SEPANG, MALAYSIA – Max Verstappen celebrated his birthday by winning the Malaysian Grand Prix in style on Sunday, while Lewis Hamilton finished second to extend his championship lead over Sebastian Vettel.
Vettel started the race from last but drove brilliantly to take fourth place behind Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and limit the damage to his own title hopes. Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen did not even start, despite qualifying in second place. Moments before the race, mechanics wheeled Raikkonen’s car back to the garage but could not get it ready.
Hamilton secured the 70th pole of his career in qualifying, and his fourth straight in Malaysia, while Vettel failed to set a time because of an engine problem.
The day after turning 20, Verstappen turned on the style, making a fine move to overtake Hamilton on the fourth lap and then held his nerve with his father watching from the team garage.
Hamilton’s only win in Malaysia was in 2014. He led comfortably last year but retired with engine failure.
Vettel’s last win came at the Hungarian GP before the summer break, moving him 14 points clear of Hamilton. But the British driver has won three of four races since and now leads Vettel by 34 points with five races remaining.
“Welcome to being a 20-year-old,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said. “Great start to a new decade for you.”
His father, the former F1 driver Jos Verstappen, looked emotional as his son stood on the podium. Horner also appeared teary-eyed.
Dutch fans poured onto the grid to join in the celebrations, with one fan applauding with a pair of clogs.
Vettel saved Ferrari’s blushes with a superb drive but, as if Ferrari’s luck could not get any worse, Williams driver Lance Stroll smashed into the side of him on the warm-down lap, cutting the Ferrari almost in half.
“That’s impossible,” a stunned Vettel said. “Stroll’s not looking where he’s going. He’s shunted into my car.”
In a light-hearted moment, the German driver hitched a lift back to the paddock the novel way — by sitting on the side of countryman Pascal Wehrlein’s Sauber.
Verstappen won the Spanish GP on his Red Bull debut last year, and became the youngest driver on the front row when he qualified second for Monaco. He was still 18.
Up until Sunday, however, his season had been blighted by engine problems. Since placing third at the Chinese GP — the second race this season — he failed to finish seven times.