Lewis Hamilton professed himself 'well happy' with a fighting sixth place in the Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang, after the McLaren-Mercedes star provided much of the race's excitement and overtaking in the early stages with a superb damage limitation job from a lowly grid slot.

Left down in 20th place after qualifying - equalling the lowest position from which the 2008 F1 World Champion has ever begun a race at the highest level - Hamilton wasted little time in making up ground when the starting lights went out, staying on the inside into Turn One for the first time and exiting the corner already up to 13th.

From there, displaying characteristic well-channelled aggression and determination, the eleven-time grand prix-winner went on to pick off both Scuderia Toro Rossos and Kamui Kobayashi in the Sauber in swift succession, but he found promising Renault rookie Vitaly Petrov a rather tougher nut to crack, as the Russian boldly re-passed him and needed to be overtaken for a second time - with a bit of questionable weaving thrown in for good measure - before Hamilton could continue on with his eye-catching charge.

Once in clear air, the Stevenage-born ace proved to be the only man on-track capable of rivalling the lap times of runaway Red Bull Racing leaders Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, and a mark of his progress could be taken from the fact that until the pit-stops began, neither team-mate Jenson Button nor Ferrari duo Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso were making very much impression at all from similar grid positions.

Whilst his challenge was blunted when he came up against similarly Mercedes-powered ex-F3 Euroseries team-mate Adrian Sutil in the fifth-placed Force India late into the race - dashing his hopes of a podium bid - nonetheless eight points for P6 represented a solid return from a tenth row start, and have kept Hamilton well in the hunt to repeat his title glory from two years ago.

"I had a great start, went down the inside and got past a lot of cars on the first lap," reported the 25-year-old. "I was able to keep going for much of the race on my first set of tyres, and even nearly got past Sebastian [Vettel] after his pit-stop. After my stop, I tried my best to get past Adrian, but he was very smart at getting clean exits and was simply too fast down the straights. He drove a fantastic race - faultless, in fact.

"From 20th on the grid, I think sixth was a brilliant result. I reckon we showed today that we were fast enough to compete with the guys at the very front - and, that being the case, if we'd started farther up we could've had an even better result this afternoon. Overall, then, I'm well happy with my race - I couldn't ask for any more to be honest. The team really deserved this, and we're now closer to the top in the constructors' championship than we were before the race - so we'll take forward a lot of positives with us into the next race."

At one point, indeed, the two Silver Arrows ran literally side-by-side as Hamilton exited the pit-lane from his sole pit-stop right alongside Button, who was barrelling down the start/finish straight having himself pitted rather earlier as the very first driver in the race to change tyres on lap nine.

On balance, it was the former's strategy that worked out better in the end, with Hamilton setting a best lap time almost eight tenths of a second quicker than his title-winning successor and scampering away late on to leave Button to fend off the dual Ferrari threat of Massa and Alonso. The 30-year-old went on to cross the finish line 14.5 seconds behind his team-mate in eighth, leaving him just four points off the lead in the drivers' standings.

"My first stint was very tough," confessed the defending world champion. "I went for the outside at the first corner - and as things turned out it wasn't the right place to be. I fell back and was then stuck behind Fernando, who I just couldn't overtake. I found the Option tyres quite difficult in the early laps - I had no rear grip in the high-speed stuff. I couldn't overtake and lost lots of time, so I took the gamble to pit early and drop back into a clear track.

"I made up a lot of ground, but I was on the Primes for so long that it became difficult to hold back cars that were two seconds a lap quicker than me. Felipe eventually got past and Fernando tried a couple of times - the last time he went really deep into Turn One, but I managed to re-pass him on the exit - and then suddenly his engine was gone. I don't know what happened to him, but we had a good fight. I didn't realise that fighting for eighth was going to be so difficult! However, it's good to get some points again."

"Given their grid positions, this afternoon we saw two markedly different yet equally impressive drives from Lewis and Jenson," summarised the Woking-based outfit's team principal Martin Whitmarsh. "Lewis ran long, starting on Prime tyres, and made prodigious progress in the first phase of the race thanks to a series of stunning overtaking manoeuvres.

"Jenson ran a contrasting strategy, starting on Options and making his pit-stop early. Thereafter, he preserved his Primes in masterly fashion, defending his position against cars whose tyres were far newer than his yet still maintaining strong lap times throughout the race.

"From our perspective, a bit of rain would have been welcome, but given the dry weather all afternoon, the fact that we'll leave Malaysia with twelve more constructors' championship points than we had when we arrived here is a powerful testament to the professionalism and determination that both Lewis and Jenson showed today.

"The team, too, did a fantastic job. Lewis' pit-stop was the fastest we've achieved all year, at a lightning-quick 3.4 seconds, so I'd like to take this opportunity to say 'well done' to Pete Vale [chief mechanic], Paul James [number one mechanic, Lewis Hamilton] and all the lads for their excellent work under significant pressure.

"Looking forward to China, there are many positives to reflect on. We now lie a close second in the constructors' world championship table, our pace was highly-competitive all weekend here in Malaysia and - with a better qualifying performance than we achieved here in Sepang - we hope to perform strongly in Shanghai."

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