Ferrari are back as Sebastian Vettel ended the famous marque’s 34-race drought without a victory by taking a well-deserved chequered flag in Malaysia.
The four-times champion, who went through the 2014 campaign without a victory in his final year with Red Bull, finished 8.5 seconds ahead of current champion Lewis Hamilton, with the Briton’s Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg third.
You have to go back to the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix for Ferrari’s last success when Fernando Alonso was at the wheel, and what must he be thinking now after opting to quit the Maranello team last year for a return to struggling McLaren.
Rosberg had teased Vettel following Mercedes' dominant win in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix a fortnight ago, expressing his desire for a closer fight with someone other than the Briton.
He should perhaps have been careful what he wished for, because this success for Ferrari was no fluke.
In searing temperatures at the Sepang International Circuit of 33 degrees centigrade, Ferrari’s tyre management was far better than Mercedes’, with Vettel stopping just twice compared to three stops apiece for Hamilton and Rosberg.
And the revamped Ferrari also had the pace to keep Hamilton and Rosberg at arm’s length at crucial stages of the race.
It is just reward for all Ferrari’s hard work and changes of personnel behind the scenes.
Hamilton was odds-on to follow up a 40th pole position with a 35th race win, but not a bit of it.
It was a routine start for the 2014 champion as he comfortably held sway into the opening turn ahead of Vettel and Rosberg.
There were early woes for Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado and Kimi Raikkonen in his Ferrari as they sustained lap-one punctures, forcing them into stops.
Unfortunately for Raikkonen, a minor collision with Sauber’s Felipe Nasr occurred at the tail-end of lap one, just as he had passed the pit entrance.
That resulted in the Finn trundling around for a whole lap on the rim after the left rear had shredded early on, dropping him to the back of the pack.
Raikkonen eventually finished fourth, 53 seconds behind Vettel and 41.5secs down on Rosberg, suggesting he too could have been on the podium but for his early problems.
Raikkonen’s fortunes, and those of many others, were aided at the start of lap four by Marcus Ericsson beaching his Sauber in the gravel at turn one after blowing a move on Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg.
It brought out the safety car, with nine drivers – including Hamilton and Rosberg – opting to take on fresh rubber.
It shook up the order and made for a captivating spectacle, with more action in the first few laps than in the entire race in Australia.
The story though was undoubtedly at the front with Vettel leading the way and comfortably holding his own against Mercedes.
After the stop at the safety car Hamilton had dropped to sixth and Rosberg to ninth, and while
Hamilton quickly made his way up to second – passing three cars in one lap – he struggled to cut into Vettel’s lead.
Ferrari were proving to be better than Mercedes pace-wise and more comfortable in their treatment of the Pirelli tyres, with Vettel managing to last 17 laps on his first set.
That eventual Vettel pit stop allowed Hamilton to regain the lead, with Rosberg second, but Vettel was so quick on his new rubber he reclaimed top spot within six laps.
Hamilton was forced to pit again almost as soon as Vettel had passed him, dropping him a full 23 seconds behind the German at the end of lap 25.
Twelve laps later and the deficit had been reduced to 14 seconds when Vettel pitted again, taking on the hard compound tyre having used the quicker mediums for the first two stints.
A lap later and Hamilton was in for his third stop, also taking on the hard tyre, and the Briton immediately complained: “It’s the wrong tyre man!”
He was told the only other option was a very used set of mediums, leaving Hamilton with a gap of 13.7secs to Vettel with 16 laps remaining.
Hamilton was then left confused by “radio chatter” he could hear, and later said: “Hey man. Don’t talk to me in the corners. I nearly just went off!”
There was nothing he could do, though, as Vettel controlled the final laps to take the flag, weaving across the track from side to side and screaming over the radio at the finish.
It had long been Vettel’s dream to drive for Ferrari, but surely no one – not even him – could have expected him to claim a win so soon with his new team.