TO finish first, first you must finish. These are likely the words that have been rolling around Sebastian Vettel’s mind following the start-line crash in Singapore, which now has him at a 28-point deficit to Lewis Hamilton. There’s little doubt that this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix is vital for Ferrari’s and Vettel’s championship aspirations.The Formula 1 paddock travels little more than 300km to Sepang, just outside the city centre of Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia for this weekend’s 15th round of the 2017 season. The Malaysian circuit, famed for its hot and humid conditions, has been on the F1 calendar since 1999 and is making its final appearance this year. As, arguably, Herman Tilke’s most-liked circuit design, the Sepang International circuit, is one of the most technically challenging of the season. Its combination of medium- and high-speed corners and the ever-present long back and start/finish straits means that somewhere drivers and teams will have to compromise on the car set-up. Some in the paddock will have you believe that the Mercedes will stroll to victory this weekend given that the Malaysian circuit suits the Silver Arrow to a tee. While the strengths of the Mercedes are likely to be highlighted, Ferrari should not be underestimated. Kimi Raikkonen believes that Ferrari can be in the mix for victory this weekend. “You (the media) assume that it’s difficult. We don’t,” said Raikkonen.“We go there (to Malaysia), it’s another race, another weekend, and we go there full of fight and we’ll do our best”. Team principal Maurizio Arrivabene echoed Raikkonen’s sentiments by saying that the battle is not over but has simply become more difficult. While the two main rivals in the 2017 championship dominate the headlines, many ask what are the chances of Red Bull cheekily snatching the prize from both of them. The stats suggest that the Austrian team has indeed made significant progress since the start of the season. And while they’ll be snapping at the heels for the top step of the podium, barring unreliability, crashes, or a sudden and opportune cloudburst, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen are unlikely to have the raw pace to match Merc and Ferrari. As if to add more intrigue to the mix, Ferrari and Mercedes have chosen different tyre strategies for this weekend too. With the medium, soft, and supersoft compounds available, Mercedes has chosen to focus more on the yellow-walled soft tyre. With five sets available to Hamilton, Mercedes have looked especially strong on the soft tyre on several occasions this season. In contrast, Ferrari has chosen to focus on the supersoft compound by selecting nine sets each for Vettel and Raikkonen with Red Bull taking a similar approach to Ferrari. The weather forecast, never devoid of the threat of a thunderstorm, predicts scorching temperatures for the duration of the weekend, which could swing the advantage to Ferrari and the supersoft compound. There is no doubt whatsoever that Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel must win the Malaysian Grand Prix in order to keep their championship hopes alive. Ferrari has been adamant that they are, categorically, not out of the championship. It’s time now to underscore their bullish belief where it matters most – on track.