Vettel ignores team orders to win in Sepang

Webber and Vettel Sepang 2013

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

Not classified/retirements:

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:                

Drivers:    
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

Constructors:
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.

Vettel storms to pole position in Sepang

F1 Grand Prix of Malaysia - Qualifying

Sebastian Vettel achieved his 38th career pole position in Formula 1, with the Red Bull team gambling on the car set-up by preparing for the wet conditions.

It did rain at the Sepang International Circuit and after struggling for outright speed in terms of lap times in the dry running of Q1 and Q2, the wet conditions helped improved performance in Q3.

The end result was Vettel securing yet another pole with a time of one minute, 49.674 seconds. The triple world champion made great use of a fresh set of intermediates to set the lap.

Behind the Red Bull are the Scuderia pair of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso. The Brazilian yet again out-qualified his Spanish team-mate, his fourth consecutive race, but the margin compared to the young German was still 0.9 seconds…

Lewis Hamilton held provisional pole for Mercedes going into the last minute, before being shuffled back to fourth position by Vettel and the Ferraris.

Mark Webber was another contender for pole but ended up lower down, in his case fifth.

Q2 pacesetter Nico Rosberg completed the top six, with championship leader Kimi Raikkonen in seventh. The Iceman won the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in this position.

But hours after qualifying, the race stewards have penalised the Lotus driver for impeding Nico Rosberg at the end of Q3.

Raikkonen’s penalty relegates him to tenth on the grid promoting Jenson Button, Adrian Sutil and Sergio Perez.

The rain had started in Q2, catching out those who had not set a timed lap.

The Ferraris just made it through in time, but Romain Grosjean’s early time was pushed back to P11, leaving the Lotus driver frustrated.

Paul di Resta spun helplessly to P15, behind Nico Hulkenberg, Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Gutierrez. Williams driver Pastor Maldonado was unable to set a lap time at all, caught out by the rain.

Williams had already lost Valtteri Bottas, unable to get out of Q1, along with Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne.

Both drivers were only a few tenths clear of the astonishing Jules Bianchi’s Marussia. The French rookie beat the rest of the backmarkers by 0.9 seconds and was 1.2 seconds quicker than his team-mate Max Chilton.

Sunday’s race at Sepang is going to be fascinating. With Vettel on pole running a wet set-up ahead of the red cars of Massa and Alonso. Can the defending champion score his first win of the season? Let’s hope it rains in Sepang judging by the RB9’s lack of performance in the dry conditions.

Qualifying times from Sepang:

1.  Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault     1m49.674s
2.  Felipe Massa          Ferrari              1m50.587s
3.  Fernando Alonso       Ferrari              1m50.727s
4.  Lewis Hamilton        Mercedes             1m51.699s
5.  Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault     1m52.244s
6.  Nico Rosberg          Mercedes             1m52.519s
7.  Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes     1m53.175s
8.  Adrian Sutil          Force India-Mercedes 1m53.439s
9.  Sergio Perez          McLaren-Mercedes     1m54.136s
10.  Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault        1m52.970s*
11.  Romain Grosjean       Lotus-Renault        1m37.636s
12.  Nico Hulkenberg       Sauber-Ferrari       1m38.125s
13.  Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari   1m38.822s
14.  Esteban Gutierrez     Sauber-Ferrari       1m39.221s
15.  Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes 1m44.509s
16.  Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault     no time
17.  Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari   1m38.157s
18.  Valtteri Bottas       Williams-Renault     1m38.207s
19.  Jules Bianchi         Marussia-Cosworth    1m38.434s
20.  Charles Pic           Caterham-Renault     1m39.314s
21.  Max Chilton           Marussia-Cosworth    1m39.672s
22.  Giedo van der Garde   Caterham-Renault     1m39.932s

107 per cent time: 1m43.585s

*Three-place grid penalty for impending another driver during qualifying

Raikkonen takes victory in season opener

Raikkonen Melbourne winner 2013

Kimi Raikkonen took his twentieth career victory in Formula 1 by playing the two-stop strategy to perfection to beat Fernando Alonso to the win in Melbourne.

It was a thrilling race and after all the predictions of a Red Bull domination, Sebastian Vettel could only manage third.

