The fight is on as Vettel's Ferrari beats Hamilton's Mercedes

Fears that this season's F1 championship could be a procession are banished by a storming performance from Sebastian Vettel

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(Image credit: Getty)

Sebastian Vettel brought to an end a 34-race drought for Ferrari as he won a dramatic Malaysian Grand Prix – the team's first victory since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton was the second to take the chequered flag as Mercedes struggled with their tyres in the heat of Sepang. Hamilton's team-mate Nico Rosberg was third with Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen in fourth.

There was no fairy-tale return to the track for Fernando Alonso, with the Spanish driver retiring, as did his McLaren teammate Jenson Button. Though he said he was "happy to be back" after his accident last month, Alonso admitted: "Not finishing the race is never a nice feeling, so let's see if we can improve next time."

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But this race was all about Vettel, the four-time Formula One World Champion who dominated the sport between 2010 and 2013 with Red Bull, but who left them for Ferrari at the end of last year.

The German was expected to struggle to challenge Mercedes' domination but his victory in the second Grand Prix of the season has sent a warning to Hamilton's team.

"Huge congratulations to Ferrari and Sebastian – I gave it everything I could but their pace was excellent," conceded a gracious Hamilton. "We knew that Ferrari had made a step but didn't know how big – they were too quick today."

But the Briton, ever the competitor, had this message for Vettel: "We welcome the fight. It is great to have a battle with the Ferraris."

Vettel started second on the grid behind Hamilton but he took the lead when Hamilton was called into the pits by Mercedes during an early safety car period, while Ferrari opted to leave Vettel racing.

Mercedes' decision to drive on the slow hard tyre for most of the race was also a factor as Vettel raced on the faster medium tyre for the majority of the 56 laps.

The choice of tyres caused friction within the Mercedes' team, with Hamilton querying the decision of executive director Paddy Lowe to use the harder tyre in the closing stages. "The prime tyre did not feel good," explained Hamilton, who also had a series of terse exchanges with his engineer on the radio throughout the race because of the issue.

Vettel's triumph, the 40th win of his career, puts him fourth in the all-time F1 list behind Ayrton Senna (41), Alain Prost (51) and compatriot Michael Schumacher, who is way out in front with 91 victories.

It was also the first time Mercedes have been beaten since the Hungarian Grand Prix last July and will do wonders not only for Ferrari, but also the Formula One championship as a whole. "We beat them fair and square and it is a special day – that is why I am emotional," said a jubilant Vetter.

"Last year was not a good year for me, it was a great car but I struggled to extract performance from it. This car suits me very well… It has been a while since I've been on top step and obviously the first time with Ferrari."

And the significance of the win with Ferrari wasn't lost on the German, who grew up watching Michael Schumacher dominate F1 in the red car. "Michael was my hero. All the kids at the go-kart track looked up to him," said Vettel of the man who continues to receive treatment after his serious skiing accident in 2013. "Michael left very large footsteps but the target is not to fill those but to leave some new ones."

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