The Formula One circus capped off the final Malaysian Grand Prix in style, as Red Bull’s Max Verstappen clinched victory in a race that saw plenty of thrills and spills throughout the weekend. The Dutchman celebrated his 20th birthday by beating Mercedes’ title favourite Lewis Hamilton in a straight fight early on, then put in a dominant drive to take the chequered flag for the second time in his career.

Drama unfolded in Sepang even before the race began, as Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel failed to set a time in qualifying on Saturday due to a turbocharger issue, relegating him to the back of the grid. With Hamilton nabbing his 70th pole position it looked like the German’s championship hopes would be dashed here, especially after crashing out of the previous race in Singapore.

But worse was to come for the Scuderia, as Kimi Raikkonen – who secured a front row slot – experienced a power unit issue and could not even start the race. Verstappen was poised to benefit from the Finn’s misfortune, and when the lights went off he held off a fast-starting Valtteri Bottas in the other Mercedes. From then on he had Hamilton in his sights, swooping past the Briton on the inside of Turn 1 on lap four.

Hamilton struggled for pace against Verstappen all day but at least had the measure of the latter’s teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who fought past Bottas on lap nine to retake third. Meanwhile, Vettel had all to do and promptly scythed his way up the order – by the end of the first lap he was already up to 13th, and on lap 29 he dispatched Bottas during the pit stops to claim fourth, with Ricciardo next on his hit list.

On fresh supersoft tyres compared to the others’ soft rubber, Vettel began to cut down the deficit to the Australian at a rate of 1.5 seconds a lap, setting the circuit’s lap record in the process. By lap 47 he was all over the back of Ricciardo, but the latter held off the strong challenge and with six laps to go Vettel backed off to conserve his tyres and his powertrain.

Bottas finished fifth to end a middling day ahead of Force India’s Sergio Perez, while Stoffel Vandoorne gave McLaren another strong result with seventh place. The Williams duo of Lance Stroll and Felipe Massa took eighth and ninth, but Stroll had an unfortunate collision with Vettel on the slowing down lap, severely damaging the rear end of the Ferrari.

Esteban Ocon rounded off the top ten with Force India – the Frenchman had a rough day after colliding with Massa on the opening lap and punting into Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz on lap 25. The Spaniard pulled out of the race with engine trouble soon after, making it only two retirees despite the high heat and humidity.

Making up the rest of the field were McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, Haas’ Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean (who crashed out of Friday practice after running over a loose drain cover), Toro Rosso debutant Pierre Gasly, Renault’s Jolyon Palmer and Nico Hulkenberg and Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein (who gave Vettel a ride back to the pits after his crash) and Marcus Ericsson.

The result means Hamilton extends his lead in the championship standings to a not-insignificant 34 points with just five races remaining, with 281 points to Vettel’s 247. On the constructors’ side, Mercedes has so far collected 503 points, building an almost unassailable 118-point lead over Ferrari’s 385 points.