Malaysia GP 2013 Race Analysis: A Damp Squib Leads to Fireworks

Contributor: James Parker, TJ13 on track correspondent

Sebastian Vettel has won the Malaysia Grand Prix in controversial style, as he defied RedBull team orders to hold station in the last 10 laps to overtake teammate Mark Webber and therefore claim his first win of 2013. Mercedes also landed themselves in hot water, during a hot and humid afternoon, where on track events, will dominate the following 3 weeks for all the wrong reasons in the lead up to the Chinese Grand Prix.

The Race

For the start of the Grand Prix, conditions, like Qualifying yesterday were incredibly mixed, with the start of the lap drenched in a heavy downpour (turns 3-4) whilst the majority of the circuit was relatively dry. Every driver opted to start on the Pirelli Intermediate compound, before the magic 1min 50 window presented itself during the race to switch to slicks.

untitledOff the line, both Mark Webber (surprisingly) and Fernando Alonso made lightning starts, as the Spaniard found himself leapfrogging his teammate Massa, going around the outside of Turn 1. As the cars swung round for Turn 2, Alonso found himself “rearending” Vettel ever so slightly; causing damage to his front wing and in the chaos he lost out to the opportunist Webber.

At this point Alonso managed to claw 2nd place back, with the front wing now dangling down. It appeared certain he would pit at the end of the lap with the Ferrari mechanics waiting in anticipation. With the track drying however, Ferrari looked to hold out, to coincide the nose change with a stop for slicks as the track appeared to dry rapidly.

That all fell apart though, when at the start of lap 2, Alonso’s front wing disappeared under the Ferrari going into Turn 1, leaving the Spaniard just a passenger and out of the race – a decision I am sure Ferrari lament now.

Vettel gapped the field in all the drama, with the two Mercedes drivers of Hamilton and Rosberg closing following the two RedBulls. Further back a poor start saw Massa settle into 6th, behind a strong showing from the McLaren of Button, who had moved up to a solid 5th.

As the track dried, race leader Vettel made the bold call of bolting on a set of slick tyres, whilst his Webber decided to carry on. As Vettel rejoined he struggled in the traffic getting mugged into Turn 4, by Massa, Hulkenberg, Perez and Grojsean who were fighting in the lower top 10 positions.

It was a move which benefitted the Aussie, as when Webber rejoined 3 laps later, he found that the decision to stay on Inters was correct, coming out ahead of Vettel. The rest of the top 10 stayed pretty much status quo.

untitledMercedes were showing magnificent pace, even after a rather funny, unfortunate incident which saw Hamilton stop at the McLaren pit garage for his first stop by mistake. The strong lap times caused second place man Vettel, to probe the team, asking if Webber could concede 1st place as he felt he was far faster than his teammate – something which didn’t happen.

Pastor Maldonado’s season turned from bad to worse, as his Williams car was seen exiting the circuit with a KERS problem on lap 14, meaning two retirements from the first two races for the Venezuelan.

The second stops kicked off around lap 20, and it remained “follow the leader” for the top 4. Webber pitted first, switching from the harder compound to the mediums, after a flirtation with the hards in order to help the wear rate on the RedBull. Vettel pitted 2 laps later and rejoined right behind the Aussie once again.

The second stops however, appeared to be a complete disaster for both Force India drivers. Firstly Di Resta came in for his second stop of the day, however was stationary for over a minute in the pit lane as mechanics could simply not attach the front right.  A wheel nut or gun issue seemed to be the case, and he rejoined well down the order in 18th.

His teammate, Sutil came in a lap later to suffer the same problems. Both cars eventually retired a lap down, which seemed to sum up the entire Force India weekend – frustration.

untitledFor the third round of pitstops, Hamilton decided to once again try something different in leapfrogging the RedBull’s as the top 4 closed to be within 5 seconds of each other. Whilst Mark responded straight away, and rejoined ahead of Hamilton, Vettel once again tried to run longer, and after his 3rd stop had been completed he found himself the meat in a Mercedes sandwich.

That did not stop Vettel however, after earlier frustration, was in no mood for games. Several laps passed and the RedBull man found himself closing in fast on the Briton – at this point starting to struggle for pace due to fuel and tyre woes.

