SEPANG, Malaysia (Reuters) - Red Bull’s Max Verstappen gave himself a perfect 20th birthday present by winning the last Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday, while Lewis Hamilton stretched his Formula One world championship lead to 34 points.
Hamilton, who had started on pole position, finished second for Mercedes with his Ferrari title rival Sebastian Vettel limiting the damage by racing from last place on the grid to fourth.
Verstappen’s Australian team mate Daniel Ricciardo, last year’s winner at Sepang, finished third.
“Super, super job Max. Welcome to being a 20-year-old. Great start to a new decade for you, well done,” team boss Christian Horner said over the radio after his driver took the chequered flag 12.7 seconds clear of Hamilton.
The victory was the second of Verstappen’s grand prix career, after a first in Spain last year, and came a day after his birthday.
It also snapped a streak of bad luck for the Dutchman that has seen him retire from seven of the 15 races so far this season.
He sealed it with a daring pass on Hamilton on the fourth of 56 laps and never looked back, moving sister Victoria and father Jos, a former Formula One driver, to tears as he crossed the finish line.
”You know, especially after the season I’ve had, I think this victory came at a very good time,” Verstappen told reporters.
”So I was very happy when I crossed the line and together with my dad I got this far and of course I got the great help from Red Bull.
“It’s amazing, a very tough race but incredible to win,” he added.
Vettel, whose team mate Kimi Raikkonen failed to start after qualifying second, was involved in a bizarre collision after the finish when the Williams of Canadian Lance Stroll ran into the back of the Ferrari.
The German’s car was badly damaged in the incident, limping along on three wheels, with Vettel then hitching a ride back to the pits on compatriot Pascal Wehrlein’s Sauber. Stewards decided to take no further action.
“I think he just didn’t look,” said Vettel, who could be hit with a five-place grid penalty at the next race in Japan if he has to change his gearbox due to damage from the collision.
He nevertheless laid down a marker of Ferrari’s speed by setting the fastest lap and a new lap record as he charged through the field.
The pace Vettel displayed will worry Mercedes who were found wanting for the second weekend in a row.
Hamilton now has 281 points to Vettel’s 247 with five races remaining.
“They had the upper hand on us today. I feel good, but we have some work to do with the car. We didn’t have the pace this weekend. We have to keep pushing,” Hamilton said.
Valtteri Bottas underlined Mercedes’ struggles, finishing fifth, 56 seconds behind Verstappen, while Force India’s Mexican driver, Sergio Perez, nursing a virus, finished sixth.
“I didn’t have any pace, that was the main issue. When I was trying harder, I struggled more. We need to get our stuff together,” Bottas lamented.
McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne matched the best result of his career with seventh place, ahead of Stroll and Brazil’s Felipe Massa for Williams.
Esteban Ocon took the final point for Force India.
Sunday’s race was Malaysia’s last. The event, which was first hosted by the Sepang Circuit in 1999, witnessed its highest weekend turnout since 2013.
The next round will be held in Suzuka, Japan on Oct. 8.
Reporting by Abhishek Takle; Editing by Alan Baldwin/John O'Brien/Toby Davis