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Malaysia 2013 - Red Bull make a scene in Sepang // Vettel's victory is overshadowed by inter-team politics

Published by Christine

podium tensions in Malaysia

The Malaysian Grand Prix was on the verge of being a predictable procession, before the final third of the race. Although most of the drama came from the controversy surrounding team orders rather than any specific on track exhiliration, it was still enough to spice up the second race of the year.

Red Bull grabbed all the headlines, but each and every team left Sepang a little wiser and with a little more understanding of how the year ahead is going to treat them. They now have a three week break to scour the data from both Australia and Malaysia, in anticipation of improvement in China. For now, though, let's recap how things went for each team last weekend.

Red Bull

Driver positions - Red Bull
DriverQualifyingRace
S Vettel1st1st
M Webber5th2nd

Red Bull were the winners on the day, but they were also the biggest losers. Whether you agree with Vettel's decision to ignore the plan set out by his employers or not, there was little to feel good about for the team as they left Sepang. Christian Horner appeared to be a man who had little authority over his drivers, whilst the already strained relationship between Vettel and Webber hit rock bottom.

In terms of performance, Red Bull had the race sewn up. Vettel qualified on pole position, and led the early stages of the Grand Prix. He lost out to his teammate, and was briefly troubled by other potential podium finishers, but it never really looked like it would be anything but a Red Bull 1-2 result.

That's exactly what occurred, with Webber making progress up the order after a decent start for a change. He was leading the race comfortably after the final round of pit stops, and thought it was settled he would see the chequered flag first. Vettel had other ideas, and that leaves Red Bull with an awful lot of thinking, talking, and team building to do. Paint-balling, anyone?

Let's be honest here, there has never been a great deal of trust between the two of them since Istanbul in 2010. But there is a respect and a real respect between the two of them.

- Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing

Mercedes

Driver positions - Mercedes
DriverQualifyingRace
N Rosberg6th4th
L Hamilton4th3rd

On the other side of the team orders fiasco was Mercedes, who implemented a "hold station" order to perfection, with Nico Rosberg visibly slow and frustrated behind Lewis Hamilton. Crippled by a need to save fuel, Hamilton's pace was rapidly disappearing towards the latter stages of the race, to a point where it was almost embarrassing.

Keeping Rosberg behind his teammate was harsh, but it brought the team an incredibly strong podium and points finish. Pre-season, there were so many doubts about what Mercedes would be able to bring to 2013, but so far, they have proven many of their naysayers wrong.

Both drivers qualified well, both raced hard, and although they never seemed to have the pace to challenge the Red Bulls for a victory, they were best of the rest, and in the right position to pick up the pieces if something had happened to the two up front.

Ferrari

Driver positions - Ferrari
DriverQualifyingRace
F Alonso3rdDNF
F Massa2nd5th

Felipe Massa showed just how new and improved he is this season by outqualifying his teammate for the second race, the second week even, in a row. Lining up on the front row of the grid, with only qualifying superstar Sebastian Vettel faster than him, confidence must have been at an all time high for the Brazilian driver. His run to fifth place at the end of the race was another strong performance, one free of the silly mistakes we have seen Massa make in previous outings.

The points he brought home will be particularly useful to Ferrari, who found themselves with just one car in the race, after Fernando Alonso retired on the second lap. A minor collision with Sebastian Vettel dislodged the Spaniard's front wing, so that there were sparks flying throughout the lap, as the errant carbon fibre dragged along the track.

The team prepared a new nose in the pitlane, but they wanted to keep him out long enough to make a tyre change as well - all drivers started the race on intermediate tyres but a dry line was fast appearing. The decision ended up being a very costly one, as the broken wing soon detached completely, was swallowed up by Alonso's car, sending him off into the gravel.

There are plenty of criticisms being levelled at Ferrari for their decision not to pit Alonso, favouring strategy over safety, but more than anything, I am surprised they opted to risk it. Alonso knows what it's like to miss out on the championship by just a point or two, and despite thinking he could go for victory in Sepang, they perhaps should have been thinking of the long game. Nevertheless, Alonso's dreams of a win, and Massa's insistence that the team will be back on the top step of the podium soon, speak of optimism within the Scuderia, which should stand them in good stead over the next few races.

