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Race - dominant Hamilton leads Mercedes one-two in Malaysia

30 Mar 2014

Lewis Hamilton had never won in Malaysia, until a crushing drive in Sepang on Sunday finally rectified that after an eight-year quest.

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The 2008 world champion was never troubled, taking the lead from pole position at the start and calmly controlling the race from Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg, who eventually finished 17.3s adrift in second.

Hamilton also added fastest lap to round off a near perfect weekend.The Silver Arrows’ one-two enabled Rosberg to retain his championship lead, but Hamilton now jumps up to second, 18 points adrift.

Sebastian Vettel also got his title defence off the ground, but was a beaten third, 24.5s behind Hamilton. The Red Bull driver challenged Rosberg very closely on one occasion and got within a second around the 34-lap mark, but dropped back after his fellow German repelled him, and later had to ease up to save fuel. Nevertheless, he received 15 points for his afternoon’s work.

Daniel Ricciardo should have followed Vettel home having got the better of a wheel-to-wheel battle with his team leader early on, just after the world champion had unsuccessfully tried to defend his second place off the line from the fast-starting Rosberg. But the Australian had dropped back nearly 10s when his race completely fell apart during what should have been his final stop on the 40th lap.

The left front wheel on his RB10 was improperly secured, and after being wheeled back to the Red Bull garage to have that rectified he was given a 10s stop and go penalty for an unsafe release. As if that wasn’t bad enough, in between that fumbled stop and the subsequent enforced one that he had to make, Ricciardo needed another after one trip too many over the Turn 14 kerb damaged his front wing and led to a problem with the right front tyre.

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was 11.4s behind Vettel at the chequered flag, having clawed back past Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India in the closing stages. Where all of the leading runners opted for three pit stops, Hulkenberg went for two and though he couldn’t quite hold off Alonso, he was able to finish a bold fifth.

Sixth place was the subject of heated battle between McLaren’s Jenson Button and the Williams duo of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas. Early in the race Massa asked Williams to keep the Finn behind him when he was trying to attack Button; later, when the Finn had greater pace on fresher tyres, the Brazilian was told not to hold his team mate up and Bottas was given permission to overtake. Massa had other ideas however, refusing to oblige and eventually opening his 2014 account with six points for seventh place. Bottas took eighth, but with Button only 1.3s ahead of their lead car Williams may feel that a much bigger points haul might have been possible.

Kevin Magnussen had a less high-profile race for McLaren than he did on his debut in Australia, being given one of the new five-second stop and go penalties after an early brush which punctured the right rear tyre of Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari and damaged his own front wing. That was replaced at his first stop, when he also served the penalty, and that left him on his back foot for the rest of the race, the first in his burgeoning F1 career witnessed live by father Jan, himself a former McLaren driver.

Once again Daniil Kvyat scored, taking the final point for Toro Rosso after a nicely judged race.

Eleventh was the subject of a massive scrap between Lotus’s Romain Grosjean and Raikkonen; the delayed Finn got by at one stage before his former team mate pushed back in front and just stayed there. By the flag they were separated by only a tenth of a second, just 2.2s behind Kvyat. Despite narrowly missing out on a point, Lotus will be delighted to have finally got one of their cars to the flag after another troubled weekend.

Kamui Kobayashi was one of the stars of the midfield for Caterham, demonstrating McLaren pace at one stage before inevitably having to slow in the second half as the team ran a two-stop strategy. Having climbed as high as ninth during the pits stops, the Japanese racer brought his car home 13th, with rookie team mate Marcus Ericsson 14th. The Swede earned his spurs by repassing Raikkonen early on when they were locked in battle, but ultimately couldn’t make it stick. Max Chilton was the final finisher, for Marussia, after a mid-race battle with Ericsson.

Besides Ricciardo, whom Red Bull retired with five laps to go to save his powertrain, neither Sauber made it home after a mid-race intra-team fight. Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez stopped within moments of each other, both with mechanical problems. Jean-Eric Vergne complained of loss of power early on and retired his Toro Rosso after 18 laps, while Jules Bianchi’s Marussia was damaged by a first-lap clash with Pastor Maldonado’s Lotus, triggered by the Frenchman’s rear tyre making contact with Vergne’s front wing. Bianchi felt unfortunate to be the first driver to be given one of the new five-second stop and go penalities for his part in that, while the Venezuelan’s car later broke down.

However, the unluckiest driver on Sunday was Sergio Perez who wasn’t able to take the start after his Force India hit technical trouble in the pit lane on its way to the grid.

So after two races Rosberg, on 43 points, leads the drivers’ championship from Hamilton on 25, Alonso on 24, Button on 23 and Magnussen on 20. In the constructors’ stakes Mercedes now lead with 68 points to McLaren’s 43 and Ferrari’s 30. Williams have 20 and Force India 19, as Red Bull open their score on 15. Finally, Magnussen and Bianchi both received two penalty points on their racing licenses for their respective misdemeanours.