HE's BACK AND LOVING IT: Sebastian Vettel (above) and Ferrari are still euphoric after winning the 2015 Malaysia F1 GP, the team's first win since 2013. Image: AP / Vincent Thian
SEPANG, Malaysia - An ebullient Sebastian Vettel spoke at length after the 2015 Malaysian Formula 1 GP about the importance of his first win for Ferrari. - it was clear that Vettel and Ferrari were back.
Vettel upset the odds with a stunning drive at Sepang, overhauling pole-starter Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes thanks to Ferrari's ability to get the best out of its faster medium-compound tyres in Malaysia's sweltering heat.
PROPER TITLE RACE
The team tactics were also superb, opting to keep the four-times F1 champion out on track during an early pace-car period as rivals dived into the pits for new tyres and he rode the advantage all the way to the chequered flag.
Not only had the German and Ferrari claimed the first win since 2013 but, by finally finding a way to beat the dominant Mercedes "fair and square" (as he put it), the series can now hope for a proper title race.
The 2015 season is only two races old yet before Malaysia F1 was awash with negative scenarios and feared Mercedes could win everything at a canter. Red Bull's Christian Horner, principal of Vettel's once-dominant, now troubled, former team has suggested Mercedes should be reined in by rule to level things out.
Vettel's German GP has been axed due to a lack of money and the confusion surrounding Fernando Alonso's winter-testing crash and withdrawal from the first 2015 race in Melbourne each added to the negative tone.
Sunday's Ferrari victory was the shot in the arm the sport needed. As Mercedes' Nico Rosberg said on the podium at Sepang: "All I can say now, on behalf of our team is: Game on, Ferrari."
Vettel, following in the tyre tracks of seven-times champion and fellow-countryman Michael Schumacher, fulfilled a dream when he joined Ferrari at the end of the 2014 season but plenty of work remains to be done.
Ferrari, rebuilt after failing to win a race the previous season for the first time since 1993, has no illusions about that even if Mercedes felt it had received "a wake-up call".
Vettel said: "Since I joined Ferrari I've felt incredibly welcome... together we have worked to improve things. The potential, as I always said, is huge; it's good to see what a step forward we took through the (northern) winter."
"Sunday (March 29) was a special day... it's been a while since both I and team won. I'd like to be in the same position at every race but we must be realistic - Mercedes struggled on Sunday but has a great package and our target is to make the gap smaller at every GP, to make sure we are the team right behind them."
Mercedes, which had romped to a 1-2 finish in Australia, recognised the danger Ferrari posed after the first practice session in Malaysia and took the threat seriously. F1 champion Lewis Hamilton, runner-up on Sunday, said: "We were not expecting Ferrari to be as quick as it was. Vettel is up there with us."
Third-placed driver Noco Rosberg added: "Ferrari and Sebastian were the best on Sunday so they are title contender."
MERC BACK IN CHINA?
Vettel's team mate Kimi Raikkonen was perhaps the unluckiest driver of the weekend, yet he overcame setback in qualifying and then and early puncture in the race that cost him a lap but finished fourth.
The next F1 GP will be in Shanghai, China, on April 12 where cooler conditions are likely to put Mercedes back in command - though Malaysia left no doubt that Ferrari was back in business.
Stay with Wheels24 for the 2015 MotoGP season – fresh reports every week.