An engine problem in qualifying left Vettel at the back of the grid and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, who was due to start second behind Hamilton, did not make the start, also hit by engine failure. With five races to go in the 2017 season, Vettel will have to win all the races to become the world champion for the fifth time.
Verstappen made most of the running after passing Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, who started from pole, early in the race.
The Dutchman claimed his second F1 with a dominant drive in Sepang just a day after turning 20 and marked his first podium appearance since finishing third at the Chinese Grand Prix back in April.
Vettel had surprisingly held the upper hand over Hamilton throughout practice but suffered an issue in the final session and required a new engine.
It was only two years ago at this very same venue that Verstappen raced with the panache of a veteran to become the youngest Grand Prix driver ever to score World Championship points with an impressive seventh place. Here are the drivers we expect to contend for the win.
"We have a very capricious vehicle that has a very narrow window with the tires".
"After a weekend where we have lacked a significant chunk of performance, we couldn't have imagined such a good outcome, but we can't let that distract us from the job we have in front of us", said Wolff. But just as he closed within a second of Ricciardo and a place on the podium those tyres gave up on him and he was forced to see out the race behind his former teammate at Red Bull.
Mercedes struggled for speed in Malaysia but Hamilton's title hopes were aided by reliability problems for Ferrari. Verstappen has retired from seven of the past 12 races - mostly through mechanical gremlins - to find himself a whopping 96 points adrift of Ricciardo in the championship standings.
Hamilton leads the championship by 34 points over Sebastian Vettel with five races remaining.
"I always said when Max's luck would change, it would change in a dramatic way".
"I had a good start and almost lost a wing into turn one, then it was a bit tricky to get past traffic".
"You can see we were running slightly less downforce than the others, we don't have the T-wing here for example, and we have found a very good set-up".