Race: Vettel Wins Tense Red Bull Tussle

Sunday 24th March 2013

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Race: Vettel Wins Tense Red Bull Tussle

Race: Vettel Wins Tense Red Bull Tussle

Sebastian Vettel triumphed in a controversial battle against Mark Webber to claim his first win of the season in Malaysia.

Vettel came home in first place after ignoring team advice to look after his tyres and team orders to stay behind Mark Webber after the final pit-stop. It was a thrilling tussle between the two Red Bull drivers after Fernando Alonso crashed out of the race on Lap 2 with a broken front wing.

Behind the Bulls it was another team-mate war with Lewis Hamilton triumphing over Nico Rosberg to complete the Sepang podium. The duo scrapped and changed positions before team boss Ross Brawn ordered them to hold station.

Fifth place went to Felipe Massa, who overtook Romain Grosjean with his fresher tyres just three laps from the end, while Kimi Raikkonen and Nico Hulkenberg completed the top eight.

Race Report
With the pre-race rain falling, the ambient temperature had dropped to 24C with the track at just 27C (compared to 41C in qualifying). Felipe Massa was making his first front-row start for over two years, and with a 600-metre run to Turn 1 Ferrari were looking to take advantage of their great starting ability.

Although the rain had eased off, and some parts of the circuit looked dry, when the tyre blankets were removed everyone was on Intermediate tyres. Kimi Raikkonen had lost three places from Saturday qualifying after having been judged to have blocked Nico Rosberg. So the grid was now:

Grid: 1.Vettel, 2.Massa, 3.Alonso, 4.Hamilton, 5.Webber, 6.Rosberg, 7.Button, 8.Sutil, 9.Perez, 10.Raikkonen, 11.Grosjean, 12.Hulkenberg, 13.Ricciardo, 14.Gutierrez, 15.DiResta, 16.Maldonado, 17.Vergne, 18.Bottas, 19.Bianchi, 20.Pic, 21.Chilton, 22.Van der Garde

As the red lights went out Vettel was away well, but Alonso got the better start of the two Ferrari drivers and was challenging Sebastian Vettel into Turn 1. Unlike Melbourne, Mark Webber was quick off the line and was able to take an inside line into Turn 1 and then almost go round the outside of Alonso inTurn 2. Alonso left his braking late for Turn 2 and managed to tag his front wing against Vettel's rear, breaking a front pillar.

Sparks flew from the deranged front wing of Alonso as he carried on round Lap 1 regardless, able to fend off Mark Webber who had got ahead of Massa (although losing a lot of time to leader Vettel in the process). Behind him Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button both had strong starts, Hamilton easing himself into P4 and Button P5 ahead of Massa, while Nico Rosberg went backwards.

Positions after Lap 1: 1.Vettel, 2. Alonso, 3.Webber, 4.Hamilton, 5.Button, 6.Massa, 7.Rosberg, 8.Perez, 9.Sutil, 10.Hulkenberg, 11.Ricciardo, 12.Raikkonen, 13.Grosjean, 14.DiResta

With his front wing badly damaged it was expected that Alonso would come in for a change, but with the track rapidly drying and the prospect of a change from inters to slicks in 4 or 5 laps, Ferrari didn't want to come in for two stops in the opening laps of the race. With Mark Webber diving past him on the pit straight, the turbulence from the passing Red Bull looked to have finally snapped what was holding the front wing to the car and it tucked underneath the Ferrari and sent him off into the gravel at Turn 1. With his car beached, Alonso was out of the race. The gamble to stay out had gone badly wrong.

Thanks to Alonso's slow pace Vettel had ended Lap 1 with a 3.4 second lead. By Lap 2 that had been cut to 3.3 by Webber. Nico Rosberg, who had excelled in the mixed conditions of both Melbourne and Malaysia passed Massa and then Button on Lap 3 to put himself P4 behind team-mate Lewis Hamilton.

Another mixed condition specialist Nico Hulkenberg was the fastest car in Sector 1 as he moved past Sergio Perez on Lap 5. Meanwhile Kimi Raikkonen wasn't having the best of openings to a race having lost places off the line, he then ran wide onto the grass in the fast chicane and fell behind his team-mate Romain Grosjean.

