Winners and Losers: Malaysia

Sunday 24th March 2013

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Another fun-filled FIA press conference

Another fun-filled FIA press conference

In a break from tradition, the winner was the big loser in Sepang. And of course, Paul Di Resta. God's certainly got it in for him...

Star of the Race
Ross Brawn. Mercedes, 3rd and 4th
There was more radio drama in the Malaysian Grand Prix than your average Radio 4 afternoon play, and out of it came one strong-minded individual who commanded unflinching respect from his drivers. In the closing six laps of the race Rosberg knew he really ought to hold station (having come out after the final pit-stops in P4, the standard F1 position; that's-your-lot, turn the engines down now). But he felt he had far more pace than P3 Hamilton and was well within DRS range.
Rosberg: "I'm much faster, let me pass (him)."
Brawn: "Negative Nico"
Brawn: "Lewis's pace is what we're asking him to do. He's being controlled as well. He could go a lot faster as well."
Rosberg: "We have to speed up, this is too slow."
Brawn: "Nico, please drop back - there is a massive gap behind, we want to bring both cars home."
And so Nico dropped back. Result.

Of course what Nico Rosberg didn't know at the time was that Hamilton's pace was being controlled only because he'd used up too much fuel to maintain his position and whereas thrifty Nico had enough in his tank not to bother with fuel saving.

Such was the respect for Brawn that the drivers did what they were told. It was obviously serious for a 'grown-up' to come on the radio and spell it out. Would Paddy Lowe command that kind of respect in the heat of battle? Probably not.

Compare and contrast the disciplined approach from head-teacher Brawn, to the team with an art teacher as boss, Christian Horner, who doesn't think he ought to mark his pupils' work and when somebody breaks a rule the most he can come up with is: "This is silly Seb, come on." As Mark Webber said: "Obviously we know Seb is no slouch but you need to have strong people all the way through the team to have everyone having the chance to get the maximum result."

Overtaking Move of the Race
Lap 22: Romain Grosjean on Nico Hulkenberg
Later in the race Nico Hulkenberg showed how difficult he could make it for Lotus cars to overtake him. When he emerged from the pits on Lap 22, he immediately had to give a place up to Felipe Massa. Coming up fast behind the Sauber, Romain Grosjean realised that if he was going to make a pass he'd have to get on with it and stuck a brave move up the inside into Turn 5 that Hulkenberg was powerless to resist. Raikkonen laboured to get past Hulkenberg, just as he struggled to get past Perez between Laps 11 and 16.

Bringing home the car in P6 it looks as though the Frenchman's mystery chassis problem has been solved. The fact that the team could only score a P6 and a P7, when the Lotus cars been fancied for a podium shot was a combination of poor qualifying, poor starts and a much cooler track on Sunday than had been anticipated. The track evolved from 27C to 31C during the race and on Saturday it had been 41C.

Winners
Mark Webber, Red Bull, 2nd
Unlike Melbourne, Mark got a great start, not fast off the grid, but he chose the perfect line through Turns 1 and 2 as everyone else looked round the outside. He was slightly hesitant in making a move stick on Fernando Alonso on the opening lap but soon began to close Seb down. He had a strong race, delivering fast laps where and when it mattered and listening to team radio, particularly the bit about "Multi 21". Red Bull were worried about the Pirellis delaminating and 'exploding' as happened to Lewis Hamilton in practice, and with 14 laps to cover to the flag they had reason to be worried. The delamination is more of a risk if the tyres have a weakness, a flatspot, and trying to outbreak your team-mate into Turn 1 could easily have supplied that flatspot.

The big ruck between Vettel and Webber all dates back to Brazil where Webber almost put the kybosh on Vettel's World Championship. For whatever reason - its' yet to be explained - at the start Webber closed the door on Vettel on the inside, (despite being fully aware that Vettel was behind him) forcing Vettel to break early and getting him passed round the outside by a load of cars. That lost Seb places and put him into the range of desperate lunges from the likes of Bruno Senna into the Lake Descent turn. It gave us a spectacle of a GP, but it didn't look the move of a team-mate.

