Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber and Red Bull Racing have kick-started F1 2010 firmly into life with a dominant performance in the Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang – with the fastest car in the field reliably surviving the longest race on the calendar and finally propelling its drivers to the top two steps on the podium as the anticipated rain stayed away.
When the lights went out, pole-sitter Webber looked to have made a textbook getaway, but that of team-mate Vettel directly behind him on the grid was even better, and as the Australian unwittingly left the door open into Turn One, the sister Red Bull accepted the offering and darted down the inside to snatch the lead. The two RBRs would go on to duel energetically over the course of the opening lap, with Webber fighting back on the inside of Turn Two only to be rebuffed, and having another ultimately fruitless look into Turn Four.
Behind the two RBRs, Nico Rosberg slotted into third after a slightly tardy start in his Mercedes Grand Prix, with Robert Kubica in the Renault again making up ground into fourth. Force India's Adrian Sutil slipped a spot to fifth, just ahead of Michael Schumacher in the second Mercedes, whilst most of the field was forced to jink around the stationary Williams of veteran Rubens Barrichello, the suspected cause of which was an overheating clutch.
Further back, the two McLaren-Mercedes' and Ferraris were already up to 13th (Lewis Hamilton), 14th (Felipe Massa), 15th (Jenson Button) and 16th (Fernando Alonso), something of a reversal of the quartet's qualifying positions after Hamilton made a storming start and Massa intelligently followed him through down the inside. There would subsequently be a switch when the Brazilian got out-of-shape and allowed the chasing Button to dive up the inside, only to put the reigning F1 World Champion on the outside line for the following corner and enabling the ever-opportunistic Alonso to sneak through to put the two scarlet machines line-astern.
Hamilton, meanwhile, was clearly not in the moos for messing about and was swiftly on the move, wasting little time in disposing of the two Scuderia Toro Rossos of Sébastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari and the Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi to enter the points-scoring positions, as his team-mate and the Ferrari duo remained tucked up behind the STR pairing.
Timo Glock became the race's first retirement when the young German got it all wrong following fast-starting Lotus rival Jarno Trulli and spun into his former Toyota team-mate, dropping the frustrated Italian to the rear of the order. The home heroes would even the score a handful of laps later, however, as an out-of-control Heikki Kovalainen swiped the other Virgin Racing entry of Lucas Di Grassi and removed part of the Brazilian rookie's front wing with a somewhat clumsy move down the inside.
As the two Red Bulls continued to ease away out front, Hamilton found his next target a rather tougher proposition, as he took advantage of Renault new boy Vitaly Petrov running wide to pinch P9, only to find the promising young Russian coming right back at him again down the inside into Turn One, paying the price for underestimating his adversary by ceding the position again. The following lap almost saw a replay, only this time the 2008 world champion made the move stick, albeit only after receiving an official warning from the race stewards for weaving excessively across the circuit in order to keep the feisty 'Vyborg Rocket' definitively behind him.
Further back, team-mate and compatriot Button similarly gained a place as he passed an unusually passive and inert Alonso into Turn One – with it later becoming apparent that the Spaniard was suffering from a downshift issue in his Ferrari – only to become the first driver to pit on the very next lap, before proceeding to set the fastest lap of the race three tours later.
Kobayashi then became the second retiree of the grand prix to put both Saubers out of the equation given that luckless team-mate Pedro de la Rosa had failed even to make the start with an engine failure on the formation lap, and the Japanese ace would be joined on the sidelines before too much longer by multiple world champion Schumacher, who pulled off ten laps in with rear suspension failure and the second Force India of Vitantonio Liuzzi.