Well, well, well. The prospect of the race in Sepang was truly mouth watering. Usually the threat of rain adds for most fans the prospect of extra excitement and seeing the best driver’s in the world challenged by a slippery surface demonstrates another dimension of their skills.
Yet the current situation with the top teams being either quick over one lap or quick at race pace offered enough intrigue and many possibilities without the need for rain. Okay there was a Red Bull on pole, but analysts within the team were predicting 4 stops would be necessary were the circuit dry from the start to the very end.
And so to the drama. How was this allowed to happen? What on earth was the team thinking? Why did we have a driver apparently not communicate with the pit wall?
It was inevitable eventually. Fernando has been so consistent and played the percentages brilliantly, but today there was driver error from the Spaniard and a collision with the rear of Vettel’s car. Yet why on earth did he not receive the call to come in and change the wing when it was clear on the TV world feed that the wing was at a terminal angle. Other teams could see the big risk as Jenson was told to give Alonso a wide berth on the radio.
Alonso said after the race, “Today, unfortunately, we were very unlucky. After making a good start, I touched with Vettel at the second corner: it was a surprise to find him there, almost stopped and I don’t know what speed he was doing. Despite the fact the car was damaged, 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 tyres, we would have dropped too far back and definitely lost the chance to finish up the front. It’s easy to criticise this decision, but at the time it seemed like the right one”.
It may be that Fernando is covering for his team but this was never his call to make. The driver would have no idea the exact extent of the damage and the team were then responsible for a reprehensible decision which created probably the most fearful of dangerous situations a driver can face. Failing to call Alonso in both put him in a great deal of danger and proved to be a delusional assessment of the risk to the points scoring opportunity for the day.
Further, if this is the case then it makes the comments over driver safety from Ferrari in the wake of Grosjean’s ‘reckless’ behaviour in Spa appear to be ‘weasel words’. Stefano has been handed a massive get out of jail free card with the media over this due to other matters developing later in the race.
We then had the entertaining sight of Lewis rocking up for a tyre change at the McLaren pit. Amusing but in fact this was a really big mistake and one which certainly cost Hamilton the opportunity of exiting either in the lead or right behind the leader. McLaren’s twitter account the @thefifthdriver tweeted, “feel free to pop in and say ‘hi’ anytime @lewishamilton”.
The huge surprise is how quickly McLaren appear to be rectifying their problematic car. On the hard tyre the 2 fastest laps of the race were from Sergio Perez 1:39:199 and Jenson Button with a 1:40:556 but once again McLaren shoot themselves in the foot with a calamitous pit stop. There are those back at the MTC who were calculating Jenson had a real chance of beating the Mercedes and getting a podium and fifth place would have been more than achievable. Points thrown away again by McLaren appear this time to have benefited Lewis Hamilton, ironically because he is not driving for them.
Bob builder of fast cars ought to pay attention to building nuts that facilitate a fast pit stop too. Apparently whilst the Silverstone team have a technology sharing arrangement with McLaren they did not run their new McLaren style wheel nut design by the techies at the MTC and this looks a very costly mistake.
Paul Di Resta was most chipper in the media pen, probably because the calamitous pit stops meant he didn’t lose further ground after a tricky weekend to his team mate.
Once again Jules Bianchi is stealing the rookie limelight and he is now 17th in the WDC ahead of Ricciardo and Maldonado. A strong thirteenth place finish may be tough for Caterham to beat in 2013 and thus secure the team the tenth position and the cash from Bernie.
Marrusia say they are expecting to score points this year and were most secretive about their front wing when the SKY camera tried to take a look at it. For Caterham it was another tale of woe and maybe we will see Heikki back in the green goddess and sooner than we think.
Toro Rosso were fined 10,000 euro’s for an unsafe release and Ricciardo’s retirement was as in Australia due to an exhaust issue.
Maldonado lost KERS so he retired the car and Bottas was close to his first point in F1 finishing 11th and is just ahead of Bianchi in the drivers’ standings.
Hulkenberg was indeed quick early in the race and then after dicing with Kimi managed to eventually stumble into his first points.
Romain Grosjean was the highest placed of the 3 stoppers and the car’s easiness on the tyres was evident with Kimi Raikkonen running the longest stint on the hard tyres managing 22 laps.
Mercedes clearly underestimated their fuel consumption as Lewis commented that they were on ‘a knife edge’ from very early in the race. This led to the team ordering Rosberg to hold station over the final 12-13 laps of the race, something he questioned several times yet he complied and duly allowed Lewis to take a podium third.
Hamilton was impressive in his podium humility and for giving his team mate the recognition he deserved. “I have to say big congratulations to Nico. He drove a smarter and more controlled race than me this afternoon and deserved to finish where I did”.
Rosberg was asked whether he felt the team owe him and without edge and smiling he replied, “Owe me one? No, I wouldn’t say that because I understand I drive for Mercedes, for all the guys at home who put their lives into building this car over the winter and doing such a fantastic job. So I’m pleased to get a great result for the team.
But of course there is a small side of me who wants to go flat out all the way to the end and be up on the podium myself. But the time will come for that”.
This appears to be one of the best relationships amongst F1 team mates – maybe ever – even Ross Brawn commented on that Lewis and Nico relate to each other more naturally than did Schumacher and Rosberg.
So that’s one team and its team mates but we we have another to discuss – Red Bull. In a way the race had fizzled out so the fuse that Sebastian Vettel chose to light gave us something to talk about instead of a final 15 laps procession. Ignoring team orders he attacked his team mate, giving us a thrilling 1 lap battle before squeezing between Webber and the pit wall using DRS on the pit straight.
