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Vettel wins Malaysian GP to extend perfect start

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SEPANG, Malaysia (AP)

Sebastian Vettel extended his perfect start to the Formula One season by winning the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday, earning his second straight victory to begin the defense of his world title.

The Red Bull driver started from the pole and led throughout to beat McLaren's Jenson Button by 3.2 seconds, with Renault's Nick Heidfeld hanging on for third.

''I love what I do and I don't think I could be happier at this stage,'' said Vettel, who won the season-opening Australian GP last month. ''Two wins out of two is perfect, couldn't be better, but there is still a very long way to go this season.''

Vettel's Red Bull teammate Mark Webber recovered from a poor start, using a four-stop strategy around the Sepang International circuit to finish fourth, with Ferrari's Felipe Massa fifth.

Old rivals Fernando Alonso of Ferrari and Lewis Hamilton of McLaren collided in the closing laps, resulting in a 20-second penalty for each from the stewards. Alonso retained sixth place, but Hamilton fell from seventh to eighth. The incident is likely to add to the ill-will between the two, who had one unhappy season as teammates.

Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi inherited seventh place after Hamilton's penalty, while Mercedes' Michael Schumacher made a very late pass to take ninth from Force India's Paul Di Resta, who took the last point in 10th.

Vettel registered his 12th career victory despite having to abandon the KERS power-boosting system midway through the race because it wasn't working properly. The device starting working again later in the race.

''It was a little bit on-off during the race, so its something we have to work on,'' Vettel said, although he praised KERS for enabling him to get to the first corner in the lead, saying ''it saved our life today.''

Webber also had problems with KERS, or Kinetic Energy Recovery System, dropping from third to ninth after just one lap. By contrast, both Renaults were stout from the beginning, with Heidfeld moving from sixth to second by the second corner and Vitaly Petrov vaulting from eighth to fifth.

Though rain was forecast, it never came and the closing stages developed into a fight to see who could make their tires last. Button used smart tire management to finish second.

''It was a confusing race in a way, trying to understand the pit stops,'' Button said. ''The last stint, when we put the hard tire on, the car came alive.''

Heidfeld was pressured heavily in the final laps but managed to hold off Webber, delivering Renault its second straight podium finish, saying, ''I am grateful to finish third.''

The German, who was enlisted by Renault on short notice to replace the injured Robert Kubica, remains winless despite 13 career podium finishes.

Renault teammate Petrov, who was third in Australia, had a spectacular end to his race, running wide over the grass and hitting a drainage ditch that catapulted him into the air, across the track and into a brake distance marker.

Hamilton and Alonso collided with 10 laps to go. The Ferrari driver tried a switch-back move on Hamilton but misjudged the pass, and snapped off the left endplate of his front wing by nudging Hamilton's right rear tire.

Alonso had to pit for a new front wing, while Hamilton labored on the damaged tire, and was passed by Heidfeld and Webber before pitting with three laps to go.

After the race, stewards added 20 seconds to Alonso's time for causing the collision and the same to Hamilton for improperly defending a position. While Alonso kept his sixth place, it cost Hamilton one place and two championship points.

Alonso said the crash and subsequent stop ''cost me maybe the podium,'' but was pleased overall by the Ferrari's performance, even if the Prancing Horse remained a long way off Red Bull and McLaren in qualifying.

''Today we were fighting with the McLarens, with Webber as well so that was a surprise for us ... it was a good surprise today,'' Alonso said.

Hamilton was running in second for much of the first half of the race, trailing Vettel by only 3.9 seconds at the midway point, but was left to rue the decision to try a three-stop strategy, finally forced into an unplanned fourth.

Describing the race as a ''disaster,'' Hamilton was asked if the team's strategy was wrong.

''I think so. Maybe it's a combination of the tires and position, but it wasn't good, that's for sure,'' he said.

McLaren is hoping to close the gap with the Red Bulls next week when the circuit moves to Shanghai.

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