Tight battle between the two Infiniti Red Bull drivers for the win on the Sepang International Circuit leads to tensions within team.
It was an uncomfortable podium ceremony as Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel resumed his place on the top step ahead of teammate Mark Webber for the first time in the 2013 FIA Formula One season as the Malaysian Grand Prix came to a close.
The reigning World Champion had a battle on his hands prior to the chequered flag as his Australian teammate fought hard to maintain the lead for a while, before Vettel found an opportunity to get back into his comfort zone in first place, ignoring team orders to maintain position that would have allowed Webber an easy victory.
Vettel is known for being a fan of statistics and has now notched up his 27th career win to date. Webber’s second place result is nothing to be sniffed at though, as he has led the team to their 13th one-two finish in the sport.
The first two faces on the podium may not have been a surprise, but Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton put in a solid performance in what is just his second race with the new team since leaving McLaren at the end of last season.
The 2008 World Champion managed to make it to the end of the 56 lap marathon despite concerns over fuel levels during the proceedings, which saw him ease off slightly to nurse the problem home, but it appeared to pay off with the end result he achieved.
Hamilton’s reward of third place came at the misfortune of his German team mate, Nico Rosberg, when team orders came into play in the latter stages of the race. There was drama inside Rosberg’s cockpit as he was told via the team radio, not to pass Hamilton, despite appearing faster than him at the time. Rosberg was forced to settle for fourth place in the end.
The Grand Prix appeared to be full of more action unfolding off the track in the pit lane rather than on it. There were several pit stop fumbles across the teams during the race. Fifth place man, Felipe Massa, had a near miss in his Ferrari as he was coming out of his pit box while McLaren’s Sergio Perez was entering his. The pair narrowly missed contact with each other.
Romain Grosjean was the first of the Lotus Renault drivers to quietly make into a top 10 point scoring position. The French man pipped his team mate, Kimi Raikkonen to sixth place as a result of their in-team battle during the race.
Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg not only came close to threatening Raikkonen’s seventh place finish, but the two drivers reportedly avoided contact during a pit stop in the race as the pair were exiting the pits at the same time.
McLaren’s new recruit, Perez was the team's sole runner on the penultimate lap, when his team mate, Jenson Button was forced to retire after dropping down the field to 14th place. Button’s woes started during a pit stop problem on lap 36, which saw the English man exit his pit box with his right front tyre not secured properly by the team. They had to rectify this before Button could get out again for a short while. Perez was then left flying the flag for the team once Button retired, the Mexican driver picked up a respectable ninth place finish for himself.
The final man of the 22 drivers in the field who picked up a top 10 point scoring position was Toro Rosso’s Jean Eric Vergne. The French man finished ahead of the remaining midfield runners who were left to scrap over the positions from 11th to 16th place. His 10th place finish is being reviewed by the stewards after an incident with Caterham's Charles Pic in the pits.
In addition to Button retiring from the race, there was another usual front man missing from the proceedings before the race had barely begun. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso had a wobbly start in the early damp conditions, which resulted in him knocking into the back Vettel’s car. Vettel appeared to be unscathed from the incident, but Alonso’s damage was fatal to his front wing. The damaged wing folded under the Ferrari floor and lifted the front tires clear off the ground, causing Alonso to veer off the track, which saw him out the race on lap two.
The two World Champions were also joined by Daniel Ricciardo, Pastor Maldonado, Adrian Sutil and Paul Di Resta, who failed to cross the finish line and had a different view of the action for a change as spectators.
Vettel seems to be settling into the season now and has finally found his feet after taking today’s race win. The German may have got back into his usual surroundings with the result, but the Formula One fraternity will now take a short break from the action following back to back race weekends. The drivers and teams have time to prepare for their next destination when the Chinese Grand Prix takes place on 14th April.