Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel made it look so easy as he scored his second victory of the season and extended his world championship points tally to 50 on Sunday afternoon in Malaysia. The German took the lead at the start, nursed his tyres through three pits stops, avoided using his problematic KERS from the 29th lap after instruction from his team, yet was still 6.1s ahead of a charging Jenson Button in the McLaren with a lap to go.
Button did the impossible by running 19 laps on a set of Pirelli’s prime tyres where previously nobody had managed more than 16, but the 3.2s gap at the chequered flag reflected the side-by-side weaving that Vettel did in triumph as he reached the finish line.
Lewis Hamilton in the other McLaren had been in the fight all afternoon, once he had overtaken super-fast starting Nick Heidfeld’s Renault in the first stops, but unlike his team mate the Briton lost pace on the primes, fell behind Button after the third stops, and needed a fourth to make it to the flag in seventh after running off the track.
Heidfeld likewise kept in play throughout to beat Mark Webber’s Red Bull to the final podium slot, after the KERS-less Australian fought back from a terrible opening lap and four pit stops.
Behind them, Felipe Massa brought his Ferrari home fifth after three stops, only 0.2s ahead of team mate Fernando Alonso, who seemed set to take Hamilton’s third place until he hit the back of the McLaren on the 46th lap and needed a fourth stop for a new front wing. He had been struggling for some time with a DRS wing which stopped working properly.
Kamui Kobayashi mixed it with anyone and everyone all afternoon, including some wonderful side-by-side racing with Webber as confirmation that the DRS wing concept worked superbly here, and took eighth place for Sauber in Hamilton’s wake and ahead of Michael Schumacher who was able to muscle his way ahead of Paul di Resta’s Force India with two laps remaining.
Once again the Scottish rookie beat team mate Adrian Sutil, who needed a stop for attention to first lap damage only three laps into the race, but couldn’t hold off seven-time champion Schumacher’s Mercedes as his Pirellis were finished. Nevertheless he maintained his great record of scoring points in both of his Grands Prix.
Nico Rosberg had a miserable race for 12th in the second Mercedes, ahead of the duelling Toro Rossos of Sebastien Buemi, who overcame a stop-and-go penalty for pit-lane speeding to beat team mate Jaime Alguersuari to 13th. Heikki Kovalainen just failed to catch the Spaniard by the flag, as Lotus beat Virgin and Timo Glock in the newer teams’ race to complete the finishers.
Vitaly Petrov had just repassed Kobayashi for eighth place on the 53rd lap when he had a big off which sent his Renault bouncing so high over a kerb that his car’s steering column seemed damaged on landing, but though he hit an advertising hoarding he didn’t hurt himself. His race, however, was over.
Tonio Liuzzi didn’t make the finish either as his HRT stopped when running 18th, nor did Jerome D’Ambrosio’s Virgin which had been just ahead of him. Jarno Trulli’s Lotus also ran into unreliability, as did Sergio Perez’s Sauber and Narain Karthikeyan’s HRT, while both Williams drivers, Pastor Maldonado and Rubens Barrichello, had early problems and failed to get home.
Vettel now has 50 points to Button’s 26, with Hamilton on 24, Webber on 22, Alonso on 20, Massa on 16 and Heidfeld and Petrov on 15.
Red Bull move further into the lead of the constructors’ championship with 72 points, with McLaren on 50 ahead of Ferrari on 36 and Renault on 30.