and back off. This brief battle gave Vettel more breathing space in the fight for third position, and all three managed to find a way past Bottas who was going further into the race before stopping. Both Hamilton and Rosberg pitted without losing net position, but Nico Hulkenberg – by pitting later – managed to take the lead of the race for half a lap before the Briton easily passed the Force India.

After the first round of stops, Hamilton still enjoyed a healthy lead, but Rosberg began to struggle with his new set of tires, allowing Vettel and Ricciardo to close. The German driver was given the call to increase his pace and widen the gap to Vettel, and Ricciardo was keeping his teammate in sight to try and get in the running for a podium finish. Bottas rekindled his form from Australia as he fought his way up into the top ten after starting 18th, but Vergne’s day came to an early end when he was forced to retire on lap 19.

Hamilton’s lead was so great that – even before half distance – the team was able to turn down his engine and simply monitor his lead. After being told to push, Rosberg dropped Vettel to enjoy a three second lead over the Red Bull, but the champion team did report that there had been a fuel sensor failure on Ricciardo’s car. Further back, Kamui Kobayashi was running well for Caterham to battle his way into the top ten after some of his rivals stopped for fresh tires, but he was soon pushed out of the points by rookie Daniil Kvyat. However, he refused to keel over, and entered a spirited battle with Romain Grosjean for position

Once again, Alonso was the first of the front-runners to pit for fresh tires, and he was soon joined in the pits by Ricciardo. The Red Bull driver took on the harder tire in an attempt to shake-up his strategy and try to catch his teammate, who moved onto the softs. Rosberg pitted one lap later, but the gap to Vettel had shrunk to just 1.2 seconds. Hamilton had no such problems though, pitting for a new set of mediums and coming back out still in the lead.

Adrian Sutil’s race came to an early end when his Sauber C33 stopped on the inside of turn 17, but it did not require a safety car to be recovered. Teammate Esteban Gutierrez lasted just three laps longer as the Mexican driver came into the pits and was parked up. Mercedes informed its drivers that rain was falling not too far from the circuit and could hit towards the end of the race, whilst Raikkonen also reported a bit of light rain at the back of the circuit.

Daniel Ricciardo’s superb race weekend took a turn for the worse when, after making his third and final stop, his car came to a stop just outside of his pit box. Red Bull’s mechanics managed to wheel him back to his box and correct the error on his front-left tire that had not been fitted properly. The team did get him back out on track, albeit having lost a lap and way down the order in 14th place. One lap later, his day got even worse as his front wing failed and began to rub along the ground, forcing him to pit yet again for repairs. He was then made to return to the pits for a stop/go penalty due to the unsafe release in the pit stop. Red Bull eventually retired the car with five laps to go.

In the battle for sixth place, Massa began to catch Button on fresher tires, and the two veterans entered a spirited battle for position. The Brazilian driver could not find a way past though, and was eventually given the call to let his teammate, Valtteri Bottas, past as he was faster, rekindling memories of Ferrari’s pit call at the 2010 German Grand Prix. However, Massa ignored team orders and eventually finished the race in seventh place.

Nico Hulkenberg – on a two-stop strategy – found himself being caught by Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso in the dying stages of the race, and ultimately lost out to the Spanish driver.

In order to use both sets of tires and adhere to the regulations, Hamilton, Rosberg and Vettel pitted for the hard compound Pirellis with just a handful of laps to go. None of the front three encountered any problems in the pits, though, and managed to hold their podium positions.

Come the end of the race, there was no stopping Lewis Hamilton. The British driver claimed his first career ‘grand slam’ – pole position, fastest lap, race win and lead every lap – to win the Malaysian Grand Prix for the first time. With Rosberg in second place, it also marked Mercedes’ first one-two finish since the 1955 Italian Grand Prix, and put the team into the lead of the constructors’ championship. In third place, Sebastian Vettel picked up Red Bull’s first points of the season, and marked the team’s return to form after a difficult winter.

Hamilton and Vettel already focused on 2018 F1 title battle

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Championship rivals Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are already looking forward to fighting each other for a fifth Formula One title next year.

With Hamilton wrapping up this year’s title two races ago, the pressure is off this week at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Both are projecting to 2018, where the four-time champions get back to the serious business of trying to catch Argentine great Juan Manuel Fangio on five titles.

“Certainly we will never match him in how successful he was in such a short space of time,” Vettel said on Thursday at a news conference. “Back then racing was different. The cars were not that reliable and he still managed to be successful. (He was) the best we’ve ever had in terms of putting it all together and skill.”

Only Michael Schumacher with seven titles has won more than Fangio, who drove in F1 from 1950-58.

“It was the most dangerous period of time in motorsport. I feel honored to be so close to such a great sporting icon,” Hamilton said of Fangio. “He should be celebrated more for his success. He’s not mentioned a huge amount. He’s kind of the godfather of the sport for the drivers.”

Some may come to revere Hamilton like that in time.

He has won 62 races – second only to Schumacher’s 91 – and holds the record for pole positions with 72. The 32-year-old British driver has won three of the past four titles – losing to Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in 2016 – and was at the peak of his powers this season.

After trailing Vettel at the halfway point, he pulled away after the summer break and leads the German driver by 43 points.

Hamilton is arguably the fiercest competitor around and is already thinking about how Vettel plans to turn the tables.

“Whatever weakness Sebastian had, he’ll work on those over the winter. No one’s perfect, even I have things to work on,” Hamilton said, without a trace of irony. “He’s going to raise the bar next year and I’ll have to as well, otherwise things won’t be the same.

“Ferrari had a very, very good season. Half the season they were in the lead and that wasn’t down to luck,” Hamilton added. “Red Bull is also going to be (competing for the title) next year.”

Considering how poor Ferrari was in 2016, this year can still be viewed as a success with Vettel winning five races compared to none last year.

Vettel joked that winning the title in 2018 will be “a walk in the park” if Ferrari improves by the same amount, then took a more serious view of the situation.

“That final step is always the hardest. But the team is ready and fired up,” said Vettel, who won four titles with Red Bull from 2010-13. “We made the biggest step of all. We lost out as the season progressed. In the end we weren’t good enough to take it to the last race, but there’s so much potential still.”

He accepted that he ultimately fell short because “Lewis made less mistakes” than he did.

Poised to regain the championship lead, he crashed out of the Singapore GP from pole position back in September – turning the tide in Hamilton’s favor. Reliability issues plagued Ferrari at the next two races. He started last and finished fourth at the Malaysian GP and then qualified third before retiring from the Japanese GP.

In June, the rivals were embroiled in their most heated clash at the Azerbaijan GP in Baku.

Vettel drove alongside Hamilton’s Mercedes as they waited behind the safety car for the restart, and was adjudged to have deliberately nudged the side of him. Tempers frayed and barbs were exchanged. Vettel initially denied it was deliberate but subsequently apologized for dangerous driving.

That incident genuinely threatened to spoil their healthy rivalry, but they joke about it now.

Asked on Thursday what their highlight of the season was, both drivers – sitting next to each other – laughed easily when Baku was suggested.

Referring to the upcoming end-of-season F1 awards, Vettel put himself forward for three.

“I should get (overtaking) move of the year, personality of the year, and fair play … maybe not.”