Formula 1 wrapped up the Malaysian Grand Prix earlier today and what is typically a rain soaked procession, turned out to be one of the most dramatic races in recent memory. The events at Sepang International Circuit conjured up memories of the Senna-Prost era at McLaren and cemented Formula 1’s identity as a team sport.
There’s an infinite amount of story lines to discuss as Europe’s sporting columns are ablaze with Red Bull and Mercedes gossip. With pit stop foibles, mechanical maladies and host of very unhappy teammates, lets get straight to it.
Ferrari came out of qualifying in prime position to score their first race win of the season, with Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa starting P2 and P3. After an aggressive start by the Red Bulls, Alonso fought for position, coming out of turn 1. The Ferrari driver’s front wing became dislodged after making contact with Sebastian Vettel and then Mark Webber as he fought the Red Bulls. Alsonso was expected to come into the pits after the first lap to have his wing replaced, but failed to do so.
Upon completing the first straight of lap 2, his font wing broke free, lodging itself under the F138’s front tires and sending Alonso off the track. With his race over, it left most scratching their heads at Alonso’s bizarre decision to stay on track. The assumption was a strategy to complete 1 more lap and pit for a wing and tire change, as the track began to dry. Unfortunately things ended differently and costed Alonso valuable points in his bid to win the 2013 World Driver’s Championship. It’s still early enough in the season, but as we’ve seen so many times before, mishaps from earlier in the season tend to rear their ugly face in November. His teammate Felipe Massa completed a solid drive, finishing 5th overall.
Pit stop woes followed Alonso’s retirement for the remainder of Malaysia’s first half. In an unfortunate turn, Force India had to retire both cars as they experienced a number of issues with improperly securing wheel nuts. A collision in the pits involving Caterham and a Freudian Slip saw Lewis Hamilton pull into the McLaren pits for a brief second. Early in the race McLaren displayed flashes of brilliance with some very quick tire changes and saw Jenson Button leading the race. His success was short lived after another horrendous stop in which the mechanics sent Button out, after failing to secure the MP4-28’s right front wheel nut.
The team did manage to rescuer it, only to have Button return to the track in 14th and later retire with 3 laps to go. McLaren have gotten off to another tough start in 2013. With an admittedly sluggish car, the team can’t afford to make costly mistakes in the pits. The question is how long Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh will have to right his ship before his job comes into question. Sergio Perez secured 1 point after finishing 10th overall.
With an abundance of drama happening throughout pit lane, it was Red Bull and Mercedes that stole the show. Both teams dealt with similar issues involving team orders in an effort to conserve fuel and keep both cars on the track. Mark Webber displayed some brilliant driving as he lead most of the race and it seemed inevitable that he would secure his first win since last year’s British Grand Prix. Unfortunately his teammate Sebastian Vettel struggled with playing second fiddle and had a number of exchanges with race engineers in a bid to overtake Webber. After an excellent pit stop on lap 44, Webber emerged ahead of Vettel in P1. The two drivers battled for the next 2 laps, fighting for the lead which Webber maintained. After some interjection by team bosses, the Red Bull drivers were told to maintain the gap and bring the cars home for some valuable points. The strategy didn’t sit well with Vettel as he took to the inside, nearly colliding with the pit wall to overtake Webber in turn 1. The move was a blatant disregard for team orders and a fuming Webber showed his lack of gratitude by giving Vettel the finger. The pass has been the most talked about event following the race and in many ways brings to light the internal problems that have followed Red Bull the last few seasons. It’s no secret that Webber and Vettel aren’t the greatest of friends and Webber’s response to the move and a complete lack of sympathy on behalf of Vettel go on to illustrate a mutual dislike between the teammates. Vettel ultimately won the race, his 27th career win, with Webber finishing a close 2nd.
Mercedes experienced their own issues resulting from team orders as Lewis Hamilton struggled to outpace his teammate Nico Roseberg, in an effort to maintain tires and fuel. Rosberg had a number of exchanges with Team Principal Ross Brawn, urging him to allow a pass on Hamilton. There was concern for both cars’ fuel loads following the race and Rosberg was instructed to maintain his position. Had fuel levels not been an issue for Mercedes, it’s likely that both drivers would’ve caught the Red Bulls and there may have been a different outcome. Hamilton finished 3rd overall with Rosberg in 4th. Mercedes should be very pleased with their efforts this weekend. Many speculated that the success of the team would be a work in progress for most of 2013, however in the 2nd race of the season the team are fighting for race wins. Their time will certainly come and soon.
Once the checkered flag was raised everyone was talking about the pending podium ceremonies. A very dejected Lewis Hamilton joined fueding Red Bull teammates Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel. A very uncelebratory air surrounded the podium as everyone anxiously awaited the driver’s interviews, lead by Martin Brundle.
This is a scenario where the podium interviews are useless because rarely do we get honest emotion from the drivers as they maintain composure under the spotlight. Everyone had hoped for Vettel to provide some reasoning for his actions but ended up getting a half hearted apology for not following the team’s orders. Webber was considerably more candid, however his choice in words held back most of what he was probably thinking. Hamilton showed real class in his acceptance of 3rd with his mention of Rosberg and a lack of willingness to accept his trophy. It appears as though Hamilton is desperate to turn over a new leaf this season and change people’s perceptions of himself. He certainly won a few fans back today.
It was a fantastically exciting Malaysian Grand Prix and a departure from the boring race F1 fans have grown accustomed to. It’s a 2 week break until the teams are in Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix.
Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.