Malaysian Grand Prix: Race Analysis

An unbelievable Malaysian Grand Prix, described by David Croft as a “high speed game of chess” concluded in controversial fashion. Sebastian Vettel managed to take the win, at the expense of teammate Mark Webber, who had been told that his position was safe from Vettel behind. Subsequently, the Aussie turned the engine down and preserved the tyres, only to find that Sebastian was taking matters into his own hands. The total disregard for team orders meant that Vettel managed to fight his way past a furious Webber, however, his 27th career win is certainly an unsavory one.
After Mark Webber had controlled large portions of the race, he had the lead after the final round of pitstops. Since Red Bull had struggled with tyre wear all weekend, Christian Horner had asked the drivers to hold position and secure the one-two finish. However, Sebastian Vettel continued his assault on Mark Webber. A ferocious duel took place over two laps, where Horner told Vettel, “come on Seb, this is silly”. Eventually, Vettel took P1 and went on to win the race.
As expected, tensions where high as the drivers arrived in Parc Ferme. A frustrated Webber was left disillusioned by the whole situation. While the Vettel, Webber relationship has not always been a stable one, Webber will surly struggle to trust Sebastian or his team, ever again. Christian Horner is now seemingly powerless within the team, as Sebastian Vettel has demonstrated a total disregard for their interests.
During the podium interviews, Mark Webber vented his exasperation, stating: “In the end we got the right strategy and after the last stop the team told me to turn the engine down. In the end Seb made his own decisions today and will have protection as usual, and that’s the way it goes”, which suggests Mark’s anger at constantly having to play the second driver role, even when he is performing better than the German. “I turned my engine down and started cruising on the tyres, and then the fight was on and as we know he’s a quick peddler. I was disappointed with the outcome of today’s race.”
Meanwhile, Christian Horner described the “uncomfortable” situation to Sky Sports F1 at the end of the race. “They took it into their own hands, which was uncomfortable for us – we gave them instructions to hold station but Sebastian took it into his own hands to win the race – he wanted to win. They’ve raced each other hard before – they’re very good drivers. There are points at stake and they both want to win. For the team it’s hugely uncomfortable. It’s difficult when you have two competitive drivers like ours. It’s difficult to watch because you could end up giving up 43 points. You have to remember there’s two elements to F1 – there’s a Drivers’ Championship and a Constructors’ Championship.” While many people are calling for Red Bull to discipline Sebastian, it is unlikely that any action (if taken) will be made public. Christian Horner’s main priority will be to build bridges between the two drivers and maintain team morale. While Red Bull have experienced difficulties in the past, this is one of the worst, which will take excellent management to repair the cracks within the team. Christian will certainly be earning his money over the next few weeks.
In the press conference after the race, Sebastian Vettel admitted his error of judgement and apologized to his teammate. However, Sebastian stated that he did not ignore ‘Multi-21’ intentionally. “I want to say sorry to Mark,” he said. “I did a big mistake today. We should have stayed in the positions we were in. I didn’t ignore the order on purpose but I messed up in that situation. I took the lead from Mark, which I can see now he is upset about, but I want to be honest and stick to truth, and apologize  I took quite a lot of risk to pass him and I should have behaved better. It doesn’t help his feelings right now. Apologies to Mark and now result is there, but all I can say is that I didn’t do it deliberately.” While the apology has been made, it is little consolation for Webber, who would have been the joint championship leader, had the orders been followed. It is easy for Sebastian to apologize now, when the points are decided, but it does not alter the situation.  