It looked as though it would be another lap before cars pitted, but at the end of Lap 5 Sebastian Vettel took the gamble of coming in early for slicks. Felipe Massa followed him in. As he rejoined the circuit he was immediately swallowed up by cars as far back as Perez and Sutil. Mark Webber's engineer Simon Rennie yelled, "Stay out, stay out" as Mark came round to set the fastest lap of the race.

At the end of Lap 6, Adrian Sutil, Kimi Raikkonen and Paul Di Resta were among many to stop, but a problem with Adrian Sutil's tyre change meant that the plan to double-stop him with Di Resta delayed the Scot horribly.

Next lap, the rest of the field (bar Nico Rosberg) came in and there was chaos and comedy in the McLaren pit as Lewis Hamilton tried to get his Mercedes tyres changed there and was waved on through. Luckily for Lewis he only lost a few seconds and didn't have to re-pit. There was also a coming together with a Toro Rosso and a Caterham as it looked like Jean-Eric Vergne was released too early and there was contact between the cars (the stewards would decide after the race).

Once Rosberg had come in for his stop a lap later, the positions were now:
1.Webber, 2.Vettel, 3.Hamilton, 4.Rosberg, 5.Button, 6.Nico Hulkenberg, 7.Massa, 8.Perez, 9.Grosjean, 10.Raikkonen, 11.Ricciardo, 12.Maldonado.

Webber had taken advantage of Vettel's early stop to establish a 2.9 second lead on Lap 9, while Nico Hulkenberg was flying, establishing the fastest lap on Lap 9, but maybe taking too much out of his tyres to catch Jenson Button. At times he was a second a lap quicker, closed to within DRS range of the Mclaren, and then dropped back. The Force Indias had suffered greatly through the first pit-stops with Sutil now back down in P14 and Di Resta in P15.

Kimi Raikkonen began what was an expected long haul to the front with a pass on Sergio Perez on Lap 12, but was dismayed to find the McLaren driver re-pass him to take back P9. Kimi would have to wait till Lap 16 to get past Perez. Romain Grosjean had overtaken Perez much earlier and was a lot further down the road, in P8, than the championship leader.

On Lap 13 Pastor Maldonado had an off-track moment and broke his front wing, sending him back into the pits. While all this was happening Paul Di Resta set the fastest lap of the race and both Force Indias were fastest in Sector 1 as they tried to recover the ground they had lost in the first round of pit-stops.

The most noticeable thing at this stage of the race (Lap 13) as the gaps settled down - Webber to Vettel, 2.2: Vettel to Hamilton 2.3: Hamilton to Rosberg, 3.9, was that the Mclaren was able to run at virtually the same pace as the Red Bull. Button in P5 was able to shrug off Hulkenberg.

Despite taking the hard tyre at the first stop, and stopping much later than Vettel, Mark Webber was in for more tyres at the end of Lap 19, and it kicked off a whole round of second stops. Force India's misery continued, though, and Paul Di Resta had moved up to P11 by the time he came in for his second stop, but the mechanics had problems with the front left corner of the car and Di Resta had to sit stationary in the pits with his car overheating while the issue was fixed. In the end the problem was identified as a captive wheelnut overheating problem - the new system that Force India had introduced this year.The bulk of the field came in for stops at the end of Laps 21 and 22. Felipe Massa emerged behind Nico Hulkenberg and managed to get past the German followed in quick succession by Romain Grosjean. Sebastian Vettel had taken on a set of hard tyres for his RB9 while Mark Webber had gone the other way with mediums. As Pirelli boss Paul Hembery said, a lot of the tyre choice now was down to what new tyres each team had left after qualifying, rather than which tyre was going to be fastest.

Adrian Sutil came in for his second stop on Lap 22 and again the Force India mechanics laboured to change the front left, again losing massive chunks of time. Team-mate Di Resta brought his car in to retire two laps later (Lap 24) and Sutil would go on for another five laps after DiResta before calling it a day (Lap 29).

