March 24th, 2013 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - Sebastian Vettel has won the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang, beating his team-mate Mark Webber after an aggressive pass that was not appreciated by the Red Bull team on the pit wall and seems to have re-opened a rift between the two Red Bull drivers. Lewis Hamilton was third for Mercedes, finishing ahead of Nico Rosberg under team orders.
Mark Webber had the better of Vettel throughout the race, and was leading when the Red Bulls made their final pit stops. At that point, with Mercedes starting to save fuel and therefore not challenging at the front, Red Bull instructed their drivers to turn the engines down and bring the cars home. Webber understood that to mean that he and Vettel were not racing for the win, but Vettel's competitive instincts took over and he made a strong, focused, very aggressive attack on Webber and took the lead after several tense wheel-banging moments. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was unimpressed and told Vettel "This is silly, Seb, come on" on the team radio. In the podium interviews, Webber did not mince his words, making it clear that he felt Vettel was out of line and that the team would likely take no action against Vettel despite his breach of team protocol.
For much of the race, the Red Bull and Mercedes drivers ran within just a few seconds of each other, with Mercedes looking like being able to challenge for the win. In the closing stages, however, Ross Brawn instructed his drivers to save fuel and hold station, much to the annoyance of Nico Rosberg, who wanted to be allowed to pass Hamilton. Rosberg repeatedly asked the team on the pit radio for permission to pass Hamilton, but Ross Brawn refused, instead wanting his drivers to concentrate on getting the cars to the finish. After the race, Brawn thanked both of his drivers on the team radio, and Rosberg responded, "Remember this one," indicating that he was prepared to do what he was told but was not happy about it.
The team orders at Mercedes meant that Lewis Hamilton scored his first podium as a Silver Arrows driver, although he did not seem to enjoy the experience and commented in the interview with Martin Brundle that he felt Rosberg deserved the third place more than he did. Regardless of how satisfied or otherwise the drivers may be with the outcome, the result was a very good one for Mercedes. Third and fourth, after challenging the Red Bulls in the middle part of the race, and well ahead of Felipe Massa in fifth, shows that Mercedes have produced a competitive car and are likely to challenge for wins and possibly even the championship this season.
The race started in wet conditions, with all of the drivers running intermediates and driving carefully to avoid sliding off the track. Fernando Alonso had a good start to be second into the first corner, but touched the back of Vettel's car in turn 2 and broke his front wing. Alonso elected to stay out instead of changing the wing, possibly wanting to pit only when the track was dry enough for slick tyres. On the main straight at the start of the second lap, the wing supports failed and the wing became lodged under Alonso's front tyres. At that point, he had no way of steering and could only try to slow the car with the rear brakes and avoid an accident. Alonso's race was over almost before it had begun.
The rain that fell in the early stages soon disappeared, and the drivers streamed into the pits to change to slicks. Vettel was one of the earliest to make the switch, and it turned out to be too early as he struggled for grip for a couple of laps before the track was dry enough to really justify slick tyres. It was that period that allowed Webber to take the lead, but from then on until Vettel's controversial pass, Webber had the upper hand.
Force India had a miserable day, struggling to get tyres on to their cars in the pits. Eventually, they had no choice but to retire both cars, which was disappoointing after the team had shown promising pace throughout the weekend. McLaren also had a pit stop issue, when Jenson Button left his pit box with a right front tyre that was not properly secured. He had the sense to stop before he left the pitlane and the team wheeled him back to attach the tyre properly, but he had lost a full lap by the time he rejoined the track and eventually retired from 12th place, which was presumably a strategic move from the team to enable them to change his gearbox before the next race in China. McLaren found some significant form this weekend, a complete turnaround from their dismal weekend in Australia - Button was running a strong fifth before his wheel problem, and Perez finished ninth to take his first points for McLaren.
Lotus did not deliver the same performance that was evident last in Australia, but managed to score a decent result nonetheless, with Grosjean finishing sixth ahead of team-mate Raikkonen, who spent much of the afternoon frustrated by a battle with Nico Hulkenberg in which the Sauber driver seemed to defend perhaps a little too aggressively, with contact between the two cars at one point when Hulkenberg made a sudden movement across the track. Hulkenberg finished eighth. Jean-Eric Vergne scored Toro Rosso's first points of the season with 10th place,
After just two races in the season, battle lines are clearly drawn, at least at Red Bull. Sebastian Vettel is targeting a fourth successive World Championship, and he is prepared to throw everything he has at the season in order to achieve it. Red Bull now have work to do to unite what appears to be a divided team, in order to give themselves the best possible chance of maintaining their run of success in 2013. They have a three-week break before the Chinese Grand Prix in which to restore harmony in the team.