Vettel atones with Malaysian GP victory

SEPANG, Malaysia -- Spurred by the disappointment of mechanical failures that cost him victory in the Formula One season's first two races, Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel led from start to finish to win Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix.

After the team's championship hopes had been written off because of doubts about the reliability of its cars, Red Bull answered in the best possible way -- Vettel leading a 1-2 finish ahead of teammate Mark Webber.

Vettel led in Bahrain and Australia before his car let him down mid-race, but there was no easing up Sunday, with the German passing pole-sitter Webber in the run to the first corner at Sepang circuit and leading throughout as the rain in the forecast stayed away.

"A very good result for us, especially for me, after two races where we didn't finish where we wanted to be," Vettel said. "Racing cars are built on the limit and sometimes they break.

"We want to fight for the championship."

Mercedes' Nico Rosberg was a distant third, with Renault's Robert Kubica a comfortable fourth. Force India's Adrian Sutil took fifth, impressively holding off McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, who had stormed up from 20th on the grid to third before he pitted.

Webber gave up the lead when he spun his tires trying to get off the line and had to settle for second after a close battle into the fourth turn on the first lap. He pushed Vettel in the early laps, but that pressure eased when a stuck wheel gun made for a slow pitstop.

"A 1-2 finish for us was sensational," Webber said. "It was a nice comeback by us after some tough races. We blew everyone away, which is great."

McLaren teammates Hamilton and Jenson Button -- the defending race and series champion -- fought their way through the field from the back of the pack to finish sixth and eighth. Ferrari's Felipe Massa was seventh.

Despite not finishing better than third in any race, Massa leads the championship with 39 points, two ahead of Vettel and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.

"Starting 21st and finishing seventh, it was a great result," Massa said. "Leading the championship is always important, looking at the many drivers that are there, fighting."

Alonso would be atop the standings if not for an engine failure on the penultimate lap as he attempted an ambitious passing move on Button.

"Always when you retire you are disappointed, but I prefer to retire when I'm ninth and not when I'm first," Alonso said. "So if I have to retire one or two times in 2010, I prefer this race and hopefully not another race that I'm in first position."

Red Bull's victory Sunday meant it was the first time in 20 years that three different teams had won the opening three races of a championship.

The closeness of the competition was reflected in the standings, with the top seven drivers separated by only nine points.

Toro Rosso's Jaime Alguersuari and Williams' Nico Hulkenberg were ninth and 10th, with both earning their first F1 points.

Mercedes' Michael Schumacher, a seven-time world champion, was forced out on the 10th lap with a wheelnut failure. Schumacher, who has a record 91 victories -- including three at Sepang -- has a disappointing nine points in three races since ending a three-year retirement.

"It's a shame. We were in a good position. ... I believe we could have had two cars in very good points," said Schumacher, referring to Rosberg's 35 points. "To be honest, I'm right on schedule, in my opinion. The car is not quite on schedule."

Williams' Rubens Barrichello was slow off the start line and never in contention and Sauber's Pedro de la Rosa was done in by engine failure on the installation lap.

Ferrari leads the constructors' championship with 76 points, ahead of McLaren's 66 and Red Bull's 61.

Next up is the Chinese GP on April 18.