Sebastian Vettel won the Malaysian Grand Prix in comfortable style at Sepang, leading from pole position until the checkered flag. The result gave the world champion Red Bull driver a second victory from two races in 2011.
Jenson Button finished second in his McLaren, with Nick Heidfeld capitalising on a good start to finish third for Renault.
Front-row starters Vettel and Lewis Hamilton made a good getaway at the start, but Vettel's teammate Mark Webber made a poor start from third and dropped down to ninth before being passed by Kamui Kobayashi later on the opening lap. The Australian's KERS unit not working only contributed further to his misery.
The Renault's of Heidfeld and Vitaly Petrov made stunning starts from the outside of the third and fourth rows respectively. They passed the jostling Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa on the run down to the first corner and then took an outside line around the long Turn 1, side-by-side with the McLarens. They both had the inside line for Turn 2, allowing Heidfeld to take second from Hamilton behind Vettel. Petrov was fourth, behind the two McLarens.
The rain that was forecasted for the race did not come to much, with just some drops appearing towards the end of the first stint. Losing out to Heidfeld prevented Hamilton from chasing down Vettel at the beginning of the race. Heidfeld then lost out in the first round of stops, putting him behind Hamilton, Alonso and Button – Alonso having got past Button.
Hamilton began to reel Vettel in, but after his second pitstop the German was told by the team that he could no longer use his KERS. This almost seemed to spur Vettel on, as he then began stretching his lead. Button got back past Alonso in the second pitstops, and later took second from teammate Hamilton when Lewis suffered a slow third pitstop.
From here Hamilton struggled for pace, dropping well back from Button and falling into the clutches of Alonso. Struggling to pass the McLaren with his DRS not functioning, Alonso lined Hamilton up through Turn 3 but got too close and clipped the Briton's rear-right tyre with the left-hand end of his front wing. Alonso was forced to stop to replace his damaged front wing, but Hamilton escaped with his tyre intact.
Heidfeld soon caught and passed the ailing Hamilton for third. Webber, who had recovered from his poor start despite making four stops, closed on Hamilton, and then took the position when Hamilton ran off the road at the double-apex Turn 7 and 8. Hamilton pitted for new tyres at the end of that lap, leaving him seventh at the finish.
Vettel maintained a gap over Button to win by 3.2 seconds, with Heidfeld resisting Webber to give the Renault team a second consecutive podium finish after Petrov came home third in Melbourne. Massa held on to fifth under late pressure from teammate Alonso.
Petrov had been set to finish seventh, ahead of Hamilton, until he ran wide and hit a bump as he tried to rejoin the circuit. The car was launched into the air, with the heavy landing breaking the steering and putting the Russian into retirement.
Kobayashi used a two-stop strategy to finish eighth for Sauber, which became seventh after the race when Hamilton was given a 20 second penalty for moving more than once down the straight to defend his position when fighting Alonso. The penalty dropped Hamilton from seventh to eighth. Alonso also recieved a similar penalty for the contact with Hamilton, but this did not affect his finishing position.
Michael Schumacher finished ninth after passing Paul di Resta late on – the Scot scoring a second points finish in as many Grand Prix starts.
Nico Rosberg made a poor start that dropped him towards the back of the field, ending the race in 12th behind Adrian Sutil. The Toro Rossos of Sebastian Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari were next, ahead of the Lotus of Heikki Kovalainen.
Both Williams retired, as did Sergio Perez, Jarno Trulli, Jerome D'Ambrosio and the Hispania's of Tonio Liuzzi and Narain Karthikeyan.