Sunday, 24 March 2013

Malaysian GP Race: Bittersweet victory

After all of the action of the Malaysian Grand Prix, controversy won the day again, with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber ending in an uncomfortable conflict. Numerous altercations have occurred between the two Red Bull drivers, but this one will be remembered as one of the more palatable, since both understood what had happened and appeared instantly prepared to work towards remedying the situation.

Returning to the start of the Grand Prix, the big incident through the first couple of corners involved last year's major title contender, Fernando Alonso, who found himself struggling to hold on to second place with a damaged front wing. As he drove through turn two he got a little too close to the rear end of Vettel's Red Bull and made contact. It was hanging on and throwing up sparks for a full lap, during which Mark Webber swapped positions with the Ferrari driver time and time again. It seemed inevitable that Fernando would pit at the end of the lap, to have the nose replaced, but he drove on and at the end of the start/finish straight the wing came away and lodged under the front of the car, leaving Alonso a spectator, as the car hurtled in to the gravel. Fortunately, the car slowed down before making contact with the barrier, but I would argue that it was a dangerous decision by Ferrari, when regulation states that if there is damage that can cause an accident then the car must be pitted.

With Alonso out of the running it became a straight battle between Red Bull Racing and Mercedes, which would continue to the end of the Grand Prix. Lotus didn't figure too heavily in the front fight and neither did McLaren, Jenson Button suffering in one of his pitstops, with a wheel that wasn't properly attached to his car. Pit stops were a big feature of this race, with Force India having a nightmare, culminating in Di Resta and Sutil having to retire. Toro Rosso and Caterham had an incident, when Vergne was released straight in to Charles Pic, causing damage to both cars. A similar incident occurred between Raikonnen and Hulkenberg, with the drivers avoiding contact, however it was a feud which continued for many laps after. Need I say much about Lewis Hamilton, driving through his old team's pit box...

As the Malaysian Grand Prix approached its conclusion. The Red Bull drivers found themselves in first and second, whilst the Mercedes drivers were in third and fourth. There was quite a distance between the two teams but not much distance between team mates and it was this circumstance that led to the controversy. Understandably, the teams radioed instructions to their respective drivers that they wanted them to hold position, protect their tyres and (in Hamilton's case) preserve fuel. Rosberg, who felt that he was faster, communicated his frustrations to the team, but obeyed the orders. Vettel took matters in to his own hands and decided to fight Mark Webber, his team mate and the worthy winner, who had turned his engine down (under team orders) to ensure he made it to the end of the grand prix. What ensued was a risky and heated battle, resulting in Vettel snatching the lead and driving to an undeserved victory.

The post race formalities were awkward and uncomfortable, with Vettel admitting his wrong doing and stating that he wished he hadn't won, Webber regretfully pointing out that the team needed to be strong and work together, and Lewis Hamilton explaining how it wasn't the usual good feeling on the podium. This race was exciting, but we are all becoming accustomed to watching respectful and fair racing, and for that reason the final result left a very bitter taste. Fortunately it seems that the drivers are fully aware of that fact and we can expect this sort of thing not to happen again for a very long time.