Malaysia GPR Race Recap: Vettel forces the win in battle of teammates, Webber & Hamilton podium

Sebastian Vettel won the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix, a race that began in the wet and with a scuffle over every position and ended as a battle between teammates. Mark Webber had taken the lead through the myriad pit stops, only to have Vettel come at him in the closing stages of the race. That battle gave Red Bull quite a headache, but still resulted in a 1-2 for the team. Fernando Alonso had a scrap over second with both his teammate and Mark Webber on the start, only to touch Vettel in the rear, damage his front wing, then lose it into T1 on the second lap. He was caught in the gravel and retired.

Though the start was wet, the track was dry for most of the race. Lewis Hamilton finished third, to stand on the podium, but his own teammate Nico Rosberg was unhappy with his fourth. Rosberg argued with Ross Brawn, convinced he could catch the Red Bulls near the end if only Mercedes would release him. There were numerous pit stop issues, mostly at Force India, but also one that ruined Jenson Button’s day. Hamilton attempted to pit at McLaren, and Torro Rosso ran into Caterham.

Vettel won pole during changeable conditions Saturday, both beating out his rivals and saving tyres for the race. Q1 was fairly routine, even as Red Bull left the drivers only one timed run in the final seven minutes. Q2 held the real drama, as rain began falling. Massa and Alonso, who would qualify second and third for the race start, managed to barely complete their only timed laps just as rain dampened the circuit.

That left those drives who had set a decent time early in the session safe and those who needed the final minutes to improve out of luck. Hamilton, Webber, and Rosberg completed the first three rows of starters. Raikkonen had qualified seventh, but dropped three grid positions after the stewards determined that he had blocked Rosberg (who qualified sixth) during qualifying.

The practice sessions were as equally hampered by rain as qualifying. That is, very little at all. Both Friday morning and Saturday saw no rain fall while Friday afternoon showered the teams and drivers with just enough damp to test out inters and aero in preparation for the race. Webber led the way Friday morning, with Raikkonen, despite a battery issue, Vettel, Alonso, and Rosberg completing the top five on the timesheets.

Raikkonen led in early times before the rain that afternoon. Vettel, Massa, Alonso, and Webber were the next four fastest. Despite the rain, there were no damaging incidents. Vettel took the top position in a very late run Saturday morning. Hamilton and Sutil added their names to those who had already been amongst the top five through the weekend in that final practice.

Maldonado got a new engine due to a piston issue before the race, but no penalty it being his first of the season. Vettel was the first driver to grid up, twenty minutes before the race began. It was raining hard enough that many drivers spun on their way out, leading to a possible Safety Car start.

Ricciardo took a trip through the gravel on his way to the grid, as the first half of the circuit was very wet. That left teams little time to make the call for starting tyres as some of the circuit was nearly dry, though much of it still very wet from a shower a half hour before lights out. Everyone started the race on intermediate tyres with the rain having stopped.

Race Start:
Vettel led the way away from the lights, as Massa and Alonso made for each other. Alonso went for the long way around Vettel at Turn 1, but it was Webber making a great start as Alonso touched Vettel in the rear through T1. Webber took second from Alonso, only to have Alonso take second back from him with bits shredding off his front wing. Massa dropped back as Hamilton made his way around the Brazilian.

Soon Vettel had a massive lead, as Webber again challenged Alonso for second. The weakened Ferrari would not give up as the lap ended, but the fight ended his race. Alonso’s front wing failed as they entered T1, just after Webber had taken position on the front straight. Alonso went straight on at the turn, directly into the gravel, ending his race. Ferrari had been ready for Alonso to pit.

At the end of L2, Vettel led Webber, Hamilton, Button, Rosberg, Massa, Perez, Sutil, Hulkenberg, and Ricciardo as the top ten. Rosberg, meanwhile, had begun pressuring Button for fourth as both drivers slowly slid their way around the messy part of the track. Button would attempt to hold the position, but Rosberg would take it from him. Hulkenberg was the next to make a move in the top ten, as he pushed his way by Perez for seventh. Raikkonen, meanwhile, had his own issues as he lost control and dipped off the track, losing tenth to his teammate.

