Bullish Vettel takes advantage of chasing pack choked by confusion

German wins second straight race while runner-up Button battles with tyre dilemmas

Sebastian Vettel set only the sixth-fastest lap of the Malaysian Grand Prix, and finished only 3.2sec ahead of Jenson Button after having to make do without his KERS energy-saving system from the 29th of the 56 laps. But if you think that made it a hard day at the office for the reigning world champion, think again.

Apart from the start, when the Renaults of Nick Heidfeld and Vitaly Petrov made stupendous getaways, he had it all his own way in a dramatic, action-packed race that left those behind him in varying degrees of confusion.

"The start was crucial and I thought I had made a pretty good one," Vettel smirked, "then I saw Lewis [Hamilton] lining up behind me and I was surprised all of a sudden in the first corner when I saw something black in my mirrors, the Renaults! That was not a good thing! It was a good job that we had our KERS here, and that it was working then, because otherwise we would have seen a very different race."

As Heidfeld went around the outside to snatch second from Hamilton in some tense wheel-to-wheel racing, Vettel pushed his Red Bull into a lead that proved unassailable. On an afternoon that was less about the usual heat and humidity, everyone was focused on tyre preservation. Once the Pirellis reach the end of their optimal performance, the drop-off is as dramatic as a fall from the top of a cliff.

Hamilton moved ahead of Heidfeld after the first of his three scheduled stops on lap 12 and pushed hard after Vettel while they were both still running the softer compound tyres. At that stage, Button, who had also lost out to Heidfeld and Petrov at the start, was unable to match the leaders' pace even after he had retaken the Russian. That would change, partly because Hamilton only had two sets of soft tyres left for the race after flat-spotting one in qualifying, compared to his rivals' three.

"I'd studied previous races here and it always seemed that the inside line was the best," Button said, "so my aim was to get to the inside as soon as possible. I did that and even had a brief look at Lewis, then I heard this almighty racket as the two Renaults came round on the outside."

While Vettel was once again in a class of his own – with or without the KERS which ceased functioning properly on the 29th lap so that he was instructed by his crew not to use it – Button's run to second place began once the second round of pitstops was over and everyone was on the harder tyre.

"It was a really confusing race, trying to understand the pitstops, and whether it was worth looking after the tyres or not, really tricky," the 2009 world champion said. "With these tyres, as soon as they go, they go, like they're meant to. They just lose their performance.

"Before the race we felt there was not much difference in grip or degradation between the primes [hard] and the options [soft], but in the race I had much better grip in my final stint on the primes. Maybe that was something to do with the balance I had on my car, but it just came alive on them."

He stopped on lap 38 for his harder tyres, and steadily began to eat into Vettel's lead. From 8.8sec on lap 42 it shrank to 6.9sec on 43 before traffic increased it again, but by lap 51 he had it down to 5.7sec. But his crew had advised him to go into tyre conservation mode with the cheerful message: "Jenson you have to try to do 19 laps on a set of primes when nobody has ever done more than 16."

Like the great Alain Prost, Button has a sweet touch, however, and he followed his heart as he kept pushing without taking too much out of his rubber.

"The team said 'back off, look after tyres', but you want to push on and chase the leader. It was very difficult to understand what to do. Sometimes if you try to preserve the tyres you can make the situation worse because the less pace you have through high-speed corners the less down-force you generate, which means the car can slide about and that can damage the tyre. But we understood the tyres a lot more here and our consistency was better through the race and we didn't damage them at all."

In reality, Button was never going to challenge Vettel, who was in cruise mode, but Hamilton was in a world of pain in an increasingly vulnerable third place. First he had a slow stop, then he came under threat from Mark Webber, who'd made a terrible start from third on the grid to run ninth at the end of the opening lap and was using a four-stop strategy to try and salvage something.

Then, when Webber stopped for the last time on lap 43, it was Alonso who came thirsting on to the McLaren's tail. On lap 44 they ran side-by-side through the first three corners with Hamilton refusing to concede to his old team-mate and enemy, then two laps later the Spaniard got a run on the McLaren but clipped its right rear tyre with his left front wing endplate.

As Alonso was forced to pit for a new wing, Heidfeld came pushing up and swept ahead of Hamilton in the first corner on lap 51. A lap later, a wild slide into the rough stuff signalled that Hamilton's tyres were finished, and he slumped to seventh after a fourth pitstop for a third set of hard tyres. That left Webber to get a run at Heidfeld, but the Australian could not dislodge the Renault driver as they fought to the finish.

Later, the stewards summoned Hamilton and Alonso and investigated data to see whether the former had brake tested the latter, precipitating his wing damage. He had not, but they gave Hamilton a 20sec penalty, added to his race time for more than one change of direction in defence of his position, and Alonso 20sec for causing a collision.

The Spaniard kept his sixth place, but Hamilton fell from seventh to eighth behind Kamui Kobayashi.

Right at the end, Michael Schumacher used fresher tyres to slip ahead of Paul di Resta, but the Scottish rookie again drove with great assurance to take the final point, repeating his performance on his debut in Australia a fortnight ago.

It was Vettel who had the biggest smile afterwards, befitting a defending champion with a lead of 24 points over Button. "Fantastic!" he told the team that has already made him a world title holder. "In the heat we kept our heads cool. It's a pleasure to be with you. I'm loving it."

Sepang details

FIA Formula 1 Malaysian Grand Prix, Kuala Lumpur: Final Positions (56 Laps): 1 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 1hr 37min 39.832sec; 2 J Button (GB) McLaren 1:37:43.093; 3 N Heidfeld (Ger) Renault 1:38:04.907; 4 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:38:06.216; 5 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:38:16.790; 6 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 1:38:17.080; 7 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 1:38:29.807; 8 K Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber-Ferrari 1:38:46.271; 9 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:39:04.728; 10 P di Resta (GB) Force India 1:39:11.395; 11 A Sutil (Ger) Force India 1:39:21.211; 12 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP at 1 Lap; 13 S Buemi (Swit) Scuderia Toro Rosso at 1 Lap; 14 J Alguersuari (Sp) Scuderia Toro Rosso at 1 Lap; 15 H Kovalainen (Fin) Lotus F1 at 1 Lap; 16 T Glock (Ger) Virgin Racing at 2 Laps; 17 V Petrov (Rus) Renault at 4 Laps. Not Classified: 18 V Liuzzi (It) HRT-F1 46 laps completed; 19 J d'Ambrosio (Bel) Virgin Racing 42 laps; 20 J Trulli (It) Lotus F1 31 laps; 21 S Perez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari 23 laps; 22 R Barrichello (Br) Williams 22 laps; 23 N Karthikeyan (India) HRT-F1 14 laps; 24 P Maldonado (Ven) Williams 8 laps. World Championship Standings: Drivers: 1 S Vettel 50pts; 2 J Button 26; 3 L Hamilton 24; 4 M Webber 22; 5 F Alonso 20; 6 F Massa 16; 7 N Heidfeld 15; 8 V Petrov 15; 9 S Buemi 4; 10 K Kobayashi 4; 11 A Sutil 2; 12 M Schumacher 2; 13 P di Resta 2. Manufacturers: 1 Red Bull 72pts; 2 McLaren 50; 3 Ferrari 36; 4 Renault 30; 5 Scuderia Toro Rosso 4; 6 Sauber-Ferrari 4; 7 Force India 4; 8 Mercedes GP 2

Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
people70-year-old was most famous for 'You are So Beautiful'
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballLatest score and Twitter updates
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
The US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'