Sebastian Vettel remains unbeaten in the 2011 Formula 1 season after taking another Malaysian Grand Prix victory, despite running without KERS on his Red Bull for much of the race. The World Champion was not able to dominate, but had enough speed to stay clear of his rivals in a very competitive race at a dry Sepang.
Jenson Button took second for McLaren, with his teammate Lewis Hamilton only seventh after tire troubles.
Nick Heidfeld gave Renault its second podium in as many races as he held off Mark Webber for third after a complicated afternoon for the second Red Bull driver. The Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso were fifth and sixth after the latter damaged his front wing clipping Hamilton's car.
Vettel seemed to be handed an easy afternoon at the start, for while he clearly held the lead through a busy first corner, the Renaults of Heidfeld and Vitaly Petrov surged down the outside to move from sixth and eighth on the grid to second and fifth, either side of Hamilton and Button's McLarens, and ahead of Massa and Alonso's Ferraris.
It was worse still for Webber. His KERS already seemingly not working, the Australian plunged to ninth and was passed by a combative Kamui Kobayashi further around the lap.
Heidfeld did not lose too much time to Vettel, though, the Renault staying within seven seconds of the leading Red Bull through the first stint. When Heidfeld then lost ground in the first stops, that released the McLarens and the rapidly recovering Alonso to start gaining on Vettel. While Hamilton got Vettel's lead down to under four seconds, Alonso passed Button for third into the first corner early in the second stint and started closing in as well.
Vettel then looked even more vulnerable after the second of the leaders' three pit stops when his team informed him that he could no longer use his KERS. But his pursuers' hopes of taking advantage of this were quickly dashed – even without the energy boosting system Vettel managed to pull clear during this stint, stretching his lead over Hamilton back up to eight seconds.
It was Button who started making progress in the second half of the race, taking third back from Alonso in the second pit stops, and setting some strong times thereafter, then getting second from Hamilton at the next pit sequence when a left-front issue slowed the latter slightly.
As Button then started inching up toward Vettel, Hamilton struggled badly for pace in the final hard-tire stint. Alonso was soon all over the back of him, but with his DRS not working, the Ferrari had to be creative to try and pass. On lap 45 Alonso got too close through Turn 3, clipping the rear of the McLaren and damaging his front wing, forcing an extra stop.
Hamilton was then caught by first Heidfeld, who slipped past into Turn 1 using the DRS with four laps to go, then the recovering Webber – who despite being on a four-stop strategy and still without KERS, managed to get back up with the leaders. He grabbed fourth when Hamilton slid off the road briefly, and the McLaren gave up and pitted for a fourth time immediately afterward.
Vettel kept Button at arm's length and came home to win by 3.2sec, with Heidfeld resisting everything Webber threw at him over the final laps to claim third. Alonso charged back onto Massa's tail but had to settle for sixth behind his teammate, with Hamilton only seventh after his additional stop.
Petrov was set for seventh until a wild moment on lap 53, when he ran wide and tried to rejoin flat-out over the grass, until to hit a deep and send his Renault high into the air, breaking its steering.
Kobayashi managed to make a two-stop strategy work to take eighth, after several spectacular battles with Michael Schumacher, who was ninth on a tough afternoon for Mercedes. His teammate Nico Rosberg fell into the midfield on lap one and never recovered, finishing 12th behind the two Force Indias, as Paul di Resta grabbed another point with a mature drive in his second grand prix.
Further back, Lotus got closer to the established midfield pace than ever before as Heikki Kovalainen finished 15th behind the Toro Rossos. Both Williams retired, as did Melbourne hero Sergio Perez after the Sauber sustained damage from running over debris.
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PROVISIONAL RACE RESULTS
The Malaysian Grand Prix
Sepang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia;
56 laps; 310.408km;
Pos Driver Team Time
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1h37:39.832
2. Button McLaren-Mercedes + 3.261
3. Heidfeld Renault + 25.075
4. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 26.384
5. Massa Ferrari + 36.958
6. Alonso Ferrari + 37.248
7. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes + 49.957
8. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari + 1:07.239
9. Schumacher Mercedes + 1:24.896
10. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes + 1:31.563
11. Sutil Force India-Mercedes + 1:45.000
12. Rosberg Mercedes + 1 lap
13. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1 lap
14. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1 lap
15. Kovalainen Lotus-Renault + 1 lap
16. Glock Virgin-Cosworth + 2 laps
17. Petrov Renault + 4 laps
Fastest lap: Webber, 1:40.571
Driver Team On lap
Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 47
D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 43
Trulli Lotus-Renault 32
Perez Sauber-Ferrari 24
Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 23
Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 15
Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 9
World Championship standings, round 2:
1. Vettel 50 1. Red Bull-Renault 72
2. Button 26 2. McLaren-Mercedes 50
3. Hamilton 24 3. Ferrari 32
4. Webber 22 4. Renault 30
5. Alonso 20 5. Sauber-Ferrari 14
6. Petrov 15 6. Mercedes 2
7. Heidfeld 15 7. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1
8. Massa 12 8. Force India-Mercedes 1
9. Kobayashi 8
10. Perez 6
11. Schumacher 2
12. Buemi 1
13. Di Resta 1
All timing unofficial