Pit Stops Begin (L6):
Vettel pitted from the lead on L6 after Red Bull told him the call to switch to dry tyres was his own. Massa followed him in from eighth. Vettel rejoined with Perez, the latter passing him. It was a bit of a melee as Vettel lost position to Sutil and Grosjean as well in the damp conditions. That response led to a determined radio call for Webber to “stay out!” Sutil, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, di Resta, Maldonado, van der Garde, Bianchi, Bottas, and Chilton all pitted on L7, however. A couple of teams stacked drivers, leading to issues as Force India experienced a possible left rear wheel gun problem.

Webber and Hamilton, then Button, Hulkenberg, Perez, Grosjean, Gutierrez, Vergne, and Pic all pitted onL8, though Hamilton had a problem of his own. He pulled into the McLaren box and had to be waved through to Mercedes. Vergne needed a new nose as did Pic, after Toro Rosso released Vergne as Pic pulled into his own box. Rosberg made the last stop for dry tyres on L9.

End L10:
Webber led Vettel by three seconds at the end of L10, with Hamilton, Rosberg, Button, Hulkenberg, Massa, Perez, Grosjean, and Raikkonen the top ten. Ricciardo, Maldonado, Gutierrez, Sutil, di Resta, Bottas, van der Garde, Bianchi, Chilton, Vergne, and Pic completed the cars still running. Even as Red Bull told its drivers to watch their tyres (specifically Webber, having been told that Vettel would essentially not be challenging his lead at that time), Sauber told Hulkenberg that there was no need to look after his.

Grosjean soon moved up to eighth, with an easy move on Perez. A bit further back, di Resta took fourteenth from teammate Sutil. Hamilton, despite having lost time on that missed stop, was charging toward the Red Bull banners, just under four seconds behind Vettel.

Raikkonen hoped to get around Perez as easily as his teammate but was unable to do more than push and seethe behind. Well behind, Maldonado had a big slog through the gravel, losing half his front wing in the process, and pitted for a new bit of bodywork and clean out of gravel. Raikkonen finally made his way around Perez through the DRS zone even as teammate Grosjean continued to post race fast laps. At the front, Webber continued to lead Vettel by two and a half seconds, but Hamilton lurked behind the German an equal measure, then came Rosberg another two and a half back.

Halfway (End L28):
Webber and Vettel continued to hold station less than a second apart at halfway, but Hamilton was just a second behind that duo. Rosberg was another two seconds behind his teamamte, with Button a safe ten seconds behind that German. Massa was another ten seconds behind, with Grosjean just two seconds behind him. Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Raikkonen, and Perez rounded out the top ten.

Meanwhile, Vettel had radioed Red Bull to complain that Webber was too slow in front of him, only to have the Australian post a middle sector well faster. Vettel seemed to cool off his pace as his race engineer reminded him that it was only half distance. At about that time, Force India retired Sutil as well. Both drivers had issues with the wheel nuts as well as overheating issues from sitting too long in the pits.

Third Pit Stops Begin (L31):
Hamilton and Bianchi pitted for fresh tyres on L31. Webber and Rosberg followed on the next lap. Vettel pitted from his inherited lead on L33, as Chilton pitted as well. Vettel lost position to Webber and Hamilton, leaving Vettel to rejoin just ahead of Rosberg. Massa, Perez, Maldonado, Ricciardo, and Pic all pitted on L34 even as Mercedes told Hamilton to lift and coast, presumable to save a bit of fuel. Button led, having not yet stopped, but was losing time to Webber. The Red Bull slid by Button into T1, taking the position and barely managing to hold on to it as he slightly overshot the turn. More racing continued as Hulkenberg and Raikkonen pitted together, released and came out of pit lane together as well.

Button and Grosjean pitted on L36, with Button’s day looking dire. He had a bad release, before the right front was quite properly on the car. He stopped barely down pit lane, leaving the mechanics to run down and pull him back, no reversing allowed in pit lane. Button rejoined in fourteenth. Gutierrez pitted on L37, leaving only Bottas and Vergne yet to make a third stop.

