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Malaysian GP 2013

MARCH 25, 2013

Race Report - Red faces at Red Bull

Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel, Malaysian GP 2013
© The Cahier Archive

Sebastian Vettel blatantly ignored team orders and fought his way past Red Bull teammate Mark Webber to win the Malaysian Grand Prix. A livid Webber finished second. Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, who were also under team orders, but in their case they adhered to them, took third and fourth places.

It was a strange podium ceremony followed by a tense press conference with a contrite Vettel, a furious Webber and a disconsolate Hamilton all despondent with the way the race had ended.

"As you can see I'm not entirely happy," he said after scoring the 27th F1 victory of his career. "I think I did a big mistake today. I think we should have stayed in the positions that we were. I didn't ignore it on purpose but I messed up in that situation and obviously took the lead which, I can see now he's upset, but yeah, I want to be honest at least and stick to the truth and apologize. I know that it doesn't really help his feelings right now but I think other than that, obviously a very good race for the team. We handed the tires pretty well today. To sum it up, apologies to Mark, obviously now the result is there but¦yeah, all I can say is that I didn't do it deliberately."

Prior to the race, the Red Bull management had told their two drivers that it was imperative to get both cars to the finish in the points. They would be allowed to race each other until the final rounds of pit stops. Whatever order they were after that on the track would remain so for the remainder of the race.

But even though Webber emerged ahead, Vettel, ignoring radio calls from the pits, attacked and took the lead.

"After the last stop, obviously the team told me the race was over" Webber said. "We turned the engines down and we go to the end. I want to race as well, but in the end the team made a decision, which we always say before the race is probably how it's going to be “ we look after the tires, get the car to the end and in the end Seb made his own decisions today and will have protection and that's the way it goes."

The race started with a wet track and Vettel on the pole. He took the lead while Fernando Alonso, who had gridded third in his Ferrari, sliced up to second. Webber jumped from fifth to third. Alonso tried to pounce on Vettel only to bang the Ferrari's front wing on the Red Bull.

The Ferrari pit, hoping that the crooked wing would stay on the car until the first pit stops, told Alonso to stay out. The track was drying and everybody would be pitting soon for slicks. The gamble failed as the wing folded under the car and Alonso slid off the track at the start of the second lap.

"Despite the fact the car was damaged," Alonso said, "it didn't seem to be too bad and, together with the team, we decided to keep going, because if we'd stopped immediately and then again on lap 3 or 4 to fit dry tires, we would have dropped too far back and definitely lost the chance to finish up the front. It's easy to criticize this decision, but at the time it seemed like the right one. It was certainly a shame, because here we could have fought with the Red Bulls, but circumstances didn't help and apart from the wisdom of the decisions we took, bad luck really played its part, when you think how many off-track excursions there were in Australia without any consequence and even here when the cars first went out on track."

Vettel came in for dry tires at the end of lap five, and Webber led for three tours before making his own stop. That allowed Hamilton to lead a lap, but then he came in for slicks and Webber was back out in front. Webber led from lap 9 to lap 18, pitted, and Vettel took over first place for laps 19 to 22.

So Webber was now first, and he stayed there from laps 23 to 30 and then made his third stop. Vettel led two laps, pitted, and then Jenson Button, having a remarkable race in the uncompetitive McLaren, led laps 33 and 34.

The McLaren worked better in the wet than in the dry, and that allowed Button to stay near the front of the pack while the track was still wet. But his race would end badly when the team released him from the pits before a front wheel was tightly on. He eventually got going but eventually retired with a vibration.

"Strategy-wise, we did everything right," Button said. "We pitted on the correct laps and looked after the tires exactly as we should have done. We'd have finished fifth but for the problem in the pit stop “ maybe we'd even have been in the battle for third and fourth. It's very disappointing that we weren't able to demonstrate that, of course. Even at the end we had a chance of scoring a point, but unfortunately I was struggling with my front left [tire] by that stage. It kept locking up, and it was producing such a bad vibration that I think the guys were worried that it might damage the front left suspension if I carried on. However, as I say, apart from the pit stop problem, I think we did a pretty good job. We've made improvements over the past week, and the result of those improvements was that we were more competitive here in Malaysia than we were in Australia last weekend."

Webber was back in the lead on lap 35. Vettel, in second, made his final pit stop at the end of lap 42. Webber pitted one lap later and came back in the track just ahead of Vettel. That should have been it. But Vettel went for the kill and, after a fierce duel with Webber, took the lead on lap 46.

When did the team tell Vettel to hold second place?

"On the out lap after the last pits top once the order was settled," Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said. "Following cars very closely destroys tires. We know we have been marginal on them all weekend. What we didn't want to do is find that we had run out of tires and take an unnecessary risk."

But, despite the agreement and radio calls and coded messages, Vettel disobeyed and ignored them.

"He's chosen to hear what he wants to hear," Horner said. "He is a race driver, he is competitive, and he has not achieved the championships that he has by not pushing the limits. And he pushed that today with his teammate and with the team."

Webber was livid. Was he thinking about quitting the team or even F1?

"My mind, in the last 15 laps was thinking that many things, yes, many many things," he said.

Meanwhile, Hamilton and Rosberg were having their own duel only to be told by Mercedes team princicpal Ross Brawn that it was essential to get both cars to the finish. Furthermore, the team did not know if the cars had enough fuel. So Hamilton and Rosberg were told to slow down and not fight for third place.

"I don't feel spectacular sitting here," Hamilton said in the post race press conference. "Obviously I think Nico deserved to be where I am right now."

Said Rosberg: "Of course, it was disappointing for me having to hold position but I understand the team's decision to safeguard our positions and to make sure that both cars got to the end with a strong team finish, especially in light of the tough times behind us."

Brawn explained what happened.

"We had a heavier than expected fuel consumption during the race," he said, "and as we got towards the end, we had to take some measures to ensure that both cars finished. We asked Lewis and Nico to hold position and both drivers respected that. Whilst it was tough for Nico and I fully expect him to be disappointed, we have now got a car we can fight with and that there will be plenty more opportunities to achieve good results this season. We've got to concentrate on keeping up the pace of development but we can take pride in achieving our first podium of the season."

Felipe Massa finished fifth in his Ferrari.

"Today's race was really complicated," he said, "because starting with a new set of intermediates on a track that was very damp at some points and completely dry at others, prevented me from having a good pace and I lost ground to many other drivers on the first lap. Maybe bringing forward the first stop to fit dry tires was a slightly risky choice, because the track was still damp and this cost me time. Then on the dry track, the car improved, the tire degradation wasn't excessive and I managed to settle into a good pace, but at that point, any hope of finishing on the podium had vanished."

Romain Grosjean and his Lotus teammate and Australian Grand Prix winner Kimi Raikkonen rounded out the top seven.

"Although the car felt very good on Friday, yesterday and today have been pretty difficult," Raikkonen said. "Since Saturday morning it has not been behaving as we expected for some reason, especially in the wet where we really struggled for grip. It was a tough race and I lost part of my front wing at the start which didn't help, but at least we scored a few points which is better than coming away with nothing. If we can get the car back to how it was in Australia then I'm sure we'll be at the front again."

During a tense post race press conference Vettel apologized to Webber several times and said if he could turn the clock back he would not pass Webber a second time. Webber was still upset.

"I think it's very early days right now, it's very raw, obviously" he said of his emotions, "and we need to work out how the team goes best forwards from here. That's obviously going to be discussed this week. I will be in Australia on my surfboard, the phone won't be engaged, (and we will) see what happens.