In the post-Brazil euphoria and the subsequent politicking by Ferrari about the result (did Seb pass a car under yellows?), Webber's role in Seb's almost-downfall got quietly forgotten. Except Helmut Marko was obviously still furious. This we found out when he had the opportunity to disparage Mark in Red Bull's own magazine. He let rip and gave an interview that suggested Mark was psychologically flawed and unable to cope with pressure.

On the pitwall after the race, asked about the situation between the two drivers, Christian Horner admitted, "this goes back to Brazil."

Webber had a good race, but it wasn't faultless. He almost muffed the overtaking move on Jenson Button going into Turn 1 on Lap 35 despite the advantage of DRS and far better tyres. He will have got a huge amount of credit from fans for speaking his mind on the podium and doing what he does best, telling it like it is. Unlike his team-mate who was busy telling it like he would like people to think it was... even though it wasn't.

* Vettel's car to get new sticker...

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 3rd
Making up the final place on the glummest podium since Austria 2002 was Mr. Nostalgia. Lewis Hamilton made a fond trip down memory lane on Lap 7 to revisit his old team, McLaren, who waved him away like a stray dog. Although Lewis said it was an easy thing to do - and Jenson had done it - with the Button incident he was squinting into sunlight and also looking down at his steering wheel at a crucial moment. Hamilton just wasn't thinking.

As for his 'unearned' podium place, he had the very good grace to say that maybe it should have gone to Nico Rosberg and that he would try and repay him. And you believed that he would.

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 4th
A great team drive from Rosberg who was clearly faster than Hamilton towards the end, but took P4 'for the cause'. What we missed out on, though, was seeing just how close Nico could have been to the Red Bulls at the flag.

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, 5th
It's hard to think of Massa as a No.2 driver when he can outqualify the No.1 driver four races in a row. And four races where Fernando was really trying. This was another great race from Felipe who slipped out of sight for most of the race but came back with a vengeance towards the end when his race strategy finally played out. More worrying for Ferrari was the fact that McLaren were running the same kind of tyre strategy (Button said he was going for three, but, like Perez, he might not have made it) and Jenson was able to outpace him in the middle of the race, steadily taking the gap out to Ferrari to almost 10.1 seconds on Lap 29.

Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus, 7th
Where does Kimi's reputation as ' The Iceman' come from? During races he's more like the grid's answer to Victor Meldrew. Abu Dhabi gave us the two classic radio retorts, including: "Yes, yes, yes, I'm doing all of that." We also had him ranting about blue flags in Australia in 2012. Now we can add to the collection: "Do you see what he's been doing? Pushing me off and now I've hit him!" You almost wish his engineer would play him a recording of the late Michael Winner's catchphrase: "Calm down, dear," just to see what reaction we'd get.

In truth Kimi had a bit of a shocker. Slow off the line, he had at least two short-cuts over the high-speed chicane during the race which ultimately lost him a bit of his front wing, plus a few places to his team-mate and a Toro Rosso. He struggled to get past both Perez and Hulkenberg and was only 4.5 seconds clear of the Sauber at the line, with Nico closing at three seconds a lap.Nico Hulkenberg, Sauber, 8th
A combative drive from Hulkenberg who was in superb form when the track was damp but drying. On Lap 9 he set the fastest lap of the race, best mastering the slippery conditions on slick tyres. He truly is the MixedConditionsMeister. His defence of his position against Raikkonen was on the agricultural side, but didn't invoke the wrath of the stewards.

Sergio Perez, 9th, Jenson Button, DNF, McLaren
Perez was feisty without being reckless and would have enjoyed scoring a Fastest Lap of 1:39.199 in the 'crippled donkey' that is the MP4-28. Button was convinced he could have taken his car to the end with three stops and fought for a podium against the four-stopping front runners. That belief was backed up by his actions in trying to hold off Mark Webber at the beginning of Lap 35 - instead of giving in to the inevitable.

He was downbeat after the race when you thought he might have been whooping and hollering having run lap times very close to the RB9. Straight after the Mercs and Red Bulls had taken on new tyres he was running the same middle sector time on his old set. That isn't just light at the end of the tunnel for their beleaguered new car, that represents the end of the tunnel. Presumably the realisation will click in on the flight home.

