Sebastian Vettel achieved his 27th Grand Prix victory in Formula 1 by defeating Mark Webber at Sepang. And yet this race will be remembered for the ferocious Red Bull intra-team battle to secure the result.
The pair were wheel-to-wheel repeatedly in the closing laps before Vettel took the number one place.
Just behind them, a similar scenario was playing out between the Mercedes team-mates. The radio messages from team boss Ross Brawn made it clear that Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg should hold track position.
Unlike his fellow countryman, Rosberg respected the team orders and obeyed the instructions not to challenge his team-mate.
As for the triple world champion, he made the pass against the team’s wishes and later apologised for the incident.
Taking part in his 200th Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso was a contender for the win but crashed out on the second lap after sustaining wing damage from nudging Vettel exiting Turn 1.
Track conditions had been wet at that start following a heavy pre-race shower.
Alonso immediately passed Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa off the line, resisted Webber’s outside-line attempt and attacked Vettel for the lead, but slid lightly into the Red Bull at Turn 2.
That dislodged the Ferrari’s front wing, a situation that worsened as the lap went on – though that did not stop Alonso from fending off Webber’s repeated challenges.
The Ferrari stayed out on track, seemingly hoping to coincide the wing change with a switch to the slick tyres, but as Webber passed Alonso on the pits straight, the Spaniard’s wing collapsed and sent him skating into the gravel and out of the race.
Vettel and Webber then ran first and second, swapping positions at the pit-stops as Vettel’s early change to slicks proved slightly premature.
Webber came under increasing pressure from Vettel in the middle of the race, while the Mercedes began catching them both.
This prompted Vettel to urge the team to get Webber out of his way, but the Australian managed to rebuild a lead and Vettel found himself dropping behind the earlier-pitting Hamilton at the third pit-stops.
Hamilton lost pace in the next stint, allowing Vettel to reclaim second into the first corner.
The world champion then played the early stop tactic at the fourth and final pit visit, which brought him right back onto Webber’s tail when the Australian changed tyres.
They grappled wheel to wheel through the first five corners for two consecutive laps, prompting frantic radio calls from a concerned Red Bull pit wall, before Vettel got decisively in front and went on to clinch another win.
The Mercedes had fallen away by that stage and were involved in their own intra-team controversy. After Hamilton and Rosberg swapped places repeatedly in the DRS zones for several laps, they were ordered to hold station and save fuel and tyres, to Rosberg’s clear displeasure.
Ferrari had to settle for fifth with Felipe Massa, who recovered to that position after losing ground in the early stages.
That place would have gone to Jenson Button had the McLaren not lost two minutes in the pits after pulling away with a loose right-front wheel and having to stop in the pitlane and wait for his mechanics to retrieve the car.
That was one of a wild array of pit incidents, which also included Hamilton mistakenly pulling into former team McLaren’s pit box, both Force Indias having to retire with wheelnut issues, and Charles Pic and Jean-Eric Vergne colliding amid pitstops.
Lotus claimed sixth and seventh with Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen, the latter having an uneventful race that included several trips off the circuit and a bitter battle with Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg, who took eighth.
Sergio Perez was ninth for McLaren, while Vergne held off Valtteri Bottas to give Toro Rosso the final championship point.
The controversial result catapults the repentant Vettel into the lead in the drivers’ world championship with 40 points from Raikkonen on 31, Webber on 26, Hamilton on 25 and Massa on 22, while Red Bull have a comfortable lead in the constructors’ stakes with 66 points from Ferrari and Lotus on 40, and Mercedes on 37.
So after two dramatic races in the space of seven days, Formula 1 takes a three-week break before China. Hopefully the time will heal the relationship between the Red Bull drivers… if ever.
Malaysian Grand Prix, race results after 56 laps:
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:38:56.681
2. Webber Red Bull-Renault +4.298
3. Hamilton Mercedes +12.1
4. Rosberg Mercedes +12.640
5. Massa Ferrari +25.6
6. Grosjean Lotus-Renault +35.5
7. Raikkonen Lotus-Renault +48.4
8. Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari +53.0
9. Perez McLaren-Mercedes +72.3
10. Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari +87.1
11. Bottas Williams-Renault +88.6
12. Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari +1 lap
13. Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth +1 lap
14. Pic Caterham-Renault +1 lap
15. Van der Garde Caterham-Renault +1 lap
16. Chilton Marussia-Cosworth +2 laps
17. Button McLaren-Mercedes +3 laps
18. Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari +5 laps
Fastest lap: Perez, 1m39.199
Maldonado Williams-Renault 45 laps KERS
Sutil Force India-Mercedes 27 laps Wheel nut
Di Resta Force India-Mercedes 22 laps Wheel nut
Alonso Ferrari 1 lap Accident
World Championship standings, round 2:
1. Vettel 40
2. Raikkonen 31
3. Webber 26
4. Hamilton 25
5. Massa 22
6. Alonso 18
7. Rosberg 12
8. Grosjean 9
9. Sutil 6
10. Di Resta 4
11. Hulkenberg 4
12. Button 2
13. Perez 2
14. Vergne 1
1. Red Bull-Renault 66
2. Lotus-Renault 40
3. Ferrari 40
4. Mercedes 37
5. Force India-Mercedes 10
6. McLaren-Mercedes 4
7. Sauber-Ferrari 4
8. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1
Next race: Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai. April 12-14.