Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel once again found himself atop the podium, winning the Grand Prix of Malaysia, his first win of the young season. This was a truly amazing grand prix, with weather strategy, and some of the fastest drivers in the field bowing out from mechanical failures.
Right from the get-go, Spanish driver Fernando Alonso made slight contact with Vettel’s Red Bull Racing teammate Mark Webber in the second corner of the race. Webber would go on to finish second, whereas Alonso found himself with slight damage. Rather than pit, as his Ferrari team demanded he do, Alonso chose to try and see if the problem would fix itself.
But going into turn one on the second lap of a fifty-six lap race, the battered front wing collapsed, taking out the undercarriage of the car, and sending Alonso into the turn one gravel, his race done because of a miscue. Ferrari is one of the teams in Formula 1 where drivers must respect team orders to like they are commandments, and to see Alonso violate a team order like this may have created a rift between him and the team.
Throughout the early portion of the race, drivers were waiting for the track to dry, fighting the cars on the wet tire, waiting to see who the first car to switch to the medium or hard compound would be. That driver was Sebastian Vettel, and as soon as it became apparent it wouldn’t rain again, Vettel became the favorite to win the grand prix.
On lap 22, with the track fully dry, both Force India cars made their routine pit stops, but ran into a problem that was nothing like the precision teams and fans are accustomed to from a F1 pit stop. Both cars where simply forced to retire from a faulty wheel nut, something that should never be a problem. But for this year, Force India developed a new system where the nut remains attached to the rim of the tire rather than exiting into the gun, and today it cost them possible championship points for drivers Paul Di Resta and Adrian Sutil.
This would not be the only time where a pit stop error cost a driver a good result. McLaren Mercedes driver Jenson Button was making a stop on lap 37 from the third position when the mechanic in charge of tightening the right front wheel nut did not do his job, resulting in Button stalling on pit lane and dropping back to 14th. He would later retire, but Button is quoted by The BBC as saying he could have been on the podium had it not been for the mistake.
Button certainly would have thrown a wrench in things between the top four drivers. Both of the Mercedes cars of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were content to finish 3rd and 4th despite questions about who was actually faster on the track.
Meanwhile atop the grid, Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel where engaged in a dual that should have never happened. In short, Vettel broke team orders to capture his victory. Webber was leading the race with ten laps to go when Red Bull told him to slow down and save the car. Vettel was told to stay behin his teammate but ignored orders and nearly took both of them out. Webber was visually dismayed by his teammate’s decision to pass and disobey team orders, and this has absolutely done nothing but hurt the crucial bond between successful teammates. Red Bull said they were “uncomfortable with the win”. Vettel for what it’s worth did seem remorseful, but this has certainly created even more of a rift within the most dominant team in Formula 1.
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