"It's my second win in the wet," said German youngster Vettel, recalling his first win from pole for junior team Toro Rosso at Monza last year. "I don't think I will mind if we have some more rain!"
A staggering 45 seconds down the road, Brawn's Jenson Button completed the podium, but he retains his championship lead, 6 points ahead of Rubens Barrichello, who finished behind the sister car in Shanghai. Behind the four Red Bulls and Brawns came the two McLarens, with Heikki Kovalainen ahead of Lewis Hamilton, after the reigning world champion spun multiple times at the Shanghai International Circuit.
Toro Rosso rookie Sebastien Buemi scored a point, but he had hearts racing on the Red Bull-branded pitwalls at one point, clipping the rear of winner Vettel under safety car conditions.
"I am lucky to have been able to finish," Vettel said in the post-race press conference.
Fernando Alonso qualified second but finished out of the points, after his low-fuel strategy came to nought when he had to pit even before the long eight-lap safety car period ended at the wet start of the race. Ferrari again failed to open its 2009 points account: Kimi Raikkonen looking sluggish en route to tenth, while a furious Felipe Massa ground to a halt behind the safety car.
Jarno Trulli also had to retire, after Robert Kubica smashed into the rear of his Toyota. Adrian Sutil, meanwhile, almost collected debut points for Force India, until he spun and had a huge crash with just five laps to go.