Lotus

Driver positions - Lotus
DriverQualifyingRace
K Räikkönen7th7th
R Grosjean11th6th

All the pace that Lotus found in Australia that saw Kimi Räikkönen take victory seemed to abandon them in Sepang. Qualifying's mixed conditions saw them struggling in terms of both timing and tyres, but Kimi managed to get into the top ten (with a subsequent penalty), whilst Grosjean just missed out but was in the prime strategy-choosing spot of 11th.

Unfortunately, the benefits of that position were squandered by the rain on Sunday. The grid lined up on intermediate tyres, a compound that Romain had already admitted he was struggling on after Saturday's outing. Neither Lotus driver got a particularly good start to the race, and from there, they were simply trying to hang on to positions as best they could.

Kimi, who lost some carbon fibre from his front wing at the start of the race, was spotted on several occasions travelling wide off track and having to bounce back over the grass to regain the racing line.

It's a testament to the pace that both drivers had a scrappy weekend but still managed to bring home points. Romain snuck ahead of his teammate to finish sixth, a marked difference from their performance at Albert Park. But, as Éric Boullier explains, they weren't at all surprised at the inconsistency on show.

It is going to be very, very tight. I think you can expect, mainly because of the tyre management situation, a different race winner each time. But we can say we are definitely in the top four. Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull and us are very, very close.

- Éric Boullier, Team Principal, Lotus

Sauber

Driver positions - Sauber
DriverQualifyingRace
N Hülkenberg12th8th
E Gutiérrez14th12th

Sauber were caught out by the rain shower that arrived midway through the second qualifying session. The radar was broken, the tyre choice was wrong, and it was midfield all the way for Nico Hülkenberg and Esteban Gutiérrez.

Thankfully for Nico, this was a race he would actually get to participate in, and he put in a reasonable performance to move forward and sneak in some points. He had been worried about missing out on a shakedown of the start procedure by not racing in Australia, but he got off the line cleanly. The only downside of Hülkenberg's race were the starting position and the subsequent traffic.

Esteban also made forward progress, but missed out on the points by finishing twelfth. Not only was he out of the points by he was out of the picture too - a very anonymous performance by the young Mexican in his second race. Of course, it's almost all you could ask of a rookie to keep his head down in a difficult race and bring the car home, but after a tough start to the year, Sauber need everything and more from their drivers.

McLaren

Driver positions - McLaren
DriverQualifyingRace
J Button8th17th
S Pérez10th9th

The results for McLaren from the Malaysian Grand Prix belie what was a small step forward for the struggling team. After admitting that they were off the pace in Australia, with plenty of work to be done over the next few weeks, the team arrived in Sepang and we feared the worst.

Both drivers qualified in the top ten, which was no mean feat given the pace of the car along with the tricky conditions on Saturday. Both drivers were also promoted a place on the grid when Kimi Räikkönen took his three place penalty. Button had a particularly good start to the race, and before long, he was up fighting for position with the Red Bulls and Mercedes'. It was all looking too good to be true and it was - a pit stop bungle saw Button have to stop moments after leaving his pit box. He got the car going again and continued racing, but the team opted to retire the car just a few laps from the end.

Meanwhile, Sergio Pérez started the race from ninth place, and he ended there as well, leaving Sepang with just a couple of points. The weekend didn't quite live up to the promise it showed halfway through the Grand Prix, but McLaren will have to take heart from the glimpses of recovery they showed.

Toro Rosso

Driver positions - Toro Rosso
DriverQualifyingRace
JE Vergne17th10th
D Ricciardo13th18th

Jean-Éric Vergne has one job to do this season and that is to qualify better. From there, he may be able to make the difference on a Sunday, but if he keeps dropping out in the first session on a Saturday, it will only serve to make his life harder. In Malaysia, that was exactly where he was, qualifying 17th on the grid. Meanwhile, teammate Daniel Ricciardo dragged the Toro Rosso all the way up to 13th.

Ricciardo admitted that he ruined his own race before it began by aquaplaning off track and over the gravel during his out-lap to the grid. With a bit of damage to the floor, he fought the best he could, but eventually retired with another exhaust problem.

Meanwhile, Jean-Éric Vergne had issues of his own. An unsafe release from the pit box saw him crash into a Caterham and require a new front wing put on the car. The delay cost him dearly, but even with all that, he still managed to finish tenth, picking up one point. From 17th on the grid, that is not a bad afternoon's work at all. There's progress to be made at Toro Rosso, but despite a difficult start to the year, there are positives to be taken away from these back-to-back races.

