After leading but failing to win the first two Grands Prix Sebastian Vettel won the Malaysian Grand Prix today at Sepang, thanks to a bold pass on his team mate the pole sitter Mark Webber at the start of the race.
It was another race where the start was decisive. That move by Vettel was the key. Webber finished second, with Nico Rosberg third. Robert Kubica had another strong performance, jumping up to fourth place at the start, as in Melbourne and holding that place until the finish. And Adrian Sutil underlined Force India’s credentials with a strong drive to fifth place.
Of the big names who started at the back of the field after misjudging qualifying, Lewis Hamilton got the best result in sixth. He made up 8 places at the start. Hamilton had another swashbuckling afternoon with some strong overtaking manoeuvres. He was warned by the stewards about his driving after he weaved several times to break the tow and shake off Vitalt Petrov, who proved quite tough to pass; the first time Hamilton passed him, Petrov passed him right back again, using the Renault’s impressive straight line speed, which allowed him to compete with the McLaren.
Vettel would now be dominating the championship with 75 points on the board were it not for poor reliability on the Red Bull car in Bahrain and Melbourne and this win will come as a great relief to the team.
A 1-2 finish on a day when both McLaren and Ferrari scored minor placings boosted both Vettel and Red Bull’s championship positions. Vettel is now joint second with 37 points, two points off the lead, while the team leapt from fifth to third in the constructors’ table.
The German got a good start from third place on the grid and hauled past Nico Rosberg to challenge Webber into Turn 1. The Australian covered him initially but then opened the door in the braking zone and Vettel eased through.
“I had a good start and got the tow from Mark, I took the chance I had in Turn 1, ” said Vettel. “We both pushed, we had to fight and we had respect for each other. After that it was a question of getting away from our competitors.
“What a day. We had a magnificent car and the key was to pace yourself. It’s a good result after two races where we didn’t finish where we want to be.”
Webber put a brave face on his loss, but said that the team “blew everyone away” today and praised the spirit of the Red Bull team.
The rain which had tormented the teams in qualifying failed to materialise on race day and it was a race where teams had to decide the right tyre strategy for dry conditions. Complicating the situation was the fact that the track was green at the start after all the rain on Saturday, increasing the tyre degradation.
Starting from the back of the grid, Lewis Hamilton and the two Ferraris opted to run a long first stint on the hard tyres, whereas most drivers went for the soft tyres and a shorter first stint. The drivers on soft tyres pitted from around lap 20 onwards, with the Red Bulls getting 24 and 25 laps out of their tyres.
Jenson Button started on softs and made another very early call for tyres on lap 10, because he wasn’t making the progress through the field that Hamilton was. But this time it was the wrong call, as he was forced to do 46 laps on the hard tyres. Towards the end he was really struggling as the Ferraris of Massa and Alonso caught him.
Fernando Alonso lost the championship lead to team mate Felipe Massa after he retired in the final laps when his engine let go. It was the third Ferrari engine problem along with both Saubers. Both Ferraris had required some work in parc ferme on the engines’ pneumatic system.
Alonso had an impressive race, considering that he also had a gear selection problem from the early stages of the race. He went to lap 37 on the hard tyres and around 30 laps into the race he was able to match the lap times of Vettel who had recently pitted for new hard tyres.
Michael Schumacher, who got a great start and went from 8th to 6th, retired on lap 10, with a loose wheel nut while his nemesis from Melbourne, Jaime Alguersuari, scored his first F1 points in 10th place.
Virgin Racing got its first finish, with Lucas di Grassi despite having a fuel tank which isn’t large enough, by leaning the engine out. While both Hispania cars made it to the finish, along with Jarno Trulli’s Lotus.
MALAYSIAN GP, Sepang, 56 laps
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault
2. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 4.8s
3. Rosberg Mercedes + 13.5s
4. Kubica Renault + 18.5s
5. Sutil Force India-Mercedes + 21.0s
6. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes + 23.4s
7. Massa Ferrari + 27.0s
8. Button McLaren-Mercedes + 37.9s
9. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1m10.6s
10. Hulkenberg Williams + 1m13.3s
11. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1m18.9s
12. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth + 1 lap
13. Alonso Ferrari + 2 laps
14. Di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth + 3 laps
15. Chandhok Hispania-Cosworth + 3 laps
16. Senna Hispania-Cosworth + 4 laps
17. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth + 5 laps