The German sized up Hamilton down the start-finish straight and breezed past in his pursuit of Webber, with Rosberg next in line to capitalise. For Hamilton’s ex team however, the sky was no brighter, as Jenson came in for his 2nd stop whilst trying to secure a brilliant 5th place. But the team made a catastrophic error, as the McLaren man was released too early for the front left wheel to be tightened, and he found himself going down the pitlane with 3 wheels on his wagon – he too retired.

In a bid to try and stop his drop through the field, Hamilton made an early 4th stop back on to a scrubbed set of medium tyres. Ross Brawn was constantly on the radio to remind Lewis to “lift and coast” as he will was extremely marginal on fuel at this point. Rosberg rejoined behind Hamilton once again in 4th, and was quickly closing in again on his teammate.

Upfront, Vettel took the initiative as he made an earlier pitstop, reacting in most part to the Mercedes cars behind him. When Webber rejoined from his 4th stop, the pair were incredibly close going into turn 1, with both Red Bull drivers fighting all the way up to turns 4 and 5.

untitledAt this point it was revealed that both drivers were to follow a “multi 21” code by the team which would see them hold station to the chequered flag. However, 2 laps later, and with Mark Webber into “preservation” mode, the engine turned down on the car and preserving his tyres, found himself under attack by Vettel.

Getting the DRS benefit off the pitstraight, Vettel pulled alongside his teammate on the near side, coming up close and personal with pitwall, before the pair continued to squabble for 4 consecutive corners – with the German coming out on top going round the outside of Turn 4.

It was something that Webber appeared to be extremely unhappy about, gesticulating what he thought of Vettel’s move, as it seemed he had disobeyed direct team orders in passing Webber.

Further down the road, and Mercedes were having their own team problems. Hamilton, who was still struggling with fuel worries, was now evidently holding up Rosberg who passed his teammate going into the final turn, before being repassed on the pit straight.

He immediately went on to the radio, explaining that Hamilton was holding him up. Ross Brawn however repeatedly was heard telling Rosberg to hold station, and for both cars not to be risked in a battle on track – something the German was extremely frustrated about, but had the grace to accept and hold station.

untitledAll this meant Vettel crossed the finish line to take his first victory of the season, ahead of a very unhappy Webber, who clearly felt he had been cheated out of a certain victory by Vettel. Hamilton, after slowing hugely in the last 5 laps, as planned, was followed home by Rosberg to take 3rd and 4th – a good result for Mercedes.

Further down, Felipe Massa had a rather anonymous afternoon, not showing the promised Ferrari pace, with a late 4th pitstop allowing him to overtake Hulkenberg, Raikkonen and Grosjean for 5th place and another solid haul of points.

For Lotus it appeared to be a missed opportunity, as the team had the pace during the Grand Prix, however found themselves horribly out of position. Raikkonen had a hugely frustrating afternoon, finding himself tucked up behind, firstly Perez and then Hulkenberg for the majority of the Grand Prix – before passing the Sauber driver late on to claim 7th behind his teammate Grosjean.

It was a very promising afternoon for McLaren at times, as they appear to be getting to grips with the new MP4-28 finally. Button stated he felt a podium might not have been out of reach given Mercedes problems late on, and Perez, with a better qualifying could have achieved perhaps better than 9th.

But let’s not forget both rookies Bottas and Bianchi, who had sterling drivers to 11th and 13th respectively for Williams and Marussia. Both managed to conditions beautifully, and capitalised on others mistakes, Bianchi’s stock is definitely rising race by race, and it will be interesting to see if the Marussia driver can claim the teams first points as the season progresses.

But going into the 3 week break before the Chinese Grand Prix, the headlines solely look set to be dominated by the controversy caused by both Mercedes and RedBull. Team orders are very much still part of Formula 1 and I am sure Sebastian Vettel will have a lot of explaining to do, not only to his team, but also Webber. For the Aussie, it looks set to be the final straw for a team in which his relationship with has been stretched to its limit – has it reached breaking point?

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37 responses to “Malaysia GP 2013 Race Analysis: A Damp Squib Leads to Fireworks

  1. For a company in the business of selling soft drinks, is it a good idea to leave such a sour taste in the mouth ?

  2. I thought Seb and Mark looked awkward teamates on the podium, unti I watched the highlights with Suzi Perry and David Coulthard… Now THAT was awkward.

    • Mmm. Chemistry is not coming through I agree, along with that irritating over the shoulder camera angle when DC is speaking to obscure SP’s facial expressions.

