VETTEL VICTORIOUS IN THE BULL FIGHT BUT “HAS EXPLAINING TO DO”

24 Mar

The Michael Report- 2013 FORMULA ONE PETRONAS MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX

A GOOD old scrap isn’t a bad way of summing up today’s action packed Malaysian Grand Prix. We witnessed team principals arguing with their drivers, disastrous pit stops, crashes, lots of near-misses and a spot of rain at the start of the race that fired up the tyre strategy battle between the cars in Sepang today.

To the victor goes the spoils, but unfortunately today, second placed Mark Webber felt that the podium was cruelly taken away from him by his eager team-mate Vettel. As the rainwater evaporated from the circuit and the track dried up, Vettel was the first to pit to change on to the dry tyres, and struggled in the parts of the track that still held moisture, whilst Mark Webber held on for longer, pitted later and looked after his tyres superbly in the race, leading for much of the Grand Prix. However, towards the end of the race, Vettel and Webber were scrapping for the lead, and came very close- it could have all ended in tears, but somehow both men remained unscathed. However, Christian Horner and Adrian Newey from Red Bull were unhappy that drivers were racing each other- isn’t that the idea of a motor race? Vettel was clearly ordered to maintain position, but didn’t listen and overtook a fuming Webber. He expressed his concerns and his disappointment clearly during the podium interviews, stating he was “disappointed at the outcome of the race”. Red Bull would argue that they were trying to prevent an accident, but Vettel will be talking with his team for a very long time indeed. He formally apologised in the formal press conference immediately after the race, but will that be sufficient enough to settle the dispute?

Team friction was also felt within the Mercedes team- principal Ross Brawn ordered a desperate Nico Rosberg- who finished in fourth place with twelve points- to stay in fourth place, despite having more fuel in which to push forward and an evidently faster car- but the team weren’t having it, and Lewis Hamilton denied his team-mate a podium, something he was remorseful about atop the podium; the new Mercedes recruit had to nurse the car home, or risk running out of fuel. Nevertheless, it was fifteen points for third place and his maiden podium race for his new team, but again, will the in-team battling affect the drivers’ performance? We will have to wait and see.

Outside the top four, Ferrari suffered a disastrous misfortune in the opening laps of the race- Fernando Alonso was a little too keen when the lights went out at the start of the race, and nearly overtook Vettel. Unfortunately, he touched Vettel’s car and this front wing broke, dangling by a thread. He had the opportunity to come into the pits to have it changed, but either Alonso didn’t notice the damage, or Ferrari were gambling to keep him out until they could change to dry tyres, but Alonso left the Formula One casino in dramatic style, as on the pit straight, the front wing came off, and went under the Car sending debris everywhere, and the car cruised straight into the barriers. Thankfully, no other car was involved, and Alonso was free from injury, but it cost Ferrari dearly, as Felipe Massa scored just ten points in fifth place- we may have seen a Ferrari driver on the podium today, but a crash and a satisfactory performance denied them this opportunity.

The Lotus cars of Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkönen may have dominated last week’s maiden Grand Prix of 2013, but today they were average at best. Grosjean was sixth and takes home eight points; Raikkönen managed to take a trip on the grass, lose some front wing, and somehow finished seventh, taking home six points for the team.

Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg finished eighth today, and scored four points in his first race this year, managing to fend off McLaren’s Sergio Perez, who finished ninth with two points. The final championship point was awarded to Jean Eric-Vergne from Toro Rosso in tenth, but one can’t help but feel that technical gremlins denied some key contenders a good result from today’s race. Beginning with Jenson Button, he managed- at one point- to lead the Grand Prix in a resurgent McLaren car, managing to even match the pace of the Red Bulls- he took care of his tyres, and managed to remain around fifth place, until we saw the return for the embarrassing McLaren pit stop. The front right tyre wasn’t attached properly, due to a slightly faulty nut, and the car left the pit stop box, and jutted to a stop- the mechanics had to push Button back to the pit stop, attach the tyre correctly, and the Brit rejoined the race in fourteenth, and looked as if he might be able to claw back to the points positions, but the team decided to retire the car, just in case further damage ensued. However, McLaren can take back the positives, and slow gains were clearly made today, and they will be hoping that they will continue to slowly make improvements, and keep building and progressing as the season continues.

Force India were once again a dominant force, but pit stop woes prevented points finishes for Adrian Sutil and Paul Di Resta- the wheel nuts and tyre guns weren’t working properly, and Di Resta had to remain in the pit lane for at least a minute, meaning his components were overheating as the mechanics tried everything they could to get the tyres attached, even resorting to hammers! In case the tyre wasn’t properly attached, they retired Paul Di Resta, and had to retire Sutil when he had to pit- otherwise a serious incident may have occurred. One final pit stop error occurred when Lewis Hamilton accidentally stopped in the McLaren pit stop, before being guided by the mechanics into his new box- does he still miss his old team? Does he want to come back?

In a race filled with excitement, despair and controversy, the Marussia of Jules Bianchi may have been slow, but he managed to keep it on the track, finishing in thirteenth and ensured that his team remains in front of the Caterhams in this early part of the 2013 season. Vettel may have won, but you can’t help but feel the victory was tainted somewhat by the bitter battle between the two world class Red Bull drivers.

OFFICIAL STANDINGS UPDATE

A controversial victory for Sebastian Vettel nonetheless meant that he received 25 points and propelled him into first place in the Drivers Championships, with 40 points. Kimi Raikkönen has lost his first place the German, and now has 31 points in second place. Mark Webber has jumped up the leader board to third place, and now has 26 points, with Lewis Hamilton a solitary point behind in fourth. In fifth place, Felipe Massa holds strong with 22 points; Alonso’s pointless finish today means that he has fallen from second to sixth, still retaining 18 points.

In seventh place, we have Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg with 12 points, and Romain Grosjean is eighth with 9 points. Force India’s Adrian Sutil has 6 points in ninth place; both Paul Di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg have 4 points in tenth and eleventh respectively. We see the two McLaren’s next- Sergio Perez is twelfth, Jenson Button in thirteenth, both holding just 2 points each. Toro Rosso’s Jean Eric- Vergne is fourteenth with a single point.

In the Constructors’ Championship, Red Bull have taken first place from Ferrari and now have an impressive 66 points- Lotus and Ferrari are second and third respectively, each  with 40 points. We have Mercedes close behind in fourth place with 37 points, and Force India are fifth with 10 points. Even Sauber have overtaken McLaren into sixth place with 4 points; McLaren have the same points tally, but the DNF for Jenson Button today has pushed them down the standings further. Toro Rosso are off the Mark in eighth place with 1 point. Williams are ninth, followed by Marussia in tenth and Caterham in eleventh, though none of them are yet to score.

I will be back in a three weeks time as Formula One heads to China for the third race of the season. Hopefully, the Bull fighting will have ceased, if the Toreadors Horner and Newey spend a long time having a talk with their drivers. It was a good old scrap today, with exciting racing, but this unsportsmanlike demonstration has showed some uncomfortable conflict within F1 teams, which can hopefully be resolved before too long.

Michael

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