Toyota's strong start to the 2009 season -- Jarno Trulli climbing to the podium from a pit-lane start -- stalled when the Italian was penalized for passing Lewis Hamilton's McLaren Mercedes while behind the safety car. And Sebastian Vettel's ...
Toyota's strong start to the 2009 season -- Jarno Trulli climbing to the podium from a pit-lane start -- stalled when the Italian was penalized for passing Lewis Hamilton's McLaren Mercedes while behind the safety car. And Sebastian Vettel's smashing debut with Red Bull -- he spent the first 55 of 58 laps hot on the heels of Brawn GP winner Jenson Button -- went literal when he crashed out BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica to land a 10-spot grid penalty for next Sunday's race in Malaysia.
Trulli drove wide at the penultimate turn during the final safety-car period, unable to stay on track with cold tires, and Hamilton could not avoid passing the Toyota. The McLaren team instructed Hamilton over the radio to let Trulli retake his position, which the world champion did.
"(Hamilton) passed me but soon after he suddenly slowed down and pulled over to the side of the road," Trulli said. "I thought he had a problem, so I overtook him as there was nothing else I could do."
Toyota team principal Tadashi Yamashina confirmed the team is appealing the stewards' decision.
"I was lucky, but we have a fantastic car," Trulli said after podium celebrations, before his luck changed.
Vettel's troubles stemmed from tire considerations -- a big factor now that Bridgestone's two race compounds are purposely diverse -- as well as track conditions in which shadows harbored cooler temperatures. Vettel slowed as Kubica overhauled him. The cars "touched, crashed and retired," as the BMW Sauber press officer succinctly put it.
"What a disappointment!" Kubica said. "I had a chance to win this race because Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel were on soft tires and struggling, while I was on the harder compound and was able to drive much quicker. Sebastian went wide in Corner 1 and then he braked early. I was already in front, but he didn't want to let me by. Then he had a lot of understeer and touched me. My front wing was under the car, therefore, I crashed in Corner 5.
"I think Sebastian was a bit too optimistic. Had this been the last corner, OK, but there were still three laps to go, and he really had no realistic chance to defend his position because I was so much quicker. We both had a great weekend up to this point and we leave Melbourne with nothing."
Vettel was quick to take blame and apologize to his team, which stood to bag its highest finish if Vettel could improve on the team's third place scored by David Coulthard in Monaco in 2006.
"We were in second and a strong position, but then, a couple of laps from the end, I had a stupid racing accident with Robert," Vettel said. "At the time I turned in I was ahead, but I couldn't keep up speed in the corner and Robert was on a harder tire, so was much quicker. At the time we collided he was in front, but I had nowhere to go. I couldn't stop the car or turn to the right, and my tires were gone.
"Maybe I should have said let him go and bring third back home, but that's life. I tried to defend and, up to the midcorner, I had reason, but then I had no grip to avoid a collision. I'm sorry to the team and also to Robert, as it didn't just mean the end of my race but also his."
Both cars continued after collision, both finally hitting the outside wall. Kubica was stopped when the F1.09 lost two wheels, which went bouncing along the track. Vettel drove on, his left front wheel tethered to the car and resting on its bodywork. Stewards fined the Red Bull team $50,000 for Vettel driving a damaged car.