Vettel saves face for Ferrari after Raikkonen’s misfortune
SEPANG, Malaysia (AP) — Sebastian Vettel rescued a woeful day for Ferrari at the Malaysian Grand Prix with a brilliant drive from last place to fourth.
It was purely damage limitation, as he drifted 34 points behind Lewis Hamilton in the title race, but it softened the blow for Ferrari.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won the race ahead of Hamilton with the other Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo in the final podium position.
Having seen both of its cars fail to score points at the previous race in Singapore, Ferrari lost Kimi Raikkonen moments before this race.
Vettel started from the back of the grid after engine problems on Saturday, while Raikkonen did not start at all.
With less than 10 minutes before qualifying, Ferrari’s mechanics hurriedly wheeled the Finnish driver’s car back to the garage.
Team principal Maurizio Arrivabene was wiping his face anxiously moments before the start. Raikkonen failed to get back on track in time. He could ultimately have made a start from the pit lane but could not even do that.
“Obviously we had some issue, I don’t know what it is exactly, I don’t think any of us know right now,” Raikkonen said after the race. “It’s far from perfect, but it’s one of those things that happen.”
Raikkonen had qualified in second place behind Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton and, given how fast Ferrari was in dominating both practice sessions on Saturday, he may well have had a shot at victory.
“I’m pretty certain I would have had a very good car today,” the 2007 F1 champion said. “We’ll never know.”
Within 15 minutes of the race, the Finnish driver was already in his shorts and walking back to the team’s motorhome, while Vettel was charging through the field.
“We were the quickest car for the majority of the race,” Vettel said. “It was more entertaining, the first couple of laps in particular.”
As if Ferrari’s luck could not get any worse, Williams driver Lance Stroll later smashed into the side of Vettel’s car on the warm-down lap, cutting it almost in half.
“That’s impossible,” a stunned Vettel said. “He’s shunted into my car.”
In a light-hearted moment, the German driver hitched a lift back to the paddock by sitting on the side of countryman Pascal Wehrlein’s Sauber.
Stewards took no action after investigating the incident, but Vettel blamed Stroll.
“I went on the outside to pick up a bit of rubber. I think Lance wasn’t looking and wanted to do the same, but that was too late, I was there already,” Vettel said. “That’s completely unnecessary. I think he just didn’t look.”
Before the race, Vettel was handed a 20-place grid penalty after Ferrari made three component changes to his engine.
Teams are allowed to make four power unit changes per season before incurring penalties. Ferrari had already made the fourth change on Saturday, when an electronic malfunction was detected late into the third practice session.
Vettel then encountered further problems in the first part of qualifying when his car lost power. Because he failed to set a time in qualifying, the four-time F1 champion was at the back of the grid anyway, so the 20-place grid drop made no difference on the day.
Hamilton, who was second here, won in Singapore after Vettel crashed from pole position heading into the first turn, taking out Raikkonen with him.
Mercedes is moving closer to a fourth straight drivers’ and constructors’ championship, although fortunes might change for Vettel if he maintains his pace. The title race continues next weekend at the Japanese GP in Suzuka.