Controversy chaos as Vettel conquers in Malaysia

In attempting to sum up the Malaysian Grand Prix in two words it would have to be… team orders.

The race saw team orders play a pivotal role in the result of the Grand Prix. Two sets of teammates were fighting closely throughout the Malaysian circuit in Sepang; the Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, who started 1st and 5th respectively; and the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg 3rd and 6th respectively.

If Nico Rosberg highlighted the perfect team player than Sebastian Vettel highlighted the worst. Nico Rosberg helped the team bring home an excellent third and fourth position, despite his increasing pace over teammate Lewis Hamilton.

Rosberg by the conclusion of the race was catching his fuel saving teammate at a vast rate of knots, to the point that an easy pass was available. However, Team Principal Ross Brawn, a man well versed in dealing with conflicting drivers during his time at Ferrari, ordered Rosberg to safely maintain position and bring home the team’s best result in a long time.

Meanwhile at Red Bull, Webber, who had managed to secure first place through brilliant pit stop strategy and Alonso’s early retirement (due to damage to his front wing), was being hunted by teammate Vettel.

Vettel had been ordered, it transpired, by Team Principal Christian Horner to simply maintain position, instead of losing both 1st and 2nd position. Vettel did not comply.

Determined to regain his 1st place position, which he had secured through qualifying, Vettel hunted Webber after closing the gap during Webber final pit stop. After a side by side battle for two laps, Vettel hammered down the inside of Webber and the pit wall.

The Red Bull pit wall held their breath and their heads as Webber fought out ahead but lost the position on turn two due to a move by Vettel around the outside. This move, risky on its own, was made risker by the knowledge that Vettel had defied orders not to do anything “silly”.

This coded message from the pit wall illustrated his defiance of team orders. In the aftermath of the race Webber highlighted his frustration with Vettel’s actions but stated that Vettel was “protected” in the team, suggesting any “explanation”, which Horner stated was needed in a radio communication after the conclusion of the race, would not be truly needed.

Team orders are of course, now completely legal, but still very controversial; fans love to see wheel to wheel racing, but Formula One still remains a team sport. As Rosberg highlighted after the race when questioned about his adherence to team orders, “I am a Mercedes employee”.

Vettel apologised after the race saying he had misunderstood the order. Webber’s comments to specific team order: multi-21, contradict this belief that Vettel could have misunderstood.

The drama continued throughout the grid, with Force India having a terrible day with both drivers retiring after a series of slow problematic pit stops. Three failures with their new “nut in wheel” system turned a promising weekend where they appeared on the pace, to a dismal non scoring weekend to forget.

Force India were not the only team to suffer a race ruining pit stop. Jenson Button for McLaren came in from leading the race (due to a later pit stop strategy) and exited before a wheel had been correctly fastened. He managed to rejoin the race but all the way back down in 14th, and later strategically retired.

Ferrari also suffered a disappointing race weekend despite apparent pace. Alonso had such a good run into turn 2 that he was challenging Vettel for the lead, however during the battle Alonso tapped the back of Vettel’s Red Bull and damaged his front wing.

The risky strategy of staying out rather than immediately replacing the front wing, very unlike the cautious Ferrari and Alonso, was due to an attempt to coincide the replacement pit stop with the time to change to dry tyres. This strategy would have negated the wasted pit stop time, and turned adversity to strategy. Unfortunately their risk did not pay off.

Vettel’s move won him the race and made him the championship leader, with only time telling how vital those extra five points will be in fighting for the title, as last year saw him clinch the Championship by merely three points.


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