Malaysian GP Review

There is no doubt that today will go down in the history books for all the wrong reasons; in spite of the great racing skill that has continued from Melbourne. The podium today said it all. None of the drivers wished to be there at all and the tension between them was painful to watch. I fear that from this point that anything Vettel achieves this year will be dismissed and that this might be something of a stereotypical label of his atittude or his ‘true colours’ or whatever. Those saying he has no ability have no evidence of which to prove it: no driver that wins three titles in a row has a lack of ability,skill or talent, but that’s what he’ll have to put up with more this year and it’s his own fault.

Vettel drove well in the very short first stint on the Intermediate tyres with the wet-dry track. However he made the call to come in for dry tyres too early and Webber’s engineer Simon Rennie recognised this and kept Mark out for a further two laps and he subsequently came out ahead of Sebastian, into the lead. Webber stayed strong in that position on the slower Hard-compound tyres and with Vettel and the two Mercedes following close behind. However it was only after the second stops that Vettel got himself less than a second behind for the DRS device to be used and it was on lap 28 when Sebastian complained; “Mark’s too slow. Get him out of the way” After this comment Webber pulled away again and a blistering two laps from Hamilton after his third stop put Lewis ahead of Sebastian. But Hamilton’s pace would drop off dramatically as Mercedes had ran him short of fuel due to a change of stratergy because of the wet start and because he hounded the Red Bulls for over half the race. Vettel easily made his way back past and tried to undercut Webber in his fourth and final stop. Now Christian Horner eluded to Red Bull’s standard pre-race aggreement in that whichever Red Bull is ahead after the final stops; takes the win. Upon leaving his fourth stop; Webber was confronted by Vettel on the outside of turn one and the Vettel made several attempts to pass Webber just after the end of the first sector at turn five. The thrilling battle continued two laps later as Vettel used the DRS to make a pass on the pit-straight, but Webber edged him over to the wall in what has to be said was a dangerous manouvre. Vettel regardless, kept his foot down and had the inside for turn one. Webber got back ahead with the inside line for turn two just yards later but by turn four Vettel had taken the lead and Webber stopped the resistance albeit for another dive to the outside on the next lap, and a middle finger for good measure. You can’t blame him though. All the times he had to concede to Vettel for the benefit of Vettel and on one of the rare occassions in which Sebastian has to follow a team order he refuses in spectacular fashion. You’d also think he would have been a little more muted in his victory celebration but he was more just as ecstatic as always. What a way to kick someone when they are down. Webber composed himself before entering the ‘cool down’ room before the podium ceremony. Hamilton certainly made sure he got out of the way as Webber at first ignored Vettel, but then said in frustration: “Multi 21 Seb?” That is the code for the team order Sebastian ignored. The following events simply speak for themselves and make any judgement you wish on the Red Bull personel involved in the post-race admition and ducking. I have said enough.

Further back The Mercedes made a good account of themselves in third and fourth. The pushed Red Bull hard until Hamilton’s fuel issue. After that they pushed each other, swapping places a few times before Hamilton stayed ahead. Ross Brawn made sure of that despite Rosberg’s protests. At that point of the race he was faster but Hamilton was suffering from a team error and was not at full capacity. You can’t ask one driver to back off and let the other one overtake can you? Maybe… Maybe not… Hamilton himself was requesting that he let Rosberg go through into third but Ross himself reminded Lewis that was also breaking team orders. Both Nico and Lewis were very mature in their post-race reaction. Lewis admitted he felt terrible to take third in that way and that “Nico should be up here, not me”. Nico was a breath of fresh air to listen to amongst all the paddock tension. When the facts were layed out before him he accepted the choice of the team, congratulated Lewis and was enthusiastic about their performance in the knowledge that the same could be done for him but that Lewis “doesn’t owe me one at all”

Where were Ferrari in all of this? They were tipped to take a one – two by some pundits from second and third! Alonso was caught out by Vettel’s caution at the start and damaged one of the front wing pylons from the smallest of contact. The wet conditions masked his damage slightly as he made his way back past Webber for second. Ferrari used this as evidence to take a gamble on leaving Alonso out with the wonky front-wing until the conditions dried out. However by the start of lap two the other pylon failed and his wing went underneath his front wheels; leaving him a passenger as he skidded towards the gravel trap. A lost contender from the race. Massa had a poor start and ended up behind Button and Hulkenberg by the end of the first stint. Had some good scraps in the latter stages that concluded with an easy overtake on Grosjean with two laps to go. Fifth was a reasonable recovery but it should have been more for Ferrari. Lotus had a bad day in general. Both started from the midfield and lost out in the opening laps. Though still showing good raw pace with several installments of the fastest lap from both Raikkonen and Grojsean; they never really recovered properly. Kimi lost alot of time fighting with Perez and Hulkenberg in addition to the two minor off’s he had which were not like Kimi from recent times. At least both finished the race in sixth and seventh so it’s decent damage limitation for Lotus against Red Bull.