The positions on Lap 23: 1.Webber, 2.Vettel, 3.Hamilton, 4.Rosberg, 5.Button, 6.Massa, 7. Grosjean 8.Nico Hulkenberg, 9.Raikkonen, 10.Perez, 11.Ricciardo, 12.Gutierrez

On Lap 23 the gaps were:
Webber to Vettel 2.6, Vettel to Hamilton 2.1, Hamilton to Rosberg 3.3.
On Lap 24 it all tightened up significantly and those gaps became:

Lap 24 Gaps: MW 1.2 SV 1.8 LH 2.6 NR
Lap 25 Gaps: MW 0.5 SV 1.7 LH 2.3 NR
Lap 26 Gaps: MW 0.4 SV 1.3 LH 2.6 NR
Lap 27 Gaps: MW 0.7 SV 1.0 LH 1.0 NR

This sparked the incident that will live season-long. Vettel felt the pressure from Hamilton and Rosberg and also believed he could go quicker than leader Mark Webber. Webber looked like he was driving to a time given by his engineers. Vettel's engineer Rocky got on the radio telling Vettel to look after his tyres as early as Lap 23, but Hamilton had set the first sub-1:42 lap on Lap 23, a 1:41.610.

Instead of looking after his tyres Vettel put in a lap that was 1.4 quicker than his team-mate and then was warned: "You're too close in the fast corners." Sitting within the DRS zone of Webber and seeing Hamilton getting close to DRS range Vettel yelled down team radio, Mark's too slow, get him out of the way!". It's a quote that will resonate for the rest of the season and as long as the pair are together at Red Bull.

The cars stayed in position until Lap 30 when Lewis Hamilton pitted, followed by Webber and Rosberg a lap later. Vettel didn't come in for another two laps but when he did, that left Jenson Button in the lead for Laps 33 and 34. The McLaren on older tyres was putting in 34.5 middle sectors while the leaders on new tyres were only doing 34.4.

Button's lead didn't last long, he was passed on track by good friend Mark Webber, however all the action was going on behind as Hamilton did a fastest lap, a 1:41.001, to put himself in P2 when Vettel came out after his pit-stop with Nico Rosberg in close attendance still in P4.

Hulkenberg and Raikkonen, who were having their own duel on track, started to have it in the pitlane as it looked like the Sauber was released into the path of the Lotus and they ran side by side. Raikkonen's humour was about to get a lot worse, as well.

Button came in for his stop (with Grosjean further back) on Lap 35 and his afternoon went all wrong. He was released before the right front was properly located and had to stop in the middle of the pitlane and be wheeled back into his garage to have it corrected. He lost a certain P5 and was banished to P14 when he finally got back out on track.

The positions on Lap 36: 1.Webber, 2.Hamilton, 3.Vettel, 4.Rosberg, 5.Massa, 6. Grosjean 7.Perez 8.Nico Hulkenberg, 9.Raikkonen, 10.Bottas, 11.Gutierrez, 12.Bottas

Even though the Mercedes had looked a potential threat to a Red Bull win, on Lap 39 Sebastian Vettel made an easy DRS pass on Lewis Hamilton to reclaim P2. Nico Hulkenberg and Kimi Raikkonen were enjoying a ding-dong behind, bumping wheels as they contested P8. "He's pushing me off and now he's hit me!" yelled the 'Iceman' down team radio on Lap 39. Kimi would take another two laps to get past Hulkenberg.

Lewis Hamilton kicked off the final round of pit-stops - Round 4 - on Lap 41, followed by Vettel and Rosberg on Lap 42 and Webber on Lap 43. Webber had a 4.2 gap to Vettel on Lap 39 but he had been given hard tyres for his final stint whereas Vettel, Rosberg and Hamilton were all on mediums. There was no change of postion, but Vettel rapidly caught up Mark Webber so that when he emerged they were almost together. Hamilton had dropped a long way off Vettel. The Mercedes driver had been just 0.7 behind Vettel on Lap 39, but now the gap had opened up to over eight seconds. In turn he had Nico Rosberg breathing down his gearbox intent on taking the final podium place.

On Lap 44 Vettel started attacking his team-mate into Turn 1 as he rejoined, then running side by side through the tricky Turn 5. Webber managed to stay in front. "Sebastian, careful!" barked his engineer Rocky.

A lap later and it was the two Mercedes drivers who actually did swap places, Rosberg getting past Hamilton then Hamilton taking him back. Vettel wasn't finished attacking Webber either and Webber was going to make it difficult for his team-mate, moving over on him down the pit-straight. It got so serious between the two that Christian Horner came on team radio: "This is silly Seb, come on."