      We’ll know better when we see them live.

  3. My first reaction was that what Vettel did with so arrogant it should be treated with utter disdain.

    But then I thought… Senna would do that. Schumacher would do that. He acted like (pardon the language) a right bastard, but you need to be a ruthless bastard to dominate a sport.

    The trouble could be that he now needs to take that on further and take ‘ownership’ of the team. There is already a feeling that the team favour him over Mark, but whether they will go so far as to make him the de facto number one and focus all on him winning the WDC…. I somehow can’t see it. This may be a rash statement, but this could well be the beginning of the end for Red Bull dominance. Vettel has shown he wants a team where all that matters is that he wins. I’m not sure Red Bull want that and it could end up tearing the team apart.

    The other possibility is that he could have made a very silly mistake. We have seen how Mark can react under similar situations – ‘Not bad for a number 2’…. The only saving grace for Seb may be that it is three weeks to the next race and Mark may have calmed down a little by then, as if not we could well see him totally dominating the weekend as he has shown he can do if his mind is in the right place. An angry Mark could well be a Mark who wins his first WDC…

    To be honest, I was half expecting Webber to lamp Vettel on the podium. You certainly got the feeling that if this had been an ice hockey match there would have been a bench clearance and the sin-bin would need extra chairs bringing.

    It is interesting to contrast this to Rosberg. He could – and IMO probably should – have just stuck it down the inside of Hamilton coming in to the last corner using DRS and faced the music. It wasn’t a situation where they were conserving the car to be sure of making the finish. The team had knowingly under-filled the car with fuel. I see this as different to the Red Bull situation where the cars were running fine and were just backing off to take no risks. Rosberg’s side of the garage read the race better and he should have been set free to claim the place that preparation deserved.

    You could even argue that by toeing the team line he has pretty much admitted he doesn’t have the balls to fight his corner and stamp his mark on the season. There are times to be sensible and times to be the good guy and help the team. Vettel and Rosberg both broke those rules today, just in opposite ways…

    • The difference is Senna would never enter an agreement that stated whoever was in front following the final pit stop would be given the race win and stations should be held. Vettel has benefited from this on a number of occasions and therefore if you enter and agreement you cannot expect it to be ‘agreeable’ when it suits and breach it when it does not. This does not define the hungry nature of a champion, but an immature attitude that wants it ‘every which way’.

      And was it worth it? Race 2 of a 19 race season, when last year Vettel won the title by 3 points with at times the help of his team mate.

      This is by no means just another skirmish between Vettel and Webber because something fundamental has now changed – IMHO. Those who cite Silverstone and Sao Paulo miss the point because Webber at worst can in those circumstances be accused of sabre rattling and not a breach of the ultimate agreement.

      • Disagree…

        The whole Prost / Senna feud was based around Senna breaching such agreements and also swerving and almost walling Prost.

        The romantic veiw of Senna is fine, but he did enter many such racing agreements. He simply broke them. Ask Prost.

        • Hello Scud,
          The swerving and almost walling Prost was at Estoril 1988.

          The only agreement that Prost and Senna entered into was the infamous San Marino one from 1989.
          They had agreed before the race, that whoever was in the lead to the first corner wouldn’t be attacked for the remainder of the lap.
          If you remember, that race was stopped and restarted, after Berger’s fiery accident. At the restart, Prost got the better start and into Tosa Senna overtook.
          Depending on who you’re a fan of, there was a number of ways to read this.
          Senna had the lead at the first start. Prost followed.
          At the second start, Senna overtook into Tosa corner because the agreement said corner, which neither Tamburello nor Villeneuve were seen as such.

      • Do we know what Vettel did actually enter in to that agreement? There is a difference between being instructed by the team to hold station and making an agreement pre-race that after a certain point they would hold station.

        Totally agree that he has failed to see the big picture, at least for this season. If he can work this situation to his advantage and get a set-up similar to Schumi at Ferrari then it may have been worth it long-term. However, he now knows he will get no help this season and as you rightly point out, he has needed that help in the past.

        Also totally agree that things have changed fundamentally between them now. Whatever happens we will see someone new at Red Bull next season. I almost wonder who will be the one to leave though…. That will depend a lot on how this is dealt with I suspect.

