The Malaysian Grand Prix usually doesn’t fail to provide a thrilling race. Last year we saw Fernando Alonso holding off youngster Sergio Perez to win in wet weather, and this time round we saw a slightly different picture. Plagued by controversy it was more the after story rather than the race itself grabbing the headlines. So let us delve into what happened over the weekend’s action.

Qualifying

Qualifying produced a mixed bag of results with it being dry for Q1 and the beginning of Q2, and wet for the rest of the hour. Q1 saw the usual suspects fail to qualify for Q2. Marussia won the battle of back end with Jules Bianchi gaining 19th nearly a second quicker that Charles Pic in the Caterham who could only manage 20th. Max Chilton wasn’t too far off Pic’s pace getting 21st and van der Garde occupied 22nd. Fellow newcomer Bottas could only manage 18th behind the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne. Q2 started dry but soon turned to wet. Most of the drivers went out early to capitalise on the dry conditions, but Pastor Maldonado left it too late and was 16th because he didn’t set a time. Paul Di Resta was unlucky, as on his fastest lap he spun on the now slippery track which resulted in him qualifying 15th.

Gutierrez was the highest placed rookie managing 14th in the Sauber with his teammate Hulkenberg in 12th. Daniel Ricciardo achieved 13th in the Toro Rosso and Romain Grosjean narrowly missed out on the top 10 by securing 11th. The top 10 was a battle of the intermediate tyres on a mostly wet but partly dry track. Both McLarens managed to get into the top 10 with Button 8th and Perez 10th. Adrian Sutil had been fast all weekend and was 9th in the mixed conditions. Kimi Raikkonen in the Lotus qualified 7th behind the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg in 6th. Rosberg’s teammate Lewis Hamilton had more pace in the wet conditions by nearly a second and achieved 4th. Mark Webber separated the two Mercedes drivers in 5th. Massa once again beat Alonso in qualifying getting onto the front row of the gird in 2nd place with the title hungry Spaniard in 3rd. Vettel somehow managed to go a whole second faster than Massa to gain pole position with a 1:49.6.
Raikkonen was penalised three grid spaces and started 10th on the grid because he was deemed to have impeded a fast lap Nico Rosberg had been on. Looking at the footage of the ‘incident’ both Sutil and Raikkonen were ahead of Rosberg on track. It looked like Sutil went to the outside of the corner to allow Rosberg to pass, yet Raikkonen held the racing line ahead of the German driver.

 

The Race

The race weekend started wet, so everyone opted for intermediate tyres. The beginning part of the track was the wettest, whereas the rest of the circuit was damp but drying out with every passing lap. Webber perhaps made the best start out of the front runners leaping into 2nd place by the end of lap one. Alonso didn’t have as much luck as his front wing bumped into the rear of Vettel at turn two, which caused some mild damage. In a normal race they would have pitted him immediately and changed the front nose, but Ferrari took a gamble to keep him out longer in the hope they could swap to dry tyres at the same time as changing the nose. The gamble didn’t pay off and he crashed out at the end of the start/finish straight as his nose buckled and flew under the front wheels.

Vettel made a surprisingly early pitstop onto dry weather tyres as he pitted on lap 5. He did lose a considerable amount of places as he was slipping around the early part of the lap, but on the dryer sections his car looked the strongest. All the other teams then decided to follow suit and everyone was back onto the slick tyres by lap 7. Webber capitalised on Vettel’s early pit stop and took the lead by lap 9. Force India had a terrible time with their second round of pitstops as the wheels wouldn’t fit onto the car correctly. Whether it was a jack or a wheel nut issue remains to be seen, but what we saw was mechanics having a torrid time fitting them on. First Sutil then Di Resta suffered this fate and had to retire after showing promise all weekend for a strong points finish. Button also suffered some pitstop tyre errors on lap 35 as his front right was not correctly fitted and he had to be pushed back to his garage to have it re-fitted. McLaren later retired the car. Lewis Hamilton decided to drive into his old pit box at McLaren instead of his own one at Mercedes. McLaren tweeted “Feel free to pop in and say “hi” any time, @LewisHamilton!” Which I thought was quite witty of his former employers.

The biggest scandal of the race was the battle between Red Bull teammates Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel. Vettel had been on the team radio requesting that his team order Mark to move out of his way. I know team orders are allowed but unless one of your drivers is significantly holding up the other, the driver shouldn’t be able to make that call. That is a team decision. The main controversy of this race was on lap 45 where Vettel overtook Webber down the start/finish straight in a slightly dangerous manner. Red Bull as a team agreed to keep position after the final round of pitstops which meant Webber would maintain 1st and Vettel stayed in 2nd. This way they maximise the points earned for the team. Vettel however made repeated attempts to get past his Australian teammate much to the annoyance of Team Principle Christian Horner. Horner’s most evident message heard over the team radio was “This is silly Seb, come on.”. Webber echoed the sentiment “Multi 21” in the pre-podium footage which is apparently code for staying in your position at Red Bull. Mercedes also had similar problems with Nico Rosberg complaining to Ross Brawn that he was faster than Lewis Hamilton but was not allowed to pass. Rosberg however did what he was asked to do, which enabled them to finish 3rd and 4th.

The podium did look incredibly sombre, with very little celebration from Vettel, Webber or Hamilton. Adrian Newey looked the happiest on the podium as he collected the trophy for the winning constructor. In the post race interviews Vettel did seem very apologetic towards what had happened, but he blamed not understanding the orders correctly and hearing them, but not taking heed of them. How many times has Webber had to play second fiddle to Vettel wanting to win? Many times over the past few seasons, and Webber has been nothing but a team player, yet when the roles are reversed, Vettel completely disregards orders. He is very much a ‘team’ player…

Here is the top 10 from the Malaysian GP:
1 – Sebastian Vettel
2 – Mark Webber
3 – Lewis Hamilton
4 – Nico Rosberg
5 – Felipe Massa
6 – Romain Grosjean
7 – Kimi Raikkonen
8 – Nico Hulkenberg
9 – Sergio Perez
10 – Jean-Eric Vergne

In the driver’s championship after his 3rd place in Australia and win here in Malaysia Vettel takes an early lead with 40 points. Raikkonen is 2nd on 31 and Webber 3rd on 26 points. After Ferrari’s positive start in the constructors’ championship they drop to 3rd after Alonso’s DNF, but are tied on points with Mercedes with 40. Red Bull now has the lead on 66 points.

The next race is in Shanghai, China on April 14th which will be live on the BBC and Sky. I wonder if Webber would have cooled off by then… We shall wait and see.

The Awards!

Who is winning what this week….

Driver of the Day
Mark Webber
Cruelly robbed of a win that he certainly deserved, as he had led most of the race.

Team of the Day
Mercedes
Both drivers drove superbly to secure a 3rd and 4th placed finish. Ross Brawn still knows his stuff.

Not so Car of the Day
Force India
Massively unlucky to have both cars have failures with their tyres. They had good pace all weekend and looked strong contenders.

The Silly Award
‘Silly’ Sebastian Vettel
Ignoring team orders and being too eager to win. You can’t have it all your own way Sebastian.

Full Race Results
Current Championship Standings

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This article was first posted on March 26, 2013