After these first two races, we now have a short break before we go racing again and we must use that time to take a close look at how we performed and where we can do better, because there is certainly a lot of room for improvement, as both these two races have been missed opportunities.

- Jean-Éric Vergne, F1 driver, Toro Rosso

Williams

Driver positions - Williams
DriverQualifyingRace
P Maldonado16thDNF
V Bottas18th11th

Valtteri Bottas was the other unexpected driver in the drop zone at the end of Q1 on Saturday in Sepang. The Finn explained that they had a good run on the harder compound but had then expected a significant boost from the mediums, which they did not get. He can take heart from the fact teammate Pastor Maldonado didn't get much further forward, caught out by the rain shower in Q2, that meant he was just two places ahead.

Bottas improved on his start position during the race, despite losing some positions when he took to the wet instead of the racing line. However, he chased his way up the order to 11th, missing out on points, but putting in a good performance nonetheless.

Pastor Maldonado had less luck, as a KERS issue forced him to stop his Williams out on track, the Venezuelan retiring from his second race in a row. Before that, he managed an off that damaged the front wing and forced a change of strategy so he could pit early for a new one. So far, for Maldonado's side of the garage, 2013 has not been kind.

It's been a bit unsettled at the Williams garage recently, with team changes, and bereavement in the family, but the three week gap should allow for things to settle so they can start again in China.

Marussia

Driver positions - Marussia
DriverQualifyingRace
J Bianchi19th13th
M Chilton21st16th

Max Chilton struggled on Saturday, qualifying second to last, and pinning all his hopes on being able to streak past the Caterhams off the line. A bad start put that idea to bed, so he was stuck racing at the back until the dreaded blue flags came out. Marussia have been known to complain about the blue flag situation before, but Chilton seems particularly perturbed by the concept, having complained about it for two weekend's in a row.

On the other side of the garage, Jules Bianchi is showing some exceptional pace and driving. He was 19th in qualifying, the best of the new team drivers. From there, on Sunday, he surged forward to finish 13th, keeping Pastor Maldonado behind him at certain points of the race. Following a 15th place for Bianchi in Australia, 13th could prove an important position for Marussia later in the year, when the battle for tenth place in the championship really hots up.

Once again we can be happy with the progress we are making however whilst the midfield is still in striking distance it calls for a big push over the next three weeks with the development of the car. Realistically, we know we need a few more tenths to be able to really race with them.

- John Booth, Team Principal, Marussia

Caterham

Driver positions - Caterham
DriverQualifyingRace
C Pic20th14th
G Van der Garde22nd15th

Both Caterham drivers were lacking in pace during qualifying, sandwiching Max Chilton in his Marussia. From their Saturday quotes, it looks like a case of not being able to balance the car, as Charles Pic complains of understeer, whilst Giedo van der Garde was troubled by oversteer.

During the race, Pic was the unfortunate victim of a drive by pit stop crash, and had to lengthen his stop to accomodate a new nose. Van der Garde had a puncture, but admits it was about the time he was coming in for dry tyres anyway, so there was little time lost.

Aside from those two incidents, it was a quiet weekend for the Caterham team. We now know that the team aren't running their full-spec car for the first three races of the year, so these performances may be improved upon once we get to Bahrain.

Force India

Driver positions - Force India
DriverQualifyingRace
P Di Resta15thDNF
A Sutil9thDNF

Force India squandered some incredible pace in Sepang with pit stop problems that affected, and ultimately retired, both their cars. The first sign was a delayed stop for Adrian Sutil - the pit crew scratching their heads trying to make the wheel gun behave, whilst Paul di Resta queued up behind. Paul himself suffered a similar stop, but despite the extensive delays, the Brit completed some swift laps to put himself in contention for points.

Sadly, it was all for nought, as both cars were retired "as a precaution." The issue in the pit stop came from the captive wheel nut system the team are using, a new design for the squad this year. It all worked fine in Australia, but the higher temperatures in Malaysia caused unforseen problems. Deputy team principal Bob Fernley has said they won't be going back to the old system, so they'll need to put in plenty of work and practice to make sure it's not a problem going forward - particularly for the warmer races, like in Bahrain.

All content in the series Malaysia 2013