Back at the front, Webber’s lead had increased over Hamilton while Vettel pushed the Briton hard from behind. He had his own countryman less than a second behind, but Rosberg had plenty of safety to Massa, nearly thirty seconds back from Rosberg. Hamilton continued to hear that he needed to save fuel, just before Vettel caught him on the front straight and took second  into T1. Vettel then had nearly five seconds to catch up his teammate.

Further back, Hulkenberg was suffering a feisty Raikkonen looking for eighth. The latter was displeased with Hulkenberg’s work to keep his own position as the two scrapped, complaining the Sauber driver was forcing him off the track. They were the closest drivers together on track as L39 ended. Raikkonen finally made his way around Hulkenberg as they went through T1.

Fourth Pit Stops Begin (L42):
Hamilton pitted for a set of scrub tyres on L42, sacrificing third position. Vettel followed his example on L43, as did Rosberg. Hamilton maintained his third as Rosberg rejoined behind him. Chilton also made his fourth stop on L43. Webber pitted on L44, with the Red Bull mechanics tumbling out into the box just in time to service him. Webber rejoined next to Vettel, defending against his teammate, only to have him go again at Webber, fighting to take the lead. Webber defended valiantly and maintained the race lead, even as the team reminded Vettel to “be careful.”

Vergne pitted as well, for his third stop. Bianchi made his fourth, as did Hulkenberg and Pic, on L45. Hamilton and Rosberg had their own teammates fight, both pushing for the final podium position. Then, again, Vettel pushed for the lead from Webber. The two scrapped their way though several turns, changing the lead between them. Even so, Horner told Vettel again, “this is silly, Seb,” as the German pushed them a bit close to the front straight wall.

10 Laps Remaining:
Vettel led his teammate with ten laps remaining, even as they continued to push each other. Hamilton, Rosberg, Massa, Grosjean, Perez, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, and Gutierrez then completed the top ten. Then, the day ended for Maldonado as he went off into the gravel again. Massa made his fourth stop on L48, rejoining in eighth, only to take seventh from Perez just after Raikkonen took sixth from the Mexican driver.

Soon, Vettel had nearly four seconds on his teammate, with Hamilton just holding off Rosberg for the final podium position. Rosberg was unhappy, saying he could go much faster if they would let him pass. Ross Brawn returned, “negative,” leaving the Mercedes teammates likely as angry as the Red Bull ones. Brawn continued, “Nico, Lewis’ pace is what we’re asking you to do. He could go much faster” if he weren’t saving fuel.

Massa made a move on Grosjean for fifth, even as Button retired, and Rosberg continued to argue with Brawn on the radio. McLaren also pulled Perez in for new tyres, his fourth stop, though he lost no position by it. In third, Hamilton continued to hear that he needed to save fuel, “maximum fuel saving,” on the last lap. In the end, Vettel won from pole, Webber finished second as he qualified, and Hamilton just barely made his way to the line, with Rosberg seething behind his teammate, and Massa completed the top five.

Final Positions, 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix:

1. Sebastian VettelRed Bull4.24
2. Mark WebberRed Bull12.14
3. Lewis HamiltonMercedes12.64
4. Nico RosbergMercedes25.64
5. Felipe MassaFerrari35.54
6. Romain GrosjeanLotus48.43
7. Kimi RaikkonenLotus53.03
8. Nico HulkenbergSauber72.34
9. Sergio PerezMcLaren87.14
10. Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso88.63
11. Valtteri BottasWilliams1 Lap3
12. Esteban GutierrezSauber1 Lap4
13. Jules BianchiMarussia1 Lap4
14. Charles PicCaterham1 Lap4
15. Giedo van der GardeCaterham1 Lap4
16. Max ChiltonMarussia2 Laps4
17. Jenson Button (ret)McLaren3 Laps4
18. Daniel Ricciardo (ret)Toro Rosso5 Laps4
 Pastor MaldonadoWilliams11 Laps3
 Adrian SutilForce India29 Laps3
 Paul di RestaForce India34Laps3
 Fernando AlonsoFerrari55 Laps 
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