SEPANG : Three-time defending champion Sebastian Vettel held off Red Bull teammate Mark Webber in a scintillating battle to win the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday, with the German later apologizing for ignoring team instructions late in the race.

Vettel, who had earlier complained to the team about Webber’s slow pace, battled his teammate for much of the day, with the cars almost touching as the German grabbed the lead on the 46th lap for his 27th victory, which matches the total of three-time champion Jackie Stewart. He now leads Lotus driver Kimi Raiikonen by nine points in the championship.

The aggressive Vettel left Webber visibly upset, with the Australian driver refusing to acknowledge his teammate after the race. Webber said that he had slowed while in the lead to save his tires and engine only to be passed by Vettel. Asked if the fight had him reconsidering his position at Red Bull, Webber said he had ”a lot of things going through my mind.”

”It was a close fight and I’m not entirely happy,” Vettel said. ”I made a big mistake today and we should have stayed in the position. I messed up in that situation and took the lead from Mark and can say now he is upset. Apologies to Mark. The result is there and all I can say is that I didn’t do it deliberately.”

Vettel insisted he wasn’t aware of his error until after the race.

”Mark should have won,” Vettel said, adding that he won’t make the mistake again.

Webber enjoyed a great start to the race, jumping from fifth into second and then grabbed the lead on the ninth lap. He traded places with Vettel several times in the first half of the race as they both pitted and the German nearly got past Webber on the 33rd lap after coming out of the pits.

Later, Webber had the lead when his team told him to slow down to take the pressure off his engine and tires – which have been a problem early in the season- just before Vettel passed him.

”Basically, I got myself into position where we were controlling the race,” Webber said. ”Had a pretty good situation. I was ready for a sprint to the end and the team rang up and said, ‘the race pressure is off, look after the tires. Don’t fight each other.’ I turned the engine down.”

Meanwhile, Mercedes extended its surprising run with 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton finishing third ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg.

But a similar controversy to that at Red Bull hit Mercedes, with Rosberg being told to stand down with five laps to go despite having better pace than Hamilton. Team Principal Ross Brawn implored Rosberg to back off from Hamilton and the German later told the team to ”remember this one” after the race.

”I don’t feel spectacular sitting here. Nico deserved to be where I am right now,” Hamilton said. ”Obviously, the team thought for position in the championship it was logical to stay in the position we are in. I say congratulations to Nico. He drove a much smarter and controlled race than I did.”

Hamilton earlier endured an embarrassing moment when he drove into his former team McLaren’s pits before correcting himself and heading to Mercedes, which he joined ahead of this season.

It was a disastrous day for Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who crashed out of the race on the second lap after damaging his front wing when he bumped Vettel a lap earlier. His teammate Felipe Massa started poorly but managed to finish fifth.

”Bad luck today, as always over 19 races will be compensated and we are ready to recover good points in the next race,” Alonso tweeted.

McLaren’s troubles also continued, as a botched pit stop dropped 2009 champion Jenson Button to 14th. The Briton then retired with two laps remaining while his teammate, Sergio Perez, finished ninth.