Max Verstappen celebrated his 20th birthday weekend in style by taking his second Formula 1 victory with a dominant performance in Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix.
Verstappen, who turned 20 on Saturday, qualified third at Sepang, but was able to fight his way past Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton early on before storming clear en route to victory for Red Bull.
Hamilton emerged from a difficult race with his championship lead extended to 34 points, with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel able to limit the damage by charging from last on the grid to P4 at the checkered flag.
After seeing Ferrari rival Kimi Raikkonen be wheeled back to the garage from second on the grid after an engine issue, pole-sitter Hamilton was able to make a hassle-free start and retain his lead into the first corner, with Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas piling pressure on Verstappen for second place.
Verstappen was able to hold position with some solid defensive moves before setting his sights on Hamilton at the front, moving onto the championship leader’s tail at the end of the third lap.
Heading into the first corner, Verstappen got a tow and pulled to the inside before sailing past Hamilton, who was left without answer as the Red Bull man moved into the lead of the race.
Verstappen wasted little time in creating a gap, easily moving out of DRS range to stamp his authority on proceedings early on.
Further back, Sebastian Vettel was able to make a flying start as Ferrari’s sole driver in the race, rising from 20th to 13th on the first lap alone. Another couple of positions were gained early on, but the German’s rapid rise in the first 10 laps ended with him sitting P11 as he started to toil behind Fernando Alonso.
Red Bull’s strong start was not solely down to Verstappen, with teammate Daniel Ricciardo able to seize third place off Bottas after a wheel-to-wheel fight through the opening complex of corners on Lap 9.
Up front, Verstappen was able to easily extend his lead through the first stint as Hamilton struggled on the super-soft tires, with the Mercedes driver even being warned that Vettel – who was lapping faster than his title rival in P6 – could be a threat come the end of the race.
Vettel continued to make up ground be easing past Sergio Perez for fifth, and was soon lapping one second per lap faster than Hamilton’s teammate Bottas who was next on his hit list.
The Finn managed to make life difficult for Vettel, though, slowing him to ensure that Hamilton could come out ahead of both drivers after pitting at the end of Lap 26.
Verstappen moved to cover Hamilton by pitting from the lead just one lap later, moving onto the soft tire, while Ferrari also decided to bring Vettel in and fit a set of super-softs to take him to the end of the race.
The pit stop phase saw Vettel get the jump on Bottas for P4, but now facing a 30-second deficit to Hamilton in P2, the Briton having extended his advantage over Ricciardo to 12 seconds through the tire switches.
Despite looking in better shape on the soft tires, Hamilton was unable to make any inroads on Verstappen at the front, with his focus instead being on the catching pair of Ricciardo and Vettel behind.
A series of new lap records from Vettel on the super-softs saw him close up on Ricciardo with 10 laps to go, only for some canny defensive work from the Red Bull driver to cut the Ferrari man’s charge.
At the head of the field, Verstappen was able to ease home to his second grand prix win almost 18 months after his maiden success on debut for Red Bull, finishing 12 seconds clear of Hamilton in P2.
Ricciardo took third ahead of Vettel in P4, who faded to more than 10 seconds behind the Red Bull driver as his tires dropped off in the closing stages.
Valtteri Bottas ended a disappointing weekend down in fifth for Mercedes, while Sergio Perez finished as the leading midfield driver in P6 for Force India.
Stoffel Vandoorne matched the best result of his F1 career scored two weeks ago in Singapore by crossing the line seventh for McLaren ahead of Williams drivers Lance Stroll and Felipe Massa, while Esteban Ocon took the final point for P10 in the second Force India.
Stroll got caught up in a strange incident with Vettel after the checkered flag as the two drivers made contact, leaving the Ferrari driver with a damaged left-rear wheel. Vettel fumed over the radio before hopping out of his car, eventually getting back to the pits riding on Pascal Wehrlein’s Sauber.
Despite a good start, Fernando Alonso could not add to McLaren’s points haul after slipping to P11 at the checkered flag, having enjoyed a brief spat with Haas’ Kevin Magnussen. Magnussen ultimately finished two seconds behind Alonso in 12th, with teammate Romain Grosjean following in 13th.
Pierre Gasly’s first grand prix weekend ended with him taking P14 for Toro Rosso as teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. retired due to an engine issue. Sainz’s future team, Renault, had a miserable weekend with Jolyon Palmer and Nico Hulkenberg taking 15th and 16th thanks to two spins and a car issue respectively.
Wehrlein finished a lap down on race winner Verstappen in 17th, with Sauber teammate Marcus Ericsson being the last classified finisher in P18.
F1 returns next week with the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.