Sebastian Vettel has won the second round of the 2013 Formula One World Championship today in Malaysia.
It was a controversial win for the pole sitter, who appeared to go against team orders to maintain position late in the race and overtake his team mate, Mark Webber. The Australian had been leading for most the race, after a move to stay out on intermediates one lap later than Vettel played dividends in him jumping past Sebastian.
The German was heard to be getting frustrated by his team mate, at one stage asking via team radio for Mark to move over. But, after at briefly dropping to third place behind the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, Vettel took matters into his own hands after Webber emerged from his last pit stop.
For a couple of laps, the two Red Bulls raced wheel to wheel with visions of Turkey 2010 obviously on the mind of team boss Christian Horner. Vettel eventually made the pass using the DRS zone on the main straight as Webber uncompromisingly forced his team mate towards the pit wall. The battle continued for a couple more corners before it was finally decided in Vettel’s favour.
The tension after the race was clear to see between the two drivers, with Webber appearing to make reference to the team orders before they went out on the podium: “Multi 21, Seb.”
It had been a dramatic race up to the Red Bull battle, with the race starting in intermediate conditions thanks to a rain shower shortly before the race began. It was a good start for Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Webber, with Felipe Massa dropping back, but Ferraris race soon turned sour. Alonso made gentle contact with the rear of Vettel’s car at the first corner, damaging his front wing.
Bizarrely, rather than electing to pit at the end of the lap for a new nose, Alonso stayed out, but, as he defended from Webber, the wing broke at the end of the main straight at the start of lap two meaning his day ended prematurely in the turn one gravel trap.
At this stage, the order was Vettel, streaking ahead, with Webber now second, Hamilton third, Jenson Button fourth and Nico Hulkenberg fifth, with Massa dropping from the first row to sixth.
Very soon, the track began to dry up, and at the end of lap five, Vettel pitted for a switch to slick tyres, with Massa also following him in. But it seemed like Vettel had switched too soon and was immediately passed by Sergio Perez, Adrian Sutil and Romain Grosjean. Webber was told to stay out on his intermediate tyres and was able to pull out an advantage so that when he did eventually pit, he emerged back in the lead and in front of his team mate.
By now, the top four of Webber, Vettel, Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were closing up on each other, with Vettel being quicker for a time than his team mate, with the two Mercedes cars being quicker than both, with Hamilton in particular looking like he was a man on a mission, despite earlier mistaking the McLaren pit box for the Mercedes one. But the race entered something of a stalemate at this stage, with Vettel, despite his complaints, not being able to make much of an impact on his team mate and Hamilton beginning to struggle with tyre wear.
The next round of pit stops did little to change the order at the top, with Button beginning to join in the action – the McLaren being a clear improvement compared to one week ago in Australia. However, by lap 27, the top three, still comprising of Webber, Vettel and Hamilton had closed to within 1.8 seconds of each other, with Rosberg not far behind.
Elsewhere, it soon turned into a terrible day for Force India. Both Paul di Resta and Sutil had shown good pace, with di Resta maintaining position within the top ten, but before long, both cars were forced to retire. Force India had been having problems with pit stops all day in getting the wheels on and off the car, and with the team unable to determine whether they were fully tightened up, both cars were retired in the pits as a safety precaution.
Jenson Button would have his own pit stop problems of his own before long. He was released with a loose wheel and lost vital time as he was pushed back by his mechanics into the pit box, costing him any chance of scoring any points. It wasn’t the only pit stop drama of the day, with Jean-Eric Vergne having earlier come into contact with Caterham’s Charles Pic, and later the Sauber of Hulkenberg and Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen exited the pits side-by-side.
Last weekend’s winner was having a poor race, enduring several off track moments. He would finish an eventual seventh place.
Back at the front, and following an earlier pit stop by Hamilton, the Brit had managed to jump ahead of Vettel when the triple World Champion made his stop a couple of laps later. But the Mercedes pace seemed no match for the Red Bull, and, compounded by having to save fuel, Hamilton was soon passed by Vettel for second place once more.
The two would make the final stops just a few laps later, with Webber waiting till the end of lap 43 to make his final stop, before the drama at the front really started.
It wasn’t just the Red Bulls who were fighting each other either, with Rosberg soon closing up on the back of the compromised Hamilton. The two traded positions in the DRS zone several times, before team boss Ross Brawn intervened and asked Rosberg to maintain position, despite the numerous protests of the German. Rosberg was clearly as aggrieved as Webber – telling his team on the slowing down lap to “remember this.”
At the flag, it was Vettel to take a win that will no doubt have huge ramifications inside the Red Bull Racing team, with Webber deliberately appearing to pull across as far as he could from the pit wall as he crossed the line. A subdued Hamilton, who later admitted it should have been Rosberg to finish on the podium, took third place in only his second race for Mercedes. Rosberg dutifully followed his team mate home, with Massa completing a disappointing day for Ferrari in fifth.
The Lotuses of Grosjean and Raikkonen came home sixth and seventh, with Hulkenberg finishing eighth. Perez scored his first points as a McLaren driver with ninth, whilst despite his earlier pit lane collision with Pic, Vergne rounded out the top ten.