Switching to hard tyre helped Giancarlo Fisichella overcome a wobbly start and the Force India driver benefitted from Rubens Barichello's drive-through penalty to gain five places and finish 12th in the Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang on Sunday.
Fisichella's teammate Adrian Sutil had no such luck and for the second Grand Prix running, the German youngster retired with a hydraulic snag on the fifth lap.
At the top, Kimi Raikkonen erased the nightmares of Melbourne and cruised to the chequered flag even though Ferrari was denied a one-two finish after Felipe Massa spun off, allowing BMW's Robert Kubica his career best second place finish.
Toyota's Jarno Trulli finished fourth, sandwiched between McLaren duo of Heikki Kovalainen and Lewis Hamilton.
The Sepang International Circuit thoroughly test Fisichella, who demonstrated the improved race pace of the VJM01, battling throughout with the midfield pack and setting a string of lap times just over one second from the leaders.
Starting 17th on the grid, the Italian had a poor start off the line, dropping down to 20th. By his first stop, Fisichella, however, graduated to 15th overall behind Barrichello.
A switch to the harder Bridgestone Potenza tyre option then allowed him to attack and he was soon pushing hard to catch Barichello, putting in lap times similar to the top three.
Giancarlo got within one second before his second stop before he ultimately overhauled the Honda driver in the closing stages when Barichello was handed a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit lane.
"At the start I had a lot of wheel spin and lost a lot of positions, I don't know why but we have to look into it. On my first stint I was suffering a lot of under-steer with graining on the soft tyres but then in my stop I adjusted the front flap and went onto the harder tyres and stayed on them for both stints," Fisichella said, analysing his race.
"I am happy with the race pace later on though and it is promising for the rest of the season," said the driver, who won the 2006 GP here with Renault.
Meanwhile, misfortune seemed to have stalked Sutil from Melbourne and once again the German could not finish his race.
After moving from 20th to 14th in five laps, his car developed a hydraulic problem on the fifth lap and out went the driver.
"Very early on in the race I developed a mechanical problem. I am very disappointed with this start to the season, especially after I had to stop so soon into the race in Australia too," he rued.
Chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne sympathised with Sutil but seemed happy with Fisichella.
"Giancarlo made a bad start, but after the first stop he showed a really competitive race pace. Ultimately it was disappointing not to get two cars to the finish but overall I think we can look forward to a much better season," he said.
Team owner Vijay Mallya read a lot of positives in the weekend action and said, "We have bettered our fastest lap by over two seconds, more than any other team on the grid, but more importantly we showed that we are now able to race and are no longer the team bringing up the rear of the field."
"Giancarlo drove an excellent race, setting some very promising times and was able to fight for position. I feel this is highly promising for the rest of the season," he said.
The team will now return to its UK base to regroup for the third event of the year, the Bahrain Grand Prix, in just two weeks' time.
Malaysian F1 Grand Prix results:
1 Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)
2 Robert Kubica (BMW)
3 Heikki Kovalainen (McLaren-Mercedes)
4 Jarno Trulli (Toyota)
5 Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes)
6 Nick Heidfeld (BMW)
7 Mark Webber (Red Bull-Renault)
8 Fernando Alonso (Renault)
9 David Coulthard (Red Bull-Renault)
10 Jenson Button (Honda)
11 Nelsinho Piquet (Renault)
12 Giancarlo Fisichella (Force India-Ferrari)
13 Rubens Barrichello (Honda)
14 Nico Rosberg (Williams-Toyota)
15 Anthony Davidson (Super Aguri-Honda)
16 Takuma Sato (Super Aguri-Honda)
17 Kazuki Nakajima (Williams-Toyota)
Sebastian Vettel (STR-Ferrari)
Felipe Massa (Ferrari)
Adrian Sutil (Force India-Ferrari)
Timo Glock (Toyota)
Sebastien Bourdais (STR-Ferrari).