Sebastian Vettel made it back-to-back wins in 2011 as he eased to victory in the Malaysian Grand Prix.
The World Champion had another faultless race from start to finish. He was followed over the line by McLaren's Jenson Button while Renault grabbed their second podium of the season through Nick Heidfeld.
1.Vettel, 2.Hamilton, 3.Webber, 4.Button, 5.Alonso, 6.Heidfeld, 7.Massa, 8.Petrov, 9.Rosberg, 10.Kobayashi, 11.Schumacher, 12.Buemi, 13.Alguersuari, 14.DiResta, 15. Barrichello, 16.Perez, 17.Sutil, 18.Maldonado, 19.Kovalainen, 20.Trulli
Drty. There were reports of showers occurring 4kms away from the circuit, with a few drops of rain felt on the grid. The ambient temperature was 28C with the track at 31C.
As the lights went out it was Mark Webber who went rapidly backwards (he'd radioed in on his formation lap that there was a problem with his KERS which was then turned off). Going rapidly forwards were the two Renaults of Heidfeld and Petrov who chose the outside of Turn 1 to get past the Ferraris and mix it with the McLarens. Nick Heidfeld made it up past Lewis Hamilton for P2 and Vitaly Petrov had to be robustly resisted by Jenson Button to prevent him from getting P4.
For the second race running Felipe Massa got a great start and squeezed ahead of his team-mate. Michael Schumacher, too. At one point he'd stuck his Mercedes W02 between both Ferraris, but Alonso got him back before Turn 5. What was extraordinary, was despite the jockeying for position there was no serious contact between cars, no front wings damaged on the opening lap - though Barrichello had an early puncture.
Positions at the end of the opening lap:
1.Vettel, 2.Heidfeld, 3.Hamilton, 4.Button, 5.Petrov, 6.Massa, 7.Alonso, 8.Schumacher, 9.Webber, 10.Kobayashi, 11.Alguersuari, 12.Buemi, 13.Rosberg, 14.DiResta
On Lap 4 Kamui Kobayashi got past Mark Webber. The Japanese driver had a series of overtaking battles throughout the afternoon, the first being with Webber. Mark had got past him on the opening lap, and Kamui used his DRS to get back past him on Lap 4 - without the benefit of KERS he couldn't defend so well in these situations. However by Lap 6 the Australian was past again.
In the early laps of the race there were anxious looks to the skies as showers closed in on the circuit and everybody wanted to leave their opening pit-stop for tyres till the last minute - in case the change had to be to Intermediates or Wets. Vitaly Petrov ruined his good start by running wide at Turn 13 and allowing Alonso past him.
On Lap 7 Kobyashi was past Webber, on Lap 8 it was Webber on Kobayashi, one turn later it was Kobayashi on Webber. At the front Lewis Hamilton looked like he was being held up by Heidfeld's Renault as Vettel started to open up a gap of a second a lap. It went from 5.2 to 6.3 to 7.4 on Lap 10.
At the end of Lap 10 Mark Webber came in for tyres (the first of four sets) and exited in P17. Jenson Button looked much slower than Lewis Hamilton at this stage of the race and Felipe Massa began to close in on him.
On Lap 12 Hamilton came in for tyres which triggered a wave of stops, just as a few drops of rain started to fall. The shower that hit the circuit was very light and burnt off the track quickly and the much-anticipated wet-race chaos failed to materialise
The sum total of the changes of the first pit-stops were a race order on Lap 16 of: 1.Vettel, 2.Hamilton, 3.Kobayashi (not stopped), 4.Button, 5.Alonso, 6.Heidfeld, 7.Webber, 8.Massa, 9.Petrov, 10.DiResta, 11.Perez (not stopped), 12.Schumacher.
Nick Heidfeld and Ferrari had lost out in the pit-stops with Massa dropping behind his team-mate, but Alonso right on the tail of Jenson Button. On Lap 17 he was past him into Turn 1 and off to chase Hamilton. Nick Heidfeld also lost out in the first round of pit-stops.
Lewis Hamilton was catching Vettel at this stage of the race and lowered the gap from 6.3 seconds on Lap 17 to 4.9 seconds on Lap 21, but it was Alonso behind who was the fastest man of the trio, closing on the pair of them. Similarly, Felipe Massa was out of phase with Mark Webber, whose tyres were much older and the Brazilian breezed past him into Turn 4 on Lap 22 to take P6.
Michael Schumacher was involved in a bit of a ding dong all afternoon with Kamui Kobayashi who'd lost Mark Webber down the road and was left to have fun with the seven times World Champion instead.On Lap 23 Lewis Hamilton pitted for the second time, followed a lap later by Button and a lap later by Sebastian Vettel. Vettel came out behind the Heidfeld versus Massa battle and if those two didn't stop in a hurry, he looked like he might have a problem, given the Renault's traction on the straight. Luckily he had the DRS at his disposal to dispatch Massa and Heidfeld pitted to get out of his way.
