The 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix will forever go down in history, as the race Mark Webber won, but had to concede the position to Sebastian Vettel.
It was an exiting race with plenty of close calls and near-misses, but then trailed off into a rather muted affair with 15 laps to go. Last race winner Kimi Raikkonen was not able to transform his 10th place start into a victory, as he did in the opening race at Melbourne Park last week, and after just one lap Fernando Alonso had to retire his Ferrari, as the team botched up their strategy completely.
And team strategy, or lack thereof, is the main theme of today´s article. Alonso made a great start from 3rd and was able to get right under the rear of Vettel´s Red Bull, but stepped in a little wet spot and just hit the back of the car in front. That caused some damage to the front wing, resulting in the left part of the wing to scrape along the asphalt for the first lap. Everyone then thought that Ferrari would pit Alonso so he could have a new wing fitted, thus continuing the race, and very likely be able to finish in a point scoring position. The team did not do that. Instead they did nothing at all, leaving their man out on the track to battle with the wing, and Mark Webber, until right after the first lap was done. On the main straight of lap 2, Webber saw an opportunity to get rid of Alonso without being a bastard, so he managed to get the better line out, climbed on the back of Alonso´s car and overtook him towards Turn 1. This caused the air in front of Alonso´s car to be disrupted, so he lost downforce and the Spaniard wasn´t able to turn into the corner, but ended his day in the gravel.
A tough day for Alonso, but not at all a good day for Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton has been heavily criticized for being bullish about his options and future at Mercedes, some say that he is burning the bridges, others that it is much to early to fight for podiums. But in the race last week and today, Hamilton showed exactly what he is worth. Every single penny. From start to finish Hamilton controlled the car and the surrounding conditions to perfection, despite a little trip to visit his old employer at the McLaren garage during a pit stop, and he ended up in 3rd place. So well done to the Hamster, right? Wrong. During the final stages of the race, Nico Rosberg was able to lap faster than Hamilton, because Hamilton was told to preserve fuel and it was clear to all that it was a matter of time before he took the Stevenage Speedster for the final podium place. He even asked for permission, but then Ross Brawn came on the radio and just said no. Rosberg settled for 4th, just behind Hamilton, but neither men were happy with that decision. In fact, when Rosberg parked his car, Brawn hailed his performance and said he did a good job and that they need to discuss the events further in the debriefing later. To which Rosberg replied: “Remember this one.”
A threat? Possibly. But Nico Rosberg is not content with being second driver to Lewis Hamilton, as both drivers see themselves as equals. And after thr race, Hamilton has clearly stated that Rosberg should have been on the podium instead of him, saying “If I’m honest I really feel like Nico should be standing here, generally he had better pace than me throughout the race. But he’s a great team mate and did a fantastic job today.”
Rosberg has replied to his good friend, that it was nice to hear, and added: “I understand I drive for Mercedes, for you guys at home who put your life into building this car over the winter and doing such a fantastic job. I’m pleased to be able to do such a great result for the team.
“But of course there’s a small side of me where I want to go flat out all the way to the end and we up on the podium myself. But the time will come for that.”
To make the podium takes a lot of every driver, but todays´podium has to be one of the most cringe-worthy things I´ve ever watched in modern F1. Sebastian Vettel, who by the way won the race, was not really pleased with the results. he basically stole the win from Mark Webber, who looked like he was about to erupt at the drivers lounge immediately after the race.
The reason for this, is that Webber lead for most of the race and after the last pit stop, he was told to turn his engine down. This means that he goes off the setting which spends the most fuel, and instead cruises a little, in order to save fuel and material. This is even agreed upon before the race starts, and the deal was to save the engines and cruise, if possible. However, Sebastian Vettel obviously and blatantly chose to ignore this and instead attacked Webber for the lead. At first he failed, but then Vettel made the best of the DRS zones, squeezing past Webber to claim a very un-popular win.
“After the last stop, the team told me the race was over. We turned the engine down to get to the end. I want to race as well, but the team made a decision which we always say before the start; we look after the tyres and get the cars to the end.
“In the end Seb made his own decisions today and will get protection as usual, and that’s the way it goes. I turned my engine down and started cruising on the tyres, and then the fight was on. I was disappointed with the outcome of today’s race.”
Ok, so let´s discuss this. Should Vettel stay behind Webber? Yes he should. Of course, because this is agreed upon between Christian Horner, Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, so there. But should a driver always push if he is able? Yes again. There will always be a line that is crossed whenever a driver takes a decision into his own hands. Vettel was told to conserve fuel and to not race Webber, but ignored it and won the race. Nothing will happen, because he is a three time world champion, so of course he can basically do whatever he bloody well pleases. And here is what is interesting.
When Vettel did attack Webber, Horner was not at all happy about it, naturally, saying it was silly of him to attack, when they should save the cars and try not to make mistakes. But wait a minute. First of all we have a three-time world champion who races for a living. Everything he does, from he wakes up until he goes to bed, is about being number one. Don´t tell a natural born racer, like Vettel, not to race. The problem is not the team order, the problem is that despite his three world titles, Red Bull is showing a tremendous lack of faith in their driver, which I have to say is very un-settling and quite honestly, disgusting. Horner has clearly showed that the team is pushing Vettel forward to be the best driver ever and will no doubt do what they can to make this happen, but at the same time they are telling him to behave and do what he is told. Rubbish.
It either shows how immature Vettel still is, the little spoiled brat who always gets what he wants or how cynical Red Bull really is. I don´t know, but I know that Mark Webber just increased his value a lot and that Mercedes better need to get the big pen out, when it´s time for Rosberg to negotiate a renewal of his contract.