Thursday, March 28, 2013

Red Bull Rivalry: Vettel Wins Malaysia Race in Defiance

Photo Credit: Nissan/Infiniti

The Red Bull Racing team left Australia with some minor head-scratching. After a front row domination in qualifying resulted in pole sitter Sebastian Vettel leaving with just a third-place result in the Australian Grand Prix, the Austrian-based Formula 1 juggernaut debuted as a more vulnerable organization. For teams like Scuderia Ferrari, Mercedes AMG and Lotus F1 Team, the Red Bull-Renault race cars' weak performance could be the moment where a new front-runner would emerge. Arriving for the Malaysian Grand Prix, Red Bull Racing was determined to displace any buzz that the team would be easily beaten in 2013.

The second race of the 2013 Formula 1 season, afternoon rain soaked the Sepang International Circuit drawing teams to start on intermediate Pirelli race tires. Taking pole in Saturday qualifying, Sebastian Vettel sat on the front row beside the Ferrari of Felipe Massa. Behind Vettel's Red Bull-Renault, 2012 Formula 1 world championship rival Fernando Alonso enters his 200th grand prix as the reigning event winner. As the start lights went off to signify the beginning of the race, the 56-lap Malaysian Grand Prix would quickly turn horrific for one of the top three grid position holders.

Starting on the wet surface, the entrance into turn one proceeded well for many of the 22 Formula 1 drivers. It was into the second corner that the race changed for defending Malaysian Grand Prix winner Fernando Alonso. Following the Red Bull-Renault of Vettel, Alonso was caught off-guard by the closing rate. Alonso's Ferrari collided with the rear gearbox cover of the Red Bull-Renault race car. The end result was the Ferrari F138 of Fernando Alonso receiving serious harm to the vehicle's front wing. Despite the obvious impact damage, Alonso was able to maintain leader speed through the race's first lap. However, a choice to stay on the track rather than tend to repairing the wing on pit road proved costly. Just as Fernando Alonso sailed into his second lap, his Ferrari's front end structure broke and launched under the race car. Launching the Ferrari F138 off the ground for a second, Alonso slid off the track through the turn one gravel trap. After the spectacular failure, the car came to a safe rest. Fernando Alonso promptly retired from the Malaysian Grand Prix. Ferrari's focus from the rest of the race was on their sole-remaining entry driven by Felipe Massa.

Photo Credit: Pirelli Photo Service

Though race cars started on treaded intermediate tires, a quick-drying track prompted teams to quickly opted for slick Pirelli tires. Sebastian Vettel and Felipe Massa were the first car to stop for medium compound tires on lap 5. An early pit stop made by Mercedes AMG driver Lewis Hamilton was among the more amusing moments of the early season. When pitting for slick tires on lap 7, Hamilton stopped in his former team's service box. Driving six seasons for McLaren, the unexpected reunion was an embarrassment the Mercedes AMG driver hopes not to repeat. At least, for the remainder of the Malaysian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton was able to correctly park to the attention of his Mercedes AMG team.

Another pit blunder came at the Force India garage. Not the fault of drivers or crew members, a new wheel nut on the Force India-Mercedes cars became a race-ending ordeal for both cars. Paul di Resta retired on lap 22 while Adrian Sutil was forced to park his vehicle five laps later.

Photo Credit: Lotus Cars USA

As the race progressed, Red Bull Racing was showing once again they're a force to be reckon with. Important to note is that the lead Red Bull-Renault was the #2 of Mark Webber for much of the Malaysian Grand Prix. Passing Jenson Button on lap 35 for the top spot, Webber controlled the pace of the grand prix through the last series of tire stops. Coming back out in the lead, Mark Webber's mirrors began to fill with the image of Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull-Renault.

Intact to preserve a one-two finish in the easiest possible style, Red Bull Racing gave orders to drivers Webber and Vettel to maintain their positions. However, with top 10 remaining, Sebastian Vettel began challenging his teammate aggressively. In the first part of lap 46, Vettel stalked his teammate with increased attention looking for a way around the Australian Mark Webber. A side-by-side battle ensued briefly between the pair as their team in the paddock nervously watched. In turn four, Vettel gained an advantage on Webber. Sebastian Vettel cruised to his first 2013 victory of the season with the Red Bull RB9 race car. Finishing 4.2 seconds ahead of teammate Mark Webber, only about half the drama of the Malaysian Grand Prix occurred prior to the checkered flag.

Photo Credit: Nissan/Infiniti

A visibly angry Mark Webber had few words for his Red Bull Racing teammate. Frustrated for electing to defy team orders, the mood throughout the podium ceremony was far from celebratory. In post-race Mark Webber stated, “I think Sebastian has respect for me and I have respect for him, but the situation today was not handled well". Webber stood on the podium with Sebastian Vettel and third-place finishing Lewis Hamilton with clear frustration.