Pirelli
Let's not forget all this action comes courtesy of Pirelli. Had Bridgestone been supplying the tyres we would probably have had a one- or two-stopper. With no re-appearance of rain and no Safety Car there was a lot of action throughout the race, not just in the first half. Eric Boullier has said that some of the teams are already lobbying to change the compounds, with Red Bull amongst the most vocal. That's because Red Bull are very aero reliant and they can't find an immediate aero tweak - instead, it's the kindly suspension systems of Lotus and Mercedes showing the way. With the track cooler than expected for Sunday's race Lotus weren't able to make the most of that tyre edge.

We can probably discount Sergio Perez's final glory shot at Fastest Lap, because he didn't need to do it, but during the race we had fastest laps from: Webber, Hamilton, DiResta, Button, Hulkenberg, Massa, Vettel, Rosberg, Raikkonen and Grosjean. That's not too bad a mix when drivers are supposed to be preserving tyres.

Losers
Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, 1st
This is one of the rare times in the 12 years of the Winners and Losers column that the winner is included in the losers.

Some people are suggesting that Sebastian Vettel managed to reduce his fan club membership to single figures at the Malaysian Grand Prix. Last season Michael Schumacher looked to pass the baton to Seb in the final race and Vettel's actions showed typical Schumi ruthlessness. Except Schumi wouldn't have been so quick to apologise afterwards. Anyway, Vettel's apology was disingenuous, he knew quite clearly what he was doing and could have given the place back to Mark at any time. The temptation of scoring 25 more points was just too hard to resist.

Mark Webber was hacked off with him enough before he heard the race transcript. Presumably when he hears, "Mark is too slow, get him out of the way. He's too slow," we might go to Defcon 1.

What will be most interesting now is not the two drivers' reactions, but how Christian Horner will handle the issue. His authority has been usurped - his light touch hasn't worked. When the two collided in Turkey in 2010 Vettel hadn't been asked to hold station; this is a whole new level. The power and influence exerted by team owner, team advisor and team boss will have to be re-examined.

Having said all that - the motor racing action we get when two drivers are really having an unbridled go at each other is fantastic. The Webber vs Vettel battle was the highlight of the race and will make all the post-season highlight tapes. Fernando Alonso's second lap exit was almost forgotten in the excitement. Had Vettel opted to sit behind Webber and two leading teams played the Team Orders game, then everyone might have been railing about how dull and manufactured it all is and how proper racing is being stifled. (Perhaps less so with Webber in front, because that is a story in itself).

Maybe we're being disingenuous too, because what we saw was epic stuff. It wasn't cruise and collect.

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, DNF
The opening lap destruction of Fernando's front wing was the kind of accident he was so close to getting last year but skilfully managed to avoid. This year it looked like he was pressured into the bump by trying to keep in front of his team-mate. Stefano Domenicali took the blame for the decision to leave him out on track. It was a day when everyone was freely admitting everything. Had Fernando come back in to change the front wing he would have emerged in last place and in the absence of further rain or a Safety Car would have struggled to get more than about 9th place.

The irony of it is that last year with a dreadful car he scored a win and a fifth place from the opening two races - and now, with a car that's been rated by both drivers as "10" to "100 times better", he's come away with just a third place.

Paul DiResta, Force India, DNF
If there is a god, an almighty being who controls our destiny and decides all our fates, then he's really p***ing Paul Di Resta off. Di Resta was faster than Sutil in Q1, then in Q2 he made the rain come before Paul was able to set a lap and denied him a place in the Top 10.

Then in the race, Paul got severely delayed behind team-mate Adrian Sutil when Force India double stopped them on Lap 6. Then, after Paul had put in a fastest lap and worked his way back up to P11 his own tyre stop was cast into the wilderness with a captive wheelnut issue that would try the patience of Jehovah and stranded him in the pits for the F1 equivalent of 40 days and 40 nights.

Basically, whatever could go wrong, did go wrong. And none of it Paul's doing.

Andrew Davies and Frank Hopkinson

Malaysian Grand Prix Mediawatch

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