Button's stop - three laps in front of Alonso - really worked to his advantage because when the dust settled he was up to P3. In fact Jenson started to close on Lewis Hamilton on this set of tyres. On Lap 29 Vettel led by 3.9 seconds from Lewis, who was just 1.8 seconds ahead of Button who had four seconds on Alonso.
The positions on Lap 30 were: 1.Vettel, 2.Hamilton, 3.Button, 4.Alonso, 5.Webber, 6.Heidfeld, 7.Massa, 8.Kobayashi, 9.Petrov, 10.DiResta, 11.Schumacher, 12.Alguersuari
Already there were doubts about the KERS on Sebastian Vettel's car with the World Champion asking his engineer: " Rocky, do you want me to use KERS or not...?" The answer was "Negative". This information was radioed through to the McLaren team who reported it back to their drivers. In terms of pace on the track it heralded a push by Vettel who really started to open the gap up to Hamilton while Button closed on his team-mate.
At the next round of pit-stops Lewis came in first but had a sluggish 6.9 second stop as the front left tyre jammed and Jenson Button came out in front of him when he made his stop a lap later. Vettel and Alonso duly pitted in response, with Alonso rejoining behind the Hamilton versus Webber battle. Mark was out of sequence with the front runners and would need to stop again.
So the Lap 42 positions of 1.Vettel, 2.Button, 3.Hamilton, 4.Webber, 5.Alonso, 6.Petrov (about to stop again) 7.Heifeld, 8.Massa, 9.Kobayashi, 10.Schumacher, 11.DiResta, 12.Sutil
When Mark Webber pitted for his fourth and final time it released Fernando Alonso who was soon on the back of the clearly slowing Lewis Hamilton. Ever since Button had got ahead of Hamilton, the latter had been going backwards at a second a lap. Alonso's problem was that he didn't have his DRS wing working and so he had to overtake the McLaren the hard way.
All the way through Lap 45 Hamilton had to choose his line carefully to keep in front but on Lap 46 Fernando was clearly faster and looked to launch himself from behind the Mclaren in the run up to Turn 4. It looked like he got too close to the back of the Mclaren and thumped his front wing against Hamilton's rear tyre, taking off one end of vanes.
He had to return to the pits for a new front wing and dropped to P7. Thus the order was now: 1.Vettel, 2.Button, 3.Hamilton, 4.Heidfeld, 5.Massa, 6.Webber, 7.Alonso, 8.Kobayashi, 9.Petrov, 10.DiResta, 11.Schumacher, 12.Sutil.
Mark Webber, on the freshest set off tyres was making inroads into the gap to Felipe Massa, at the same time Nick Heidfeld was rapidly catching Lewis Hamilton whose rear tyre had survived the impact from the Ferrari front wing, but the whole set looked slow.
On Lap 50 the KERS-less (but DRS equipped) Mark Webber closed up and passed Felipe Massa in a dramatic move running on the outside of Massa around Turn 1 and then on the inside into Turn 2. He set off after Nick Heidfeld who had Hamilton only 1.1 seconds in front and was lapping that much quicker. Lewis put up no resistance when the Renault came past on Lap 52.
On Lap 53 Hamilton ran off the road in Turns 7 and 8 and immediately pitted for new tyres; he rejoined way back in P8. Nick Heidfeld with tyres that were four laps older than Mark Webber's started to see the Red Bull large in his mirrors. The Renault had amazing traction on the main straight that stretched his advantage in the DRS zone and while his tyres lasted out he could keep ahead of Webber.
On Lap 54 Petrov exited the race from 7th place in dramatic style. Having run wide, he bounced his car over the grass and a gully sent it airborn, smashing the steering column as it landed back on the track and slewing to a halt by a 150m braking board.
Fernando Alonso closed the gap to 5th place Massa by the line, but was a lap away from using his DRS and making things a whole lot more interesting.
Sebastian Vettel crossed the line for his second dominant win of 2011 in a race that threatened but never delivered rain. Button came home second from Heidfeld, Webber, Massa, Alonso and a gloomy Hamilton in P7. The Pirelli tyres had delivered a three-stop/four-stop race with all the swings of good and poor pit-stops and good and poor sets of tyres.
We also saw many drivers fail to have efficiently working DRS wings, malfunctioning KERS and tyres that behaved unexpectedly. Button reported that you could try and look after them and they still deteriorated.
With the longest straight coming up in Shanghai we can expect more of the same in a week's time.
01. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1h37:39.832
02. Button McLaren-Mercedes + 3.261
03. Heidfeld Renault + 25.075
04. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 26.384
05. Massa Ferrari + 36.958
06. Alonso Ferrari + 37.248
07. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes + 49.957
08. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari + 1:07.239
09. 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
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