Vettel wasn't going to back off, though, and took the lead in a move that straddled Turns 1, 2, 3 and 4 and where the cars almost touched. The gaps between Vettel and Webber, and Hamilton and Rosberg were both 0.9 on Lap 46, but the Mercedes drivers didn't look like challenging the Red Bulls. As Mark eased off Sebastian opened out a lead of 1.3 and then 2.7 seconds and the fight was over. The team had been worrying that Vettel would wear out his medium tyres and that he might suffer a tyre delamination like Lewis Hamilton in practice. He had been told to stop using his KERS button for overtaking because his front tyres were high on wear.

There were other battles on track. Kimi Raikkonen closed on Sergio Perez to take his seventh place and then Felipe Massa made a late pit-stop from P5 (Lap 47), Ferrari realising that three stops wouldn't take him to the end. Massa rejoined in P7 and started a charge to get his old position back.

The positions on Lap 50: 1. Vettel, 2.Webber, 3.Hamilton, 4.Rosberg, 5. Grosjean, 6.Raikkonen, 7.Massa 8.Perez, 9.Nico Hulkenberg, 10.Vergne

Vettel had a 3.7 gap over Webber but the two Mercedes driver were within a second. Massa charged past Raikkonen and on Lap 50 was three seconds faster than Grosjean, but still 7.3 behind with six laps to go. At this stage Massa knew he could drive flat-out qualifying laps. Grosjean, Raikkonen and Perez had only stopped three times and all were struggling for lap time.

By Lap 52 Felipe was just 1.8 seconds behind Grosjean and cruised past him on Lap 53 to regain his P5. Meanwhile Hulkenberg, who had also stopped four times, was making ground on Sergio Perez and stuck his Sauber into P8 on Lap 53. With a huge 30-second gap to the next man Perez pitted for tyres and had some fun in the closing stages, claiming Fastest Lap with a 1:39.199. Jenson Button retired his car, unable to get anywhere near P10.

While all this was happening, there was another team radio drama going on, this time with Mercedes as Nico Rosberg wanted to take the final podium place off Hamilton. "I'm much faster, let me pass" begged Nico. To show the seriousness of the situation Ross Brawn came on the radio. "Negative Nico." And he added. "Lewis's pace is being controlled, he could go a lot faster as well."

The reason that Hamilton's pace was being 'controlled' and why the Mercedes had dropped off the Red Bulls was because his W04 was marginal on fuel. So Lewis might have been able to go faster but maybe might not have got to the end of the race. Brawn wanted to bank an impressive haul of points while he could. "Nico, please drop back - there is a massive gap behind, we want to bring both cars home."

He also had to tell Hamilton: "Lewis we want maximum fuel saving please."

Sebastian Vettel duly took the Malaysia win followed home by Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Felipe Massa, Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen. Tellingly, Vettel's engineer radioed through: "Looks like you wanted it badly enough, but you've got some explaining to do." It was noticeable that we didn't hear effusive praise from Christian Horner on a day when Fernando Alonso disappeared early and Red Bull firmly took hold of both championships. It should have been a fantastic result, but the political ramifications will start from the moment Mark Webber takes his helmet off.

Frank Hopkinson

Result
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:38.56.681
2 Mark Webber Red Bull +4.298
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +12.100
4 Nico Rosberg Mercedes +12.640
5 Felipe Massa Ferrari +25.600
6 Romain Grosjean Lotus +35.500
7 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus +48.400
8 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber +53.000
9 Sergio Perez McLaren +72.300
10 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso +87.100
11 Valtteri Bottas Williams +88.600
12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber +1 lap
13 Jules Bianchi Marussia +1 lap
14 Charles Pic Caterham +1 lap
15 Giedo van der Garde Caterham +1 lap
16 Max Chilton Marussia +2 laps
17 Jenson Button McLaren +3 laps
18 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso +5 laps
19 Pastor Maldonado Williams +11 lap
20 Adrian Sutil Force India +29 laps
21 Paul di Resta Force India +34 laps
22 Fernando Alonso Ferrari +55 laps

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