Formula 1

Ferrari's racing pedigree key as Sebastian Vettel answers critics at Sepang

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After the stroll Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team took in Albert Park two weeks prior, no-one foresaw Sebastian Vettel beating the dominant Silver Arrows in Malaysia.

When the newly-arrived Ferrari driver got to within mere hundredths of a second of the Mercedes in the rain-hit qualifying, most saw enough in Ferrari's practice pace to at least keep the world champions honest, but to beat them in a straight fight was beyond anyone's expectations.

The German was back to his incredible best on Sunday at Sepang and when the heat was on, left Mercedes' decision makers scratching their heads.

Ferrari's racing instincts kick in

Ferrari may have spent the years since its last championship success, back in 2008, playing catch up and falling way short of expectations, but when they sniffed a chance at victory the old instincts kicked in as they stuck to their guns and, even when we all expected Mercedes to reveal an electrifying pace that they had been hiding for so long, it wasn't there as Vettel countered everything Hamilton could throw at him.

It is also the fact that Vettel's victory wasn't because of luck or poor reliability that has fans hoping maybe F1 will have a two-team battle for the championship after all and certainly Sunday showed a weakness that hasn't been seen before in the Brackley team and will only motivate the rest of the grid to play catch up.

Certainly the unique setting of Sepang with incredible heat and emphasis on tyre conservation were more conducive to Ferrari's strengths than Mercedes' but as the season progresses its arguable that Maranello has more room for improvement than Brackley.

Emotion driving Vettel back to his best 

For Vettel this also silences any final critics who have always used the argument that it was Adrian Newey's pen rather than his right foot that was the force behind the 27-year-old's four world titles.

His decision to quit his home for so long and move to pastures new shocked the F1 paddock at the time, but the way he has come in and got down to the task at hand you begin to wonder if Ferrari was more designed for Vettel than Red Bull was.

He has that hunger, that emotion back and it was emotion that drove him to his first win for the Scuderia as was evident in screams of "grazie" and "forza Ferrari" as he crossed the finish line.

For Vettel it is about following in the footsteps of his hero Michael Schumacher and it was very much a performance that will have the seven-time world champion smiling inside as he continues his recovery from his skiing accident 15 months ago.

Mercedes back to the drawing board?

Certainly it will provide a major wake-up call for those at Mercedes who will have a lot to ponder in the fortnight between now and the next Grand Prix in China.

The decision to pit both cars under the safety car was not the prime reason for their first loss since Belgium last year, it was the way they went about it afterwards.

There was a panic that somehow the invincibility that had been created around them was no more and when they had to turn the race back in their favour they were unable to do so.

The old weakness of looking after the tyres, that held back their efforts for the first years since their return, was evident as when they had to push the limits of the car the Pirellis couldn't take the punishment meaning they had to go with a three-stop with two stints on the hards just to keep a recovering Kimi Raikkonen and Williams at bay.

China will set tone for the season

The next race is Shanghai is crucial as it takes place in conditions far more representative of the rest of the calendar.

The circuit shares some key characteristics with Sepang thanks to long radius corners and a long back straight where top speed is crucial.

If Ferrari can push Mercedes there then we could have an epic season with two of the greatest drivers of the modern era battling it out to be crowned world champion.

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