The defending champion’s team-mate Mark Webber was only sixth after yet another poor start. The home favourite finished behind Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes.

As for Adrian Sutil, this was a great comeback race for the Force India driver. He actually led the race for long periods and yet he finished down in seventh position after struggling with a lack of grip with his wore tyres at the end.

The superiority Red Bull had displayed in all the weekend’s dry running so far was never evident in the race.

Webber immediately plunged outside the top five with a poor start, and Vettel was unable to get away from the fast-starting Massa and Alonso, who both passed Hamilton on the opening lap.

Raikkonen overtook the Mercedes soon afterwards, and then closed in on Vettel, Massa and Alonso to make a four-car lead train.

All the frontrunners pitted very early to get rid of their fragile super-soft tyres.

The order among that quartet remained the same into the second stint, but they had to fight their way through those running longer, including Sutil – who had started on the medium compound and found himself in the lead by lap 15.

Vettel, the Ferraris and Raikkonen were soon on the Force India’s slipstream. They could not pass though, and Sutil was able to make his first pitstop at the same time as Vettel, Massa and Alonso made their second, bringing the Force India onto the same sequence as the victory contenders.

Alonso pitted a lap before Sutil and Vettel and was able to leapfrog both.

Sutil stayed ahead of Vettel in the pits but was overtaken into Turn 3 a lap later. Vettel could not put any pressure on Alonso however, even as the Ferrari had to battle through drivers on other strategies – including Hamilton, with whom the Spaniard had a spectacular dice before getting clear.

By this time, Raikkonen’s strategy had come into play.

He stayed out until lap 34, a couple of laps longer than the other leaders, making it clear that Lotus was going for a two-stop to their three.

That left The Iceman with a comfortable lead over Alonso and Vettel when they made their third stops, and although the Ferrari initially began carving the lost ground to the Lotus, once Alonso had used his new-tyre grip, the gap stabilised.

Raikkonen was therefore able to claim victory by 12 seconds, as Alonso pulled 10 seconds clear of Vettel.

Massa faded in fourth after a very strong first half of the race.

Hamilton was next up, having had to abandon his intended two-stop strategy and pit for a third time. Webber made a quiet recovery to sixth, just behind Hamilton, whose team-mate Nico Rosberg retired with electrical problems.

Sutil stayed with the leaders until he finally had to take on super-softs with 12 laps to the flag. They did not last as he had hoped, and Sutil had to be content with seventh, just ahead of team-mate Paul di Resta.

Jenson Button finished ninth for McLaren, while Romain Grosjean completed the scorers, holding off Sergio Perez and Jean-Eric Vergne.

Nico Hulkenberg failed to take the start due to a pre-race fuel system problem on his Sauber. Pastor Maldonado spun off at Turn 1 before half-distance, and Daniel Ricciardo retired a sick-sounding Toro Rosso.

Jules Bianchi dominated the backmarker pack in P15 for Marussia.

So a great start to the new Formula 1 season with seven different leaders, battles amongst the field and unpredictability regarding the tyres. Roll on for the next Grand Prix in Sepang for another thrilling race.

Australian Grand Prix, race results after 58 laps:

1.  Raikkonen      Lotus-Renault              1h30:03.225
2.  Alonso         Ferrari                    +12.451
3.  Vettel         Red Bull-Renault           +22.346
4.  Massa          Ferrari                    +33.577
5.  Hamilton       Mercedes                   +45.561
6.  Webber         Red Bull-Renault           +46.800
7.  Sutil          Force India-Mercedes       +1:05.068
8.  Di Resta       Force India-Mercedes       +1:08.449
9.  Button         McLaren-Mercedes           +1:21.630
10.  Grosjean       Lotus-Renault              +1:22.759
11.  Perez          McLaren-Mercedes           +1:23.367
12.  Vergne         Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +1:23.857
13.  Gutierrez      Sauber-Ferrari             +1 lap
14.  Bottas         Williams-Renault           +1 lap
15.  Bianchi        Marussia-Cosworth          +1 lap
16.  Pic            Caterham-Renault           +2 laps
17.  Chilton        Marussia-Cosworth          +2 laps
18.  van der Garde  Caterham-Renault           +2 laps

Fastest lap: Raikkonen, 1:29.274

Not classified/retirements:

Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari           40 laps
Rosberg        Mercedes                     26 laps
Maldonado      Williams-Renault             25 laps
Hulkenberg     Sauber-Ferrari               1 lap

World Championship standings, round 1:

Drivers:
1.  Raikkonen      25
2.  Alonso         18
3.  Vettel         15
4.  Massa          12
5.  Hamilton       10
6.  Webber          8
7.  Sutil           6
8.  Di Resta        4
9.  Button          2
10.  Grosjean        1

Constructors:
1.  Ferrari                    30
2.  Lotus-Renault              26
3.  Red Bull-Renault           23
4.  Mercedes                   10
5.  Force India-Mercedes       10
6.  McLaren-Mercedes            2

Next race: Malaysian Grand Prix, Sepang. March 22-24.

Red Bull Racing front row in disrupted qualifying session

Vettel Melbourne 2013

After an 19 hour wait for the remaining qualifying sessions to run due to the heavy rain, it was the usual suspects of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber leading the field with a front row lock at Albert Park.

Sebastian Vettel made the most of a drying track to beat his Red Bull Racing team-mate Mark Webber to take his 37th career pole position.

Damp conditions for the delayed remainder of qualifying raised hopes of a mixed-up grid, but in the end the pole shootout took place on slicks on a nearly-dry circuit, and it was the champion team that prevailed.

Vettel put himself a second and a half ahead of the field with his one minute, 27.407 seconds lap around the street circuit in Melbourne.

Webber looked poised to beat it until a mistake at the penultimate corner left him 0.420 seconds adrift. Vettel was improving further on his next lap before pitting when it became clear he was unbeatable.

Lewis Hamilton kick-started Mercedes GP’s season with third on the grid, 0.6 seconds off Vettel’s pace.

That was three places higher than team-mate Nico Rosberg, despite the German having been the class of the field when the track was wet. He comfortably topped Q2, having also gone fastest in Saturday’s Q1.

The Ferraris split the Mercedes, Felipe Massa outqualifying team-mate Fernando Alonso by 0.003 seconds to grab fourth position.

Row four will be filled by the Lotus duo of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean. The Iceman starts ahead of his team-mate.

Paul di Resta got as high as second for Force India early in Q3 when intermediates were still the best choice. But on slicks he was pushed back to ninth, ahead of McLaren’s Jenson Button, the first driver to come out on dry tyres in the pole segment.

Several drivers had tried slicks in the final minutes of Q2, but this move proved premature.

While Button immediately returned to intermediates, his team-mate Sergio Perez persisted with slicks and found himself P15 on his McLaren debut.

Having looked a likely top-five man on intermediates, the slick move left Jean-Eric Vergne only P13, albeit ahead of inter-shod Toro Rosso team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.

Valtteri Bottas discovered slicks made no difference to Williams’s plight in P16, while Nico Hulkenberg’s Sauber and Adrian Sutil’s Force India had the right tyres but were still squeezed back to row six.

So after a lengthy delay, we have a grid for the race and that takes place on the same day too!

Qualifying times at Albert Park:

1.  Sebastian Vettel     Red Bull-Renault       1m27.407s
2.  Mark Webber          Red Bull-Renault       1m27.827s
3.  Lewis Hamilton       Mercedes               1m28.087s
4.  Felipe Massa         Ferrari                1m28.490s
5.  Fernando Alonso      Ferrari                1m28.493s
6.  Nico Rosberg         Mercedes               1m28.523s
7.  Kimi Raikkonen       Lotus-Renault          1m28.738s
8.  Romain Grosjean      Lotus Renault          1m29.013s
9.  Paul di Resta        Force India-Mercedes   1m29.305s
10.  Jenson Button        McLaren-Mercedes       1m30.357s
11. Nico Hulkenberg       Sauber-Ferrari         1m38.067s
12. Adrian Sutil          Force India-Mercedes   1m38.134s
13. Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari     1m38.778s
14. Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari     1m39.042s
15. Sergio Perez          McLaren-Mercedes       1m39.900s
16. Valtteri Bottas       Williams-Renault       1m40.290s
17. Adrian Sutil          Force India-Mercedes   1m37.593s
17. Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault       1m47.614s
18. Esteban Gutierrez     Sauber-Ferrari         1m47.776s
19. Jules Bianchi         Marussia-Cosworth      1m48.147s
20. Max Chilton           Marussia-Cosworth      1m48.909s
21. Giedo van der Garde   Caterham-Renault       1m49.519s
22. Charles Pic           Caterham-Renault       1m50.626s

107 per cent time: 1m50.616s

Melbourne qualifying postponed to Sunday morning

Nico Rosberg. Mercedes. Melbourne 2013

Qualifying for the season-opener Australian Grand Prix will be postponed until 11.00 am local time on Sunday morning due to heavy rain showers in Melbourne.