Following the cars being shut down in parc ferme, Webber was first to the weigh in but didn’t appear in the drivers’ ready room behind the podium for quite a while. Vettel was in there with a stern faced Newey making small talk about the tyre performance in the early part of the race.
Mark Webber arrived with just around 1 minute to spare before the presentation ceremony began. Stern faced and ignoring Vettel he grabbed a towel and a drink and sat down. He then gave Vettel a withering stare and said “Multi 21 Seb…. Multi 21”. Vettel says nothing and Adrian Newey doesn’t interfere.
Apparently Red Bull sent two of their PR people to meet the driver’s before the podium ceremony, but the FIA doorman refused them entry.
On the podium Vettel claimed that it had been a good battle and his 27th F1 win – matching the record of Jackie Stewart – was because he had more in hand than Webber and indeed it was he who managed go gain the ‘upper hand’. Webber claimed he had been told twice to turn down his engine and that the team wanted to protect the 1-2.
“I won a race as well… but in the end Seb made his own decisions today and will have protection as usual and that’s the way it goes. I was disappointed with the outcome and I did my best”.
Helmut Marko was asked in the pit lane for his views on matters and was pretty forthright saying, “We told the drivers to stay in their positions because we were worried about the tyre wear but at this stage it got out of control I have to say“.
He was then asked was Vettel’s decision to ignore team orders acceptable and responded, “No, the team will have to have a word because we have to control the drivers. Its not like it is at Mercedes where there is a clear number one and number 2, we basically treat the drivers the same”. Good one Helmut, deflect the attention and stir some grief for Niki and co.
Christian Horner, never one to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when 10,000 words can be used was asked directly whether Sebastian Vettell had disobeyed team orders had this to say (eventually). “After the final round of pit stops we gave instructions to both cars. Of course Mark’s going to be aggrieved by it but the instructions were clear, they were clear for all to hear”.
This was evident to the world as Horner told Vettel on the radio that he was being ‘silly’ and Rocky commentd following the chequered flag, “you clearly wanted that badly, but you’ll now have to give some explanations”.
The team photograph with the trophies was cancelled. During the FIA drivers’ press conference for the written media, it was reported that Sebastian apoligised to Mark Webber, however the Aussie was in no mood to hear it.
Here’s what the drivers said during the post podium media interviews in the ‘pen’, firstly from Webber.
He was asked whether he accepted Vettel’s apology. “I respect Sebastian, but it is still very raw at the moment because we have a plan before the race how things will be given this scenario”.
The reporter then suggested there was no point to an agreement if both parties don’t adhere to it and Webber replied, “I was completely reassured twice that we were not going to abuse the cars on each other because it was very easy for us to not get any points. It’s very hard for everybody to understand the whole scenario there’s a lot of people who think they know the whole situation but unfortunately it’s not possible for them to understand everything”.
The next question Webber fielded was regarding team morale going forward and he was coded in his reply. “It puts a lot of heat on certain people for sure – inevitably it does. Unfortunately there is no rewind button now so the scenario is now a bit more challenging for certain people.
Its 3 weeks to the next race, so we are fortunate we have 3 weeks. I will catch some waves in Australia on my board so this will be good medicine for me. But there were a lot of things in my mind during the last 15 laps of the grand prix to be honest but whether the medicine is enough – we’ll see”.
Sebastian was asked how he intended to build bridges with his team mate. “We respect each other so in that regard there is nothing that has to be fixed. We don’t hate each other so there is nothing to worry about for going into the next couple of races. I messed up today and I want to apologise for that but right now I want to tell the truth – I wasn’t aware of it otherwise I wouldn’t take that much risk to pass someone I wasn’t supposed to pass at that moment.
But just before we got out on the podium, I had a very quick word and yeah it was quite a shock and not easy for me to admit but that’s the truth so I want to stick to the truth”.
Sebastian was asked if the victory was a sour one and he responded, “I don’t care about the criticism, I owe an explanation to mark and the team – everyone is entitled to their opinions – but for sure this is not a victory I’m very proud of because it should have been Mark’s”.
Vettel is clearly maintaining he didn’t know he was being told to hold station, despite both Horner and Marko’s crystal clear assertions. In a later interview sebastian appears to modify his position.
“I got the call and I ignored it. Mark and I are used to fighting each other when we’re close, but with the tyres how they are now, and not knowing how long they will last, it was an extremely big risk to ignore the call to stay second”.
The problem for Red Bull is that since team orders have been allowed they claim that the drivers receive equal treatment and it is the interests of the team that come first and the driver is an employee of the team. Well the genie is out of the bottle, and should Vettel find himself in a situation where the WDC is tight and 3 incremental points make all the difference; and should he need those points to be delivered with the co-operation of his team mate – What will Webber do?
I have heard today that there are a number within the team believe that Sebastian today went too far. Ruthless in pursuit of winning is fine, but in taking an unfair advantage of his team mate who had out manouvred him all race, Vettel’s actions are tantamount to cheating.
Webber had turned down the engine as instructed when he was mugged by a dangerous move adjacent to the concrete pit wall. Further, David Coultard commented live at the time of the Vettel ‘pass’ that it Mark could easily have run him wide and defended the position coming out of turn 4. This analysis was borne out by SKY presenter and racer Anthony Davidson.
Mark Webber is the oldest driver in F1 at present, he has a contract to the end of the year, who knows what he will decide to do when presented with wheel to wheel racing with his team mate.
Vettel was heckled on the podium in Australia and he should be careful because it does matter what people other than Mark and the team think. Today there there are those in the media who shape the news and what F1 fans read that are asking “is Vettel in fact Schumacher in disguise?”