Malaysian GP: Vettel ignores team orders and wins at Sepang, Webber livid
By Berthold Bouman
After a sensational race at Sepang International Circuit for round two of the FIA Formula One World Championship, Sebastian Vettel is leading the Drivers’ Championship — after he ignored team orders. Mark Webber was livid after Vettel passed him, as the Red Bull team had told both drivers to hold position to save the tyres, Vettel decided to ignore the requests from his team and after a bitter, but sensational battle on track, Vettel emerged as the winner of the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Vettel later apologized, but gave no explanation, and said, “I messed up today. I would love to come up with a nice excuse as to why I did it, but I can’t. I can understand Mark’s frustration and the team not being happy with what I did today; I owe an explanation to him and the whole team.”
And he added, “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.”
Webber was livid after Vettel denied him victory – Photo: Red Bull Racing
Webber was very disappointed after Vettel overtook him, but he nevertheless remained calm and said, “I think Sebastian has respect for me and I have respect for him, but the situation today was not handled well. It’s hard to put your finger on it all now after the race; when we’re racing on the limit and pushing as hard as we can, then it’s the worst situation for a team.”
Just seconds after the start a sensational race unfolded, all drivers started on the intermediates as it had rained just ahead of the start of the race. It was a great start for Vettel, he remained in the lead, but Fernando Alonso, who was a bit too eager, hit Vettel’s Red Bull and the Spaniard damaged his front wing and at Turn 1 the wing got wedged under the front wheels of the Ferrari and Alonso ended up in the gravel trap, his race was over.
But the wet track very quickly dried out and Vettel was the first to switch to the slicks, he soon started to make progress and others followed and also pitted for slicks. A number of drivers encountered problems during their first stop, Force India driver Adrian Sutil lost a lot of time when there was a problem changing the left rear wheel and the German lost a lot of time.
More pandemonium in the pit lane as Charles Pic in the Caterham hit the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne, who had to be pushed back to his slot for a new front wing. Webber meanwhile, had taken over the lead from Vettel, Hamilton was third, Nico Rosberg fourth and Jenson Button was fifth for McLaren. Hamilton had an embarrassing problem in the pit lane, he stopped at his old McLaren team, his old mechanics waved him off in the right direction.
Button had done the same during the 2011 Chinese Grand Prix, when he stopped at the Red Bull box, and Hamilton said, “I just did a Jenson! He did that a couple of years ago. For so many years I’ve been used to driving in to the McLaren pit stop and I don’t know how I got it wrong but a big apology to my team!”
A race to forget for Force India – Photo: Sahara Force India
Webber remained in the lead after his second stop, but disaster struck again for Force India when Paul di Resta’s car fell off the jacks and the Scot lost a lot of time before he finally could leave the pit lane. When Sutil pitted, there was again a problem, this time there was a problem changing the left front wheel, poor Sutil lost almost a minute before he left the pit lane and rejoined the race in 20th place.
But the misery wasn’t over for the Indian team, not much later di Resta came in and parked his car in the garage, a few laps later also Sutil returned to the pit lane and his race was also over. It was later established the wheel nuts had caused the problems.
Also Button had a problem in the pit lane, his left front wheel hadn’t been secured properly, he stopped after a few metres and he was pushed back to fix the problem and lost a lot of time as well. It also was a miserable day for McLaren, Button later retired and Sergio Perez finished in ninth place, scoring two points. Strangely enough, Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh later stated his team had made significant progress.
While Vettel chose to ignore his team’s orders, Nico Rosberg decided to stay behind Lewis Hamilton after he had requested to overtake the 2008 World Champion, both drivers were low on fuel and Team Principal Ross Brawn had told them to take it easy to save fuel. Rosberg was obviously disappointed but nevertheless stayed behind Hamilton.
Also team orders for Hamilton and Rosberg – Photo: Mercedes-Benz
Meanwhile, Vettel had built up a seven second lead after his fight with Webber, the Australian was perhaps too angry and disappointed and he didn’t even bother to close in on Vettel, and thus he finished in second place, followed by Hamilton and Rosberg.
Felipe Massa had no problems at all and had some fun overtaking both Lotus cars, the Brazilian finished in fifth place, followed by Grosjean and Raikkonen who were sixth and seventh.
During the podium interview Hamilton said his third place, his first podium for Mercedes, actually belonged to Rosberg, he wasn’t happy with the team orders either as he knew Rosberg had been faster.
“If I’m honest I really feel that Nico should be standing here, he generally had better pace than me throughout the race but he’s a great team mate and he did a fantastic job today,” he said, adding, “On our side I was fuel saving for a long, long time so unable to keep the pace of the guys at the front but nonetheless we brought it home, the guys did a great job and I’m proud to be up here for them.”
Massa had problems with his tyres during the early stages of the race and said, “The biggest problem at the beginning of the race was the graining I was having on the tyres. I lost a lot of positions because of that and a lot of time compared to the guys in front, maybe 0.3s per lap. In the dry it was fine and the pace was good so if it was not for this problem at the start of the race maybe I would have had a chance to fight for the podium.”
Raikkonen puzzled by loss of pace – Photo: Lotus F1
Raikkonen wasn’t really pleased with his seventh place, and he was puzzled by the loss of pace today. He said about the car, “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.”
And thus it was a race that was won or lost in the pit lane. Today was really the Pirelli show and, as some drivers have already said, the tyres now rule Formula One. Sometimes the show Pirelli puts on is entertaining, sometimes it’s not.
Today spectators saw a great race, but using five sets of tyres during one race is somewhat silly, certainly when the hardest compounds are used like this weekend in Malaysia; it is also a pity two team mates are not allowed to battle for position because they are afraid to ruin the tyres; and on top of that, qualifying also becomes more and more a tyre-saving exercise, which does not contribute to the show.
Next race is the Chinese Grand Prix on April 14 at the Shanghai International Circuit.