Hulkenberg drove an on-the-limit and aggressive race today for eighth and Sauber’s first points of the season. Pressured Button in the early stages, then Massa, Perez and the Lotus drivers later on. A slight question of unsafe release from the Sauber pit-crew into the path of Raikkonen. Plus a small question of driving etiquette with Hulkenberg giving Kimi a nudge which made Kimi more vocal than usual! Apart from that it was a solid race. Gutierrez was a little off the pace but he does have a formidable and highly rated team-mate in Hulkenberg and should be given more time to prove himself. Despite only picking up another two points today: McLaren can take comfort with the step forward they made this weekend. They can just about call themselves the fifth fastest package; just ahead of Force India and Sauber, but i think Button slightly out-performed the car today. He did predict that the smoother surface would limit the ride issues they had in Melbourne and this allowed Button to work on a better set-up for a more balanced car. The warmer temperatures will have helped with the tyres too with Button trying to stretch out a three stop race that ended in tears with another calamitous McLaren pit-stop. That effectively ruined his chance of points and he retired in the closing stages. Perez had a better race than last weekend but got involved in too many scraps with the Lotus cars, Massa and Hulkenberg to really perfect his three stop stratergy which turned to four in the last two laps. Still, they should be able to look forward to a three week break with which they can bring a few small updates from to Shanghai and Bahrain. They should start a decent points haul for themselves come the start of the European season at Barcelona but they must keep up development to a high standard and irradicate pit-stop errors if they want to have a chance at the championship which is already 38 points back from Vettel in the Drivers title and 62 back from Red Bull in the Constructors.

Force India showed much promise on Friday and Saturday as they looked to trouble the ‘big guns’ like they did in Melbourne. They certainly looked like they could take a double points finish until the disasterous pit-stops which were the eventual cause of both Sutil’s and Di Resta’s retitrements. The captive wheel-nut system which is new for Force India this year had failed due to the hot temperatures expanding materials. When the wheel was taken off along with the wheel nut, it’s insert remained on the wheel hub so the new tyre couldn’t be seated on it and had to be removed manually. They stopped both cars on safety grounds but the cars had over-heated anyway. Toro Rosso did well to get their first point of the year in tenth place with Jean Eric Vergne which may have been a little lucky given Button’s issues but having said that they lost plenty of time at their first stops with Vergne being released into the path of Caterham’s Charles Pic who was entering the neighbouring pit-box. Both had damage that needed reparing and Toro Rosso were fined by the FIA stewards. Ricciardo must feel a little frustrated not to finish again with an exhaust failure and Toro Rosso must make sure they sort that for Shanghai.

Williams had another poor paced race which was expected given how it’s only a week between events. However it wasn’t helped by an off into the gravel (again) for Maldonado who retired with KERS issues i think (but don’t hold me to that). Things did improve towards the end of the race for Bottas however who is doing himself no harm at the moment with his perfomances compared to Maldonado. 11th was a solid finish and was a little unlucky to come away empty handed. At the back end of the field Bianchi was a again easily winning that battle for Marrussia with 13th and pretty comfortably ahead of the Caterhams and his team-mate Chilton. Even if Pic hadn’t lost time in the pit-lane collision with Vergne, he still wouldn’t have mounted much of a challenge.

In relation to the massive controversy today; can Vettel recover from it straight away? It’s the first time he has been singled out for such harsh critisism from the media and to some extent his team. Apart from Helmut Marko who tried desperatley to deflect attention to the non-issue at Mercedes instead of blaming Vettel. How will it effect Mark? That must have been demoralising for him today and it could be a crossroads of his career, depending what he decides to do about the situation. In other news Hamilton has been welcomed to catch-up with the McLaren catering facilities any time; just not his old pit-box! China should offer cool conditions so could that bring Lotus back into play? Will it place Red Bull on the back foot? Mercedes were excellent there last year so can they be as kind to their tyres this year? Alonso and Ferrari will be chomping at the bit to make up for the lost ground this weekend while McLaren could spring a suprise too…. F1 in 2013 has just got serious.

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