Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel was in a class of his own as the world champion won a dramatic Malaysian Grand Prix.

McLaren's Jenson Button was runner-up to go second in the championship and Renault's Nick Heidfeld was third.

Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso were penalised after clashing on track while disputing third place. Hamilton dropped to eighth but Alonso kept sixth spot.

Vettel ran a sensible race, handling his tyres well on Sepang's blistering circuit and coping with intermittent use of the Kers power-boost system in the second half of the race.

The German comfortably collected the 12th grand prix win of his career to stretch his championship lead to 24 points.

"The fight behind him is close but Vettel has such an advantage out front in the championship now," said BBC commentator Martin Brundle.

"It was a tremendous effort from Button and Heidfeld but can anyone stop Vettel from dominating grand prix racing at the moment?"

Vettel added: "We could control it, but it was never easy. When Jenson was behind me I could control the gap.

"Kers was a little bit on-off during the race. Two weeks ago [when he won in Australia] we never raced it at all.

"Today if I didn't have it at the start the race would never have unfolded as it did. Then we had a problem and had to turn it off, but it came back on again."

McLaren had a hectic race in which Hamilton and Button were both hustled by Alonso

It was Button who ultimately came out on top as he collected his first podium of the season to kick start his championship charge.

He said: "It was a really confusing race in a way, understanding the pit-stops and wondering if it was worth looking after the tyres.

"The last stint, on the prime tyre, the car came alive and there was so much more grip.

"I had the team telling me to back off and look after the tyres, but in the racer's mind you always want to attack.

"If you try to preserve them by backing off then sometimes you make the situation worse: if you back off, you can lose downforce and that damages the tyres a lot more [because the car is sliding around due to lack of downforce]."

Alonso was the architect of his own downfall when he tried to pass Hamilton for the final podium place with 10 laps left.

The Spaniard clipped Hamilton's right-rear tyre and lost some of his front wing as he attempted to pass his former McLaren team-mate.

A stewards' investigation into the incident later found Hamilton of making more than one change of direction in his attempt to defend from Alonso, while the Ferrari man was charged with causing a collision.

Both drivers had 20 seconds docked from their overall race time but only Hamilton lost position as a result. The McLaren driver dropped one place to eighth and Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi moved up to seventh.

Hamilton retained his third place in the championship but is now level on 22 points with Red Bull's Mark Webber.

Malaysian Grand Prix result:
1. Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault
2. Jenson Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes
3. Nick Heidfeld (Ger) Renault
4. Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault
5. Felipe Massa (Brz) Ferrari
6. Fernando Alonso (Spa) Ferrari
7. Kamui Kobayashi (Jpn) Sauber
8. Lewis Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercedes
9. Michael Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP
10.Paul Di Resta (GB) Force India-Mercedes

Championship Standings:
1. Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault 50 pts
2. Jenson Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 26
3. Lewis Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 22
4. Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault 22
5. Fernando Alonso (Spa) Ferrari 20
6. Felipe Massa (Brz) Ferrari 16
7. Nick Heidfeld (Ger) Renault 15
8. Vitaly Petrov (Rus) Renault 15
9. Kamui Kobayashi (Jpn) Sauber 6
10. Sebastien Buemi (Swi) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 4

Constructors' Championship:
1. Red Bull-Renault 72 pts
2. McLaren-Mercedes 48
3. Ferrari 36
4. Renault 30
5. Sauber 6

Full race report: BBC Sport