        • Horner said late last night they had been telling Vettel for 3 laps to hold station and he didn’t – so they didn’t bother asking him to give back the position

    • I think your first thought was the right one.
      True, Senna or Schumacher might well have behaved in the same way, but that’s why many fans were seriously unimpressed with them at times, too.
      Mugging your teammate in that manner is not admirable, in my book, particularly after you just failed to overtake them, fair and square, after they just exited the pits on cold tyres.

    • I really hope that Webber will no longer be too angry when we go to China, too many memories about Didier Pironi and Gilles already…

  4. What’s the big deal.

    Mark has done that before to Vettel. They were 2-3 at the 2011 British GP with Vettel leading and Horner saying hold station with a few laps left, but Webber ignored and challenged needlessly to the flag with Vettel holding on. Webber was praised for his racing courage to go against team orders, the “machine” and make Vettel earn it. Props Webbo… (don’t forget brazil 2012 also)

    The issue here is that Vettel did EXACTLY the same thing, but beat Mark and showed him who was boss. Mark knew Vettel was challenging, clearly by almost putting Vettel in the wall, so he should stop crying. Stop being a hypocrite.

    Mark… If you are listening… You live by the sword you die by the sword. Or in Aussie, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

    • I broadly agree, though I don’t think Webber even nearly put him in the wall, he clearly starts far right, and Vettel tries that way anyway, admittedly Mark creeps a bit, but its pretty marginal, Seb had plenty of room on the outside, but he went for the high risk line.

      • No, the risk and jeopardy that the team were trying to dissipate remained to the flag due to Webber challenging. He “didnt hold station”.

        The fact Mark failed to overtake does not mean he followed orders by default of failure.

        • We can’t know that. It was definite ‘sabre rattling’ but other than that… who knows.

          We do know Webber let Vettel through today having twice been given confirmation that it was a ‘hold station’ to the end scenario.

          He could have hung Vettel out to dry on the corner he made the pass.

          • Um, back in the British GP 2011, post race the team suggested as such and Mark admitted as much… So I feel we can know what happened and the impact.

            Either way… The eventual Marko rant – which I am sure is being formulated now – is going to be epic I think.

          • To be honest, I wish Vettel would dissociate himself with Marko. His tirades undermine the fact that Vettel does not need them, nor his direct trackside support and is doing his talking on the track. 3 WDC’s and 27 wins in just over 100gp’s speaks for itself. After digesting all comments and in light of the past, I think Webber will be racing for another team next year. Hopefully a top team. Maybe as Lewis’s teammate after what happened to Rosberg?

    • I’m not sure the comparison to Silverstone is all that relevant. While Mark ignored team orders there, Seb was at least on equal footing, machinery wise, and had the ability defend as such. And he either defended successfully, or as suggested above, Mark sabre rattled just to make a point.

      The only way Mark could have defended further this weekend would have been to also and equally ignore team orders, leaving RBR with 0% of it’s authority and, as Seb has shown in past squabbles (Turkey anyone?), quite likely no cars finishing the race.

      Leaving him on a rock in a cold, hard and lonely place, only exacerbated by the teams history of molly-coddling the arrogance of their wunderkid.

      RBR created this, and boy, am I looking forward to watching them fail to fix it; especially given the recent revelations that maybe Schumacher really was still as quick as Hamilton…

  5. I think I’m going to be sick of this issue come China. It is funny how everyone raved about Sutil last week, and yet he benefitted from team orders, with a hard charging Paul on newer tires behind, yet this week, poor Nico misses out due to team orders, and the Red Bull nonsense… frankly Mark should have turned it up, and run him wide at turn three and apologised for that… sod it, he’s probably out for next year anyway, might as well make the little sod suffer.

  6. I have always been a big fan of the Pirelli tyres and the spectacular races we have seen since they changed the approach to tyres. However, I am starting to doubt if they have gone too far this time. We saw 2 potential battles between team mates not materialise, party because they were not able to chase the car in front of them for more than a couple of laps in fear of destroying their tyres. This was demonstrated by both Vettel trying to chase Webber for a couple of laps in the middle stints and Rosberg getting stuck behind Hamilton before the team entered in the extreme fuel saving mode. One thing is to preserve tyres, but not being able to chase a car in a true multi-lap battle mode is something else. I feel that this contributed for a large part to the situation we ended up with in the last 15 laps, with Vettels controversial pass and Rosberg forced to stay behind Hamilton. A shame, because we would have been able to get a truly exciting finish instead of what we saw yesterday.

