SEPANG: After what has been described as a difficult season, Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen gave himself the perfect birthday present at the Sepang Circuit today.
Verstappen, who turned 20 on Saturday, did well to deny poleman Lewis Hamilton a popular victory at the final edition of the Petronas Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix.
Verstappen overtook the Mercedes AMG Petronas driver on the fourth lap for the lead and there was no looking back from there as he powered to victory in one hour, 30 minutes and 1.290 seconds (56 laps).
Hamilton came in second, a distant 12.770s adrift while Red Bull's Danial Ricciardo (+22.519s) completed the podium.
It was Verstappen second career victory after winning on his Red Bull debut at the Spanish Grand Prix last year. The victory also makes him the youngest ever winner at the Malaysian GP.
The Dutchman, who prior to Sepang had only finished half of the races he started this season, said it was a huge relief.
"It has been a dramatic season so far, so of course I am very happy to win this race, up until now it was really a season to forget," said Verstappen.
"I think the whole race went well, once I got past Lewis I could focus on my pace and look after the tyres.
"When I had to, I had the pace to speed up and that was very pleasing. I think it is the first time I have been able to do so in my career.
"The car had great balance in the second sector, I just had to stay really focused as you can lose a lot of time with the backmarkers and I almost got taken out in turn 1 when I past two of them (backmarkers).
Hamilton, who now leads the championship race with a 34 point advantage over second-placed Sebastian Vettel, said it was decent result considering issues he faced with his car.
"I did not really know how close Max was and I was having some problems with the car and was struggling with battery power," said the Brit.
"I went to defend (when Verstappen overtook) but I did not really want to risk it and did not completely close the door on Max.
"At the end of the day Max had more pace than me and even if he did not pass me then he would have later on.
"I did everything I could to maintain position. It is good to still get second."
Vettel (Ferrari) did well to slice his way through the field and finish fourth (+37.362s) to keep his title hopes alive. Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas (+56.021s) was fifth.
Vettel, who started from the back of the grid after missing qualifying yesterday, displayed blistering pace throughout the race and broke Juan Pablo Montoya's long standing 2004 lap record of 1:34:223s with a 1:34:080s effort.
He was, however, involved in a collision with Lance Stroll after the race ended.
Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen did not start the race after suffering the same turbocharger issues that caused Vettel to miss qualifying.
Five more rounds remain in the championship this season with the next race being held at Suzuka this week. Additional reporting by SUKHAIRI THANI