‘Immersive’, that’s what we’ll call that one. On the track, in the pits, in qualifying, on the radio, on the podium, even in the podium green room it all kicked off in Malaysia this weekend, didn’t it? Red Bull might have had the upper hand in the race today, but that is one unhappy team right now. Sebastian Vettel, it seems pretty obvious now, blatantly ignored team orders and/or a drivers agreement between him and Mark Webber not to engage in the kind of proper ding-dong that secured him the win over his team mate. And Webber looked like he wanted to lamp him one right after the race.
Funny isn’t it, we’ve already fallen in to the trap of talking about the politics and not what was a fantastic few corners racing, really — breath-taking stuff. It’s exactly the kind racing we want, yet when it happens it instantly gets soured by this kind of drama.
Maybe we were too quick to criticise Vettel and Webber for laying into Pirelli on Friday. Their complaint was that this year’s tyres decide how quick the cars can race, and not the drivers. Red Bull were simply not expecting the RB9s to get as many good laps out of either compound today, hence the agreement we must assume was encrypted internally as the ‘multi 21’ rule not to race. Ooops. Right now it feels like Senna/Prost, or, for those with longer memories Villeneuve/Pironi, but let’s wait and see how this pans out before we officially declare a civil war at Red Bull.
(Update: Vettel has, just this moment, issued an apology to Webber. But that misses the point, the real damage today was done not by the move itself, but Webber making it clear he feels Vettel can get away with this stuff inside the team)
At least Lewis Hamilton (third) had the grace to admit Nico Rosberg (fourth) should have been in front. That will do an awful lot to diffuse that one. Rosberg was all over the back of Hamilton, who’d been asked to cruise to save fuel. That’s alarming in itself, suggesting as it does that the Merc has not only got a tyre habit, but a fuel addiction too. Rosberg’s less-than-dignified repeated pleadings to be allowed to pass won’t have done much for the fragile ego of Lewis Hamilton. Maybe that’s what the boy intended? Smarter than he looks? Either way Ross Brawn, like Christian Horner, won’t be thinking about the W04 tonight, despite it securing the team’s best result yet.
It all makes you wonder what would have happened had Fernando Alonso and Ferrari not made an unusual mistake. In a fantastic first lap, ‘Nando made contact with Vettel, putting a few degrees elevation in the right hand side of his front wing, that duly gave up the ghost a lap later and put him in the gravel with only one lap on the board. Team-mate Felipe Massa (who had qualified ahead on the front row) didn’t have a great race, coming home fifth a long way behind the leading pairs of Red Bulls and Mercs and only just in front of another pair, the two Lotuses of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean.
Last week’s car-of-the-moment lost pace over the weekend, Raikkonen especially, after being given a penalty for blocking that saw him start tenth (three places back on where he qualified). He was on and off the track, and not the man he was in Australia. With the race starting on the intermediate tyres he was never able to get in position to make the E21’s tyre advantage stick. Combined with Red Bull’s unexpectedly easy run (even Horner was surprised at that) and some consistency at Mercedes, Lotus looked back where they were this year.
McLaren, too, looked closer to last year’s form. Not the form that made them quick at the start and quick at the end of the 2012, but the slightly-off-the-pace team it was in the middle of the year. Yeah, that team; the team that could throw away a solid points score with a pit stop screw up. You could feel Button’s desperation, stuck there in the middle of the pit-lane, only three-wheels safely behind their nuts. That wiped the smiles off the squad’s faces who’d clearly enjoyed an unscheduled old-time’s-sake visit from Hamilton’s Mercedes.
Checo Perez scored his first points for McLaren in ninth, trailing Nico Hulkenberg and leading Jean-Eric Vergne to finish off the top ten behind the Lotus’.