Some time after the trophy presentation and champagne shower, cooler heads within the Red Bull Racing squad appeared to have prevailed. The winner of the Malaysian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel left the race with few supporters from his team for this victory. While proud of the achievement of a first win for 2013 and a run that collected maximum constructer points, Red Bull Racing's team principal Chris Horner delivered a diplomatic but critical response. "Unfortunately drivers’ interests can sometimes come into conflict with the teams’. Sebastian decided to take things into his own hands today and race Mark, thankfully making a clean pass and switching the order to the flag. It’s frustrating." said Horner.

Perhaps hungry for a 2013 win on the Formula 1 circuit, comments from Vettel in post-race appeared to have realized a mistake he made against his Red Bull Racing team and teammate. “I messed up today. I would love to come up with a nice excuse as to why I did it, but I can’t. I can understand Mark’s frustration and the team not being happy with what I did today; I owe an explanation to him and the whole team. I will try to explain to them later. We talk about this situation happening many times and what we will do if and when it happens and normally it doesn’t, but today it did and I should have translated the call into action. I got the call and I ignored it". Rumours have swirled that the Red Bull Racing drivers have been icy; however, Mark Webber is not willing to let this race fuel any long-term fires of resentment "There’s a bit of history to this as well; my mind in the last 15 laps was thinking about a lot of things, but I was happy with the way I drove. I tried to isolate what happened at the end and we got something out of it today, but of course I’m not satisfied with the result. This puts heat on a few people and unfortunately there’s no rewind button. I know people want raw emotion from us after these situations and it’s there, but we need to remain cool. There’s three weeks until the next race, so time for us to work on things.” said Webber.

Photo Credit: Mercedes AMG
At the end of the race, Lewis Hamilton commented on his 2013 race team saying, "They worked so hard over the winter and to achieve a podium at the second race of the season is a nice reward, particularly here in Malaysia at one of our home races". Mercedes AMG team sponsor PETRONAS is headquartered in the country. A brief battle among Mercedes AMG teammates also took place in the grand prix is Hamilton bettering Rosberg by 0.5 seconds. "It was a great day for us as a team and we can be very happy of our performance here this weekend. It was a good feeling to be competitive and to be able to set fastest lap times during the race. Thanks to all of you at the team for all the hard work, results like these are very well deserved." said Rosberg. Stating in pre-season that Nico Rosberg was an underrated driver, Hamilton had very kinds words for his Mercedes AMG teammate in post-race. "I have to say big congratulations to Nico. He drove a smarter and more controlled race than me this afternoon and deserved to finish where I did. The team made the call for us to hold positions and we both respected that." said Hamilton.

Operating as the only remaining Ferrari in the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix, Felipe Massa brought his F138 chassis across the line in a lonely fifth place. Almost 10 seconds behind Massa was the Lotus-Renault race cars. sixth and seventh, Romain Grosjean got the better of his 2013 Australian Grand Prix-winning teammate Kimi Raikkonen.

Scoring their first points of the season with new teams was Nico Hulkenberg in eighth for Sauber and Sergio Perez in ninth-place driving a McLaren. Perez's finish is the first championship points for McLaren. The second McLaren-Mercedes race car of Jenson Button was retired late in the event out of concern for the front suspension.

Climbing seven places from place starting spot on the grid, Jean-Eric Vergne grabbed the final race point with a tenth place spot for Scuderia Toro Rosso.

After starting the 2013 season with two-straight grand prix events, Formula 1 cars have been given a three-week break ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix on April 14th.

2013 Formula 1
Malaysian Grand Prix
Race Results

Pos # Car # Driver Team Engine

1 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Renault
2 2 Mark Webber Red Bull Renault
3 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
4 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
5 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari Ferrari
6 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus Renault
7 7 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus Renault
8 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber Ferrari
9 6 Sergio Perez McLaren Mercedes-Benz
10 18 Jean-Eric Vergne Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari
12 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber Ferrari
13 22 Jules Bianchi Marussia Cosworth
14 20 Charles Pic Caterham Renault
15 21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham Renault
16 23 Max Chilton Marussia Cosworth
17 5 Jenson Button McLaren Mercedes-Benz
18 19 Daniel Ricciardo Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari
18 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams F1 Renault
19 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams F1 Renault
20 15 Adrian Sutil Force India Mercedes-Benz
21 14 Paul di Resta Force India Mercedes-Benz
22 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari Ferrari

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