A delayed Q1 managed to take place after thirty minutes, but the start of Q2 was repeatedly put back due to the weather conditions.

The decision to postpone the rest of the session was finally taken nearly two hours after qualifying had begun.

The situation was complicated by further showers being forecast, so that even if the track improved, the likelihood was that the rain would immediately return.

Fading light added a further pressure to fit in Q2 and Q3.

Before the postponement was announced the FIA race director Charlie Whiting said: “After Q1 there was a lot of debris to pick up off the track plus the fact it had rained a little heavier. So we want to try to clear as much water off the track as possible. So we think a twenty minute delay is what we need.”

“The guys are out there working really hard to clear the water off the track. We do have the prospect of another quite heavy shower between now and half past six so I’m not sure that we’ll be able to start at half past six but we’ll do the best we can.”

As for the track action, Nico Rosberg went quickest in Q1. The Mercedes team timed the moment right to get both cars out at the start of the session.

This meant Rosberg spent a long while on top, although he had to fight to get the position back again after everyone switched to intermediates with five minutes to go.

His team-mate Lewis Hamilton spun at Turn 2, sustaining minor rear wing damage as he nudged the barriers. Briefly stranded on the sodden grass, he eventually managed to reverse back onto the track.

That was one of many incidents during the running that did take place.

Felipe Massa and both Caterhams had to limp back to the pits minus front wings after spinning into the barriers.

Esteban Gutierrez had a similar incident but ended up stranded on track in a damaged Sauber. That left him P18 on the grid, just behind a frustrated Pastor Maldonado.

Jules Bianchi led the rest of the rear pack in his Marussia, with the crashing Caterhams at the very back.

Provisional times from the end of Q3:

1. Nico Rosberg          Mercedes                1m43.380s
2. Fernando Alonso       Ferrari                 1m43.850s
3. Romain Grosjean       Lotus Renault           1m44.284s
4. Sergio Perez          McLaren-Mercedes        1m44.300s
5. Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault        1m44.472s
6. Felipe Massa          Ferrari                 1m44.635s
7. Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault        1m44.657s
8. Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes        1m44.688s
9. Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari      1m44.871s
10. Lewis Hamilton        Mercedes                1m45.456s
11. Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault           1m45.545s
12. Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes    1m45.601s
13. Nico Hulkenberg       Sauber-Ferrari          1m45.930s
14. Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari      1m46.450s
15. Valtteri Bottas       Williams-Renault        1m47.328s
16. Adrian Sutil          Force India-Mercedes    1m47.330s
17. Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault        1m47.614s
18. Esteban Gutierrez     Sauber-Ferrari          1m47.776s
19. Jules Bianchi         Marussia-Cosworth       1m48.147s
20. Max Chilton           Marussia-Cosworth       1m48.909s
21. Giedo van der Garde   Caterham-Renault        1m49.519s
22. Charles Pic           Caterham-Renault        1m50.626s

107 per cent time: 1m45.301s

*Q2 and Q3 will take place on March 17th, just a few hours before the race at Albert Park.

Formula 1 2013 season preview

Red Bull Vettel

The 2013 season is almost upon us. With new driver line-ups and tweaks to the regulations, this season’s world championship is likely to be the most competitive and aggressively fierce in the history of Formula 1 racing.

After becoming the sport’s youngest triple champion in a dramatic finale in Sao Paulo last year, Sebastian Vettel remains the favourite to win his fourth consecutive title for Red Bull Racing.

He joins an elusive hall of fame featuring the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher in achieving the title hat trick. Can Sebastian go for four straight wins? It seems possible but the level of competition is even closer than ever.

(more…)