Defending world drivers' champion Kimi
Raikkonen lifts the trophy in Singapore [AFP] 
Ferrari's title defence was given a huge boost as Kimi Raikkonen comfortably won the Malaysian Grand Prix.

The victory immediately injected Ferrari back into the title race after the disappointment of the previous week's flop in Australia where neither car finished.

Raikkonen won by 20 seconds ahead of BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica, with McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen a further 19 seconds back in third.

The only negative for Ferrari was the failure by pole-sitter Felipe Massa to finish.

He spun off under no pressure while running in second place just after the halfway mark.

It was now McLaren that was on the back foot in what shapes as another season-long struggle with Ferrari for the titles. Kovalainen's creditable podium place could not disguise a poor weekend for McLaren, which ran foul of officialdom in qualifying and never threatened the Ferraris.

Hamilton back in fifth

After winning in Australia last week, Lewis Hamilton finished fifth in Malaysia after starting in ninth as a result of a five-grid-place penalty for causing interference in qualifying.

He still leads the championship standings after two rounds, but his lead was cut to three points from Raikkonen and BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld, sixth on Sunday, with Kovalainen a point further back.

Hamilton charged hard at the end of the race but could not quite catch fourth-placed Jarno Trulli of Toyota. Hamilton spent much of the race caught behind Mark Webber of Red Bull, who finished in seventh, just ahead of Renault's Fernando Alonso.

"It's a shame that Felipe was unable to let us bring home a (one-two) result that was within our grasp,'' Raikkonen said.

He passed his teammate in the first set of pitstops, and was never threatened.

"From then on, with a clear track ahead of me, the car was perfect, I was able to control the situation without having to stress the car or the tires,'' Raikkonen said.

"We have had a very complicated start to the season, but I have certainly not lost faith in the team, we can still do better.''

Hamilton's cause was further compromised by a poor first pit stop, when a faulty wheel nut meant he spent about 10 seconds too long in pit lane.

"I was pushing Mark for a very long time, but being behind someone, no matter how quick you are, it is really difficult to get past,'' Hamilton said.

"We were in a good position for a shot at third at least, but then I had the problem in my first pit stop which cost me a lot of time.''

Pleasing result

Kimi Raikkonen roars to the front [AFP]
Kovalainen looked more comfortable than Hamilton throughout the race weekend.

"We have to be pleased with the result,'' Kovalainen said.

"After yesterday's penalties it was going to be a hard day for us.''

It was the first time BMW Sauber had collected successive podium finishes.

"I thought McLaren would be stronger,'' Kubica said.

"The Ferraris were too quick but I was able to increase the gap from the cars following me.''

Massa was left pointless after two races, an unhappy situation given there was already talk in F1 circles of the Brazilian's seat at Ferrari being under scrutiny.

"This has been a very difficult start to the season for me, but there is still a very long way to go,'' Massa said.

"We have great potential as was seen today, and so I am still confident.''

The race had a clean start through the first corner, where Trulli and Heidfeld, who started third and fifth respectively, tangled, costing them both several spots.

Williams' Nico Rosberg collided with Toyota's Timo Glock, eliminating Glock from the race while Rosberg was forced to pit for a new front wing.

The Ferrari pair settled ahead of Kubica and Kovalainen. After the first set of pitstops, those four led from Trulli in fifth, Webber in sixth, Hamilton was seventh and Heidfeld eighth.

Massa spun off on the 31st lap, appearing to accelerate out of a corner too early and spinning into a gravel trap.

The loss of Massa, and the demotion of Webber as a result of exiting the pits into traffic, were the only changes among the leaders from then on.

The next race is in two weeks in Bahrain.

Source: Agencies