The Malaysian Grand Prix – Part 1: The Race


Cover me I’m going in.

Ok I’ve been thinking all morning how best to blog about this race. As races go it was pretty action-packed but the big stand-out talking point was the imposition of team orders by Red Bull and Mercedes that in one case were dutifully (if begrudgingly) adhered to and in the other case were blatantly and aggressively flouted.

And the result. A driver won the race and stole victory from his team-mate into the bargain and another driver missed out on a podium that rightfully should have been his. This perceived injustice is what everyone was (and indeed still is) talking about post-race – fans, pundits, assorted F1 media, the great, the good and the distinctly average former F1 drivers. You name it, its rent-a-gob time on Sky Sports News, Talksport etc. To quote the old adage – opinions are like assholes, everyone has one.

So in light of the whole Team Orders Debacle, I really don’t think me blathering on about Button moving to Plan B or how Grosjean pitted on lap 21 is going to cut the mustard on this occasion. No disrespect to either of those drivers but they are not the story. Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg – this race is all about you.

Multi 21, Seb?
Multi 21, Seb?

I’ve decided to do one post on the build-up and the race itself and I’ll hurl myself into the quagmire of debate and recrimination in a follow-up blog tomorrow – Part 2: The Fall Out. But at the end of the day, some other stuff did happen at the Malaysian Grand Prix – other drivers picked up valuable points, other drivers had a shocker (which could be very costly come the end of the season…looks at Alonso) and we were blessed to hear the views of the F1 luminary that is Nicole Scherzinger. Nicole was perplexed (as she often is about so many things) as to why the race is always scheduled for 4pm. Maybe its for the European audience, Nicole. Just throwing that one out there.

'Lewis pitted where...OMG I'm just so confused'
‘Lewis pitted where…OMG I’m just so confused’

The main highlight for me in all the interminable hours of Sky build-up was the part where Natalie Pinkham (or Pinks or Pinkie if you’re in the inner sanctum) went racing on ice in Russia with Kimi Raikkonen. Racing on ice…Iceman…see what they’ve done there? Anyway while trying and failing to contain my jealousy (Kimi has a gorgeous smile doesn’t he…ahem) I did quite enjoy seeing Natalie trash the car while Kimi sat alongside failing to give her any help whatsoever. He was even rude about women drivers. I wonder if Kimi has ever been to Sevenoaks – a lot of women round here can’t drive properly to save their lives. Insert pause while the husband chokes on his coffee (he described my driving as Kimi-like earlier which for the record I take as a BIG compliment).

Smiling Kimi
Smiling Kimi

Even #MartinsGridwalk was spectacularly dull mainly due to there being NO cars on the grid so, ergo, no one to interview. Sepang being Sepang, it was hot, humid and rainy and so some cars (the usual suspects) had even struggled to make it out of the pitlane. Martin did sneak in a quick interview with Jean Todt who told us we were living in a world where people are never happy. Wow he’s from the school of hard knocks. I’d say Jean Todt is pretty happy though married to the fragrant and much younger Mrs Todt, flying around the world to different Grand Prix in his private jet. But who are we to judge?

I never quite managed to do a round up of qualifying mainly because…erm…I still haven’t even seen qualifying. Can’t think of the last time I failed to watch qualifying even on my usual recorded-as-if-live permanent state of existence. Saturday morning was taken up with doing a 5k run. I actually gasped out the words “I’m missing qualifying for this” as we made our way round the course in the snow (please is there a lion out there that can sacrifice itself for the greater good to bring on Spring?). Then in the afternoon I was helping run a disco for 80 children. It is a very close run thing as to which event was more of an ordeal.

Sevenoaks in January. Still looks the same!
Sevenoaks in January. Still looks no different at the end of March!

But here’s the grid for posterity etc.

  1. Sebastian Vettel
  2. Felipe Massa
  3. Fernando Alonso
  4. Lewis Hamilton
  5. Mark Webber
  6. Nico Rosberg
  7. Jenson Button
  8. Adrian Sutil
  9. Sergio Perez
  10. Kimi Raikkonen
  11. Romain Grosjean
  12. Nico Hulkenberg
  13. Daniel Ricciardo
  14. Esteban Gutierrez
  15. Paul Di Resta
  16. Pastor Maldonado
  17. Jean-Eric Vergne
  18. Valterri Bottas
  19. Jules Bianchi
  20. Charles Pic
  21. Max Chilton
  22. Giedo van der Garde

Lights Out and Go Go Go at the Malaysian Grand Prix! It was a brilliant start for Mark Webber and a good Mark Webber start is rarer than hen’s teeth. The Ferrari’s had a good old tussle but early doors Alonso suffered a broken front wing after nudging Vettel. Inexplicably he stayed out on track even fending off Webber against all the odds until the inevitable happened. His wing disintegrated underneath his car which Brundle labelled as the 3rd scariest thing that can happen to a driver. No.1 being a stuck throttle and No.2 being a brake failure. Nil points for Ferrari and the first major cock-up by a team of the afternoon.

The end of Alonso's race
The end of Alonso’s race

Kimi was having One of Those Races (ie. a crap one). The car that had looked so brilliant and dominant in Melbourne was just not on the money on Sepang. All the drivers started coming in for slicks (having started the race on intermediates) from around lap 6. Poor old Sutil got held up in the pits with a rear gun problem and Lewis Hamilton in a moment of nostalgia decided to return to the McLaren garage for his pitstop before being waved through. Fair play to the McLaren mechanics for not putting a full set of wets on the Mercedes.

Lewis temporarily forgot he left McLaren
Lewis temporarily forgot he left McLaren

We had our first unsafe release in the pits of the afternoon (I fear next year Sky won’t be doing an Idiot Guide on Flags but rather a long and pointless feature on unsafe releases). Anyway it was Vergne crashing into Pic. After the first round of pitstops, the leading five were Webber, Vettel, Hamilton, Rosberg and Button. Maldonado had a spin off into the gravel. Cue another Williams front nose being rapidly unpacked in the pitlane (the Williams of Bottas had to get a new front nose after aquaplaning its way to the grid before the start of the race). Meanwhile there were lots of shots of the Weather Monitor of Doom (it probably has its own channel in Malaysia) but in a stunning break with tradition it didn’t look like much rain was on the horizon.

Average day's weather in Sepang
Just another day in Sepang

Everyone was now pretty much trading fastest laps. Even Paul Di Resta got in on the act. Around lap 20 the