    • Mercedes was mostly over fuel not tyres – Hamilton said he was on a ‘knife edge’ with fueld from when the track dried.

      It will be normal 2 stops in China – if you read our circuit review this is the most abrasive of the asphalts F1 runs on during the year.

      • Hamilton yes, but I think that Nico would have been able to challenge him earlier in the race without the need for tyre conservation. Lets see how China plays out.

  7. During the Schumacher years, Schuey had become bigger than Ferrari and FIA obliged to all requests. They had become Schumacherrari just like RBR have now become Vettel Bull Racing.
    Re what happened, yes, Silverstone 2011 may look superficially the same, but it wasn’t. The team clearly favours Vettel, they had taken one of the new front wings in Webber’s car to put it on Vettel’s in the past, and there was no communication of, turn your engines down, preserve tyres, cruise to the line. This case is different. It was sheer arrogance and disrespect for the team.
    And I know that Senna, since he passed away, have been many times been looked at with rose-tinted eyes. But there are some differences. Vettel is nowhere near the talent that Senna had. Senna disobeyed orders or agreements when he felt he was being cheated. That’s not the case here.
    Vettel was called baby-Schumi when he started, well, he’s become adult-Schumi now, lest with a bit less talent too.
    At least Lewis showed how it should be done. He showed humility on the podium and clearly uncomfortable with being given that podium finish. He doesn’t expect preferential treatment like Schuey, Alonso or Vettel.

    • …and by the way, anyone recalls any instances, where Senna or Schumacher ignored team orders so blatantly? Try to undermine Dennis, Brawn or Williams and it’s over. Horner needs to stab his authority.

      • 1989 San Marino grand prix – at the restart after Berger’s horrifying crash Senna ignored team orders not to overtake the best starter, Senna admitted later on that he broke team orders there

        • Sorry my friend, it wasn’t team orders there. The drivers had come to an agreement between them.
          Whoever got to the first corner first wouldn’t be challenged for the lead for the first lap.
          Supposedly, on who tells the story, after Bergers accident it was reset or not, depending on who it favours.

          • Depends on the definition of ‘team orders’ I guess…

            Ron Dennis wanted real team orders whereby Senna and Prost wouldn’t be attacking each other whenever the team told them. Senna couldn’t agree to that, but he did agree to gentleman’s agreement for first corner peace that was mediated by Marlboro’s John Hogan on behalf of Ron Dennis, so it’s true that it wasn’t ‘team orders’ as Dennis was hoping for but it also wasn’t simply something between Senna and Prost as none of them would ever have entered into something like that if it was fully their own choice.

      • There quite probably weren’t any cases as Senna and Schumacher managed to get the team bosses on their side early on so any orders were for their benefit.

        Still, your point is valid, Red Bull / Horner need to decide whether they run the team or whether it is being run to win championships for Vettel alone. I wonder how much the unusual management structure of the team is inflaming the situation. It is well know that Mark makes his own deals with the owner. What we don’t know is whether Horner is happy with this situation or whether he’d rather have choice of second driver so he can run the team around Seb. Marko almost certainly has his grubby fingers in there as well making the situation even more complex.

    • One very famous order that Mclaren forced on to Senna was to give the 1991 Japanese GP to Berger. I think it was as a thankyou for support over the year.
      Senna was not pleased, slowed down massively into the last lap , and basically rolled out of the last chicane as Berger hesitatingly went past.
      It was ungracious, but afterwards both agreed, a victory should never be given to another, they want to compete on a level playing field and know that their ability was the difference.

      “Moss believed the manner in which the battle was fought was as important as the outcome. This sporting attitude cost him the 1958 Formula 1 World Championship. When rival Mike Hawthorn was threatened with a penalty in the Boavista Urban Circuit in Porto, Portugal, Moss defended Hawthorn’s actions. Hawthorn was accused of reversing in the track after spinning and stalling his car on an uphill section of the track. Moss himself shouted the suggestion to Hawthorn that he steer downhill, against traffic, to bump-start the car, which Hawthorn did. Moss’s quick thinking and then gracious defence of Hawthorn before the stewards preserved Hawthorn’s 6 points for his second-place finish (behind Moss). Hawthorn went on to beat Moss for the title by one point even though he won only one race that year to Moss’s four, making Hawthorn Britain’s first World Champion.” Wikipedia

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