Meanwhile, Ferrari were the biggest disappointment of the day. After a qualifying session which promised so much, the race delivered so little. Fernando Alonso retired uncharacteristically on the second lap after early contact with Sebastian Vettel at turn 2. The Spaniard locked up, collided with the rear of the Red Bull and breaking the left hand support pillar of his front wing. Ferrari made the call at the end of the lap to keep Alonso out on track. Their apparent aim was to delay the stop until the track dried out, in which case, the team could make the switch to slicks and change the front wing at the same time. Just moments later this proved to be a costly mistake, as at the end of the pit straight, the front wing collapsed and became lodged underneath the car. It was the end of Alonso’s race as he slid off and into the gravel at turn 1. Meanwhile, Felipe Massa struggled for race pace after a poor start which demoted him to P6. It was a forgettable day for the Scuderia, who will hope for a turn of fortunes in China.
As the race unfolded, Mercedes displayed impressive race pace, taking the battle to Red Bull. After the second phase of pit-stops, Hamilton was able to snatch P2 away from Vettel. Unfortunately, Mercedes had misjudged their own race pace, meaning that Hamilton had been critically under-fueled. Subsequently, it was not long before Sebastian Vettel had managed to retake the position and Mercedes were forced to employ their own team orders. In the closing stages, Nico Rosberg had the measure of Hamilton and despite pleading with the team, Ross Brawn maintained that the pair had to hold position. This was understandable considering their strong position. While Nico could gain a podium position, the Red Bull’s were too far ahead for the German to mount a challenge, while Massa was too far behind to be a threat. For Mercedes, it was important to bring both drivers home safely and while Rosberg would have loved to claim P3, he accepted the team’s reasoning behind the orders, (despite a rather heated conversation across the radio during the race). In the end, he was magnanimous and reflected positively on the race result. “It’s a team effort and I respected the team’s opinion,” he said, speaking to Sky Sports F1. It was an important day. We’ve had such a tough time in past years, so to be third and fourth, and fighting the Red Bulls, is such a milestone. For the team to want us to bring it home third and fourth is fully understandable and I know if it had been the other way around they would’ve done the same thing. There will be times to fight between team-mates in the future.”
Nevertheless, Lewis Hamilton expressed his sympathy towards Rosberg on the podium, stating his displeasure at taking P3 considering the circumstances. During the podium interview, the Brit stated: “The team did a fantastic job if I am honest I really feel Nico should be standing here, he had a better race than me. I can’t say it’s the best feeling being up here but racing is racing.” Earlier in the race, Lewis experienced a bizarre moment, when he briefly returned to McLaren for a quick pit-stop. Lewis drove into the McLaren box, before being swiftly ushered through by the mechanics who were waiting for Jenson Button. I guess habits can be difficult to break!
Elsewhere, Force India were another team who failed to deliver after showing great pace across the weekend. The team suffered two pit-stops where the car was stationary for over a minute as the team struggled with captive wheel nut issues. Both cars had the opportunities to finish in the points, but were forced to retire soon after their respective pit-stops after components had become over-heated during the lengthy stationary periods. Sutil reflected on the disappointing performance, stating: “An early end to a race that promised so much for us. Both cars had the same problem with the wheel nuts and it cost us a lot of time in the pits. We’re not sure exactly what happened yet so the team stopped the cars to make sure we understand the issue. It’s a shame that this happened here because we had a very quick car today and I felt very comfortable as the track dried out. We have to stay positive, keep our heads up and remember that there are plenty of races left where we can make up for the disappointment of today.”
Meanwhile, McLaren also faced pit-stop woes, as Jenson Button left his box before the right front wheel had been properly attached. The Brit had to be pushed back into the pit box, so that the wheel could be attached correctly. This calamitous error cost the Brit an impressive P5, as the MP4-28 shows signs of improvement. “It’s easy for me to say we would have been on the podium as we didn’t finish and I am sure a lot of people will disagree with me, but I think we had a chance to fight with the Mercedes,” he told Sky Sports F1. We had one less pit-stop to do, but I don’t know what would have happened, but I think at worst it would have been fifth. We could have pushed the Mercedes and they were fighting between themselves so it could have been interesting.”
The race was full of talking points and the situation at Red Bull is one which will not disappear in the near future. Vettel will have lost many admirers after today’s fiasco.


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