Sebastian Vettel has won a tense Malaysian Grand Prix after edging out Red Bull team mate Mark Webber with a close move late in the race, after Webber had been told to turn down his engine and drive to the finish.
As Vettel attacked on lap 46 of 56, the pair almost collided several times, but the German squeezed through for the win.
Vettel apologised to Webber, but the Australian did not say that he accepted it, instead commenting that Red Bull management “protects” Vettel. Team boss Christian Horner meanwhile confirmed that Vettel had “taken things into his own hands” and disobeyed orders.
It was Vettel’s 27th career win, equalling Sir Jackie Stewart, but it was not one to celebrate as Vettel acknowledged,
“I did a big mistake today,” he said. “I think we should have stayed in the positions that we were. I didn’t ignore it on purpose but I messed up in that situation and obviously took the lead which, I can see now he’s upset, but yeah, I want to be honest at least and stick to the truth and apologise.”
But on a day when likely main title rival Fernando Alonso scored no points after crashing out on the second lap, Vettel knew that with the difference between first and second place at seven points, he did not want to gift them to Alonso.
The spat overshadowed all other stories from the day, including Lewis Hamilton taking his first podium for Mercedes in third place. Here too there was some controversy as Nico Rosberg was told not to pass Hamilton in the closing stages as the Englishman struggled with fuel consumption. Unlike Vettel, Rosberg obeyed.
After a pre-race downpour the Grand Prix begun in intermediate conditions and looked from the out-set to be a strategically dominated race that would be dictated by the cross over point to dry tyres. And this came to fruition when Vettel pitted a lap too early and handed the race lead to a fast starting Webber.
The Australian had made a contrasting start to last weekend and found himself in second position by the second lap. This was helped by the damaged Ferrari of Fernando Alonso that tagged Vettel in to turn 1 and subsequently had his front-wing fold underneath him at the same point on the following lap. That put the Spaniard out of the race and dented his Championship hopes at an early stage.
On a drying track, Vettel pitted for slick tyres too early. By staying out Webber jumped him and led from Vettel after the first set of pit stops they were joined for the battle of the race lead by the Mercedes pairing of Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. And it remained in that order until the final ten laps as Vettel and Webber came very close to the pit wall, with Vettel coming out on top. It is the 27th race win of his career, moving him in to the World Championship lead, and putting him on a par with Sir Jackie Stewart.
In an eventful race that harked back to the Summer of 2010, Vettel asked his Red Bull team to move Webber out of the way as he was “too slow” and there was a very cold atmosphere between the Red Bull drivers as they took to the podium. It is sure to be a result that will divide opinion, with some saying that this is the kind of determination you need to be a multiple World Champion and be ranked amongst the greats.
After being within a couple of seconds of one another at the mid-point the two Mercedes cars dropped back from the Red Bull pairing and got involved in their own battle in the closing laps. Interestingly, Rosberg also asked to be let past and take this place but he was firmly told by Team Principal Ross Brawn to maintain position and bring the cars home.
There was an amusing and slightly ironic moment for Hamilton when he stopped in the McLaren box at his first pit stop. Luckily for Mercedes he did not lose too much time.
Behind the top four was another strong performance for Felipe Massa and the sole Ferrari. He had a relatively quiet race after losing out at the start and dropping back from his second place start. He had aimed to complete the race in three stops – contrary to the four of the cars ahead – but was forced in to a late stop when he had a lot of space to drop back in to.
Lotus had a contrasting result to last weekend with Kimi Raikkonen spending much of the race stuck behind a number of cars and becoming frustrated. Nevertheless, he ended the race in seventh place – just behind team mate Romain Grosjean – and gained some vital points for the Enstone squad.
Completing the top ten was Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez and Jean-Eric Vergne with all three having a good race. Hulkenberg was one of Raikkonen’s main competitors and illustrated good pace throughout. Perez, meanwhile, had a lonely race and chose to pit on the penultimate lap for a set of medium tyres to claim the fastest lap.
There were some notable retirees apart from Alonso as both Force India cars had a troubled day with a number of long pit stops before retiting both cars.
Jenson Button was having a very promising performance for his struggling McLaren team in fifth place when he also retired late in the race.
Finally, Jules Bianchi continued his impressive start to the his rookie season by ending the race in thirteenth place and thirty-four seconds ahead of Charles Pic behind.
MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX, Sepang, 56 laps
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1h38m56.681s
2. Mark Webber Red Bull + 4.298s
3. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes + 12.181s
4. Nico Rosberg Mercedes + 12.640s
5. Felipe Massa Ferrari + 25.648s
6. Romain Grosjean Lotus + 35.564s
7. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus + 48.479s
8. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber + 53.044s
9. Sergio Perez McLaren + 1m12.357s
10. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso + 1m27.124s
11. Valtteri Bottas Williams + 1m28.610s
12. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber + 1 lap
13. Jules Bianchi Marussia + 1 lap
14. Charles Pic Caterham + 1 lap
15. Giedo van der Garde Caterham + 1 lap
16. Max Chilton Marussia + 2 laps
17. Jenson Button McLaren + 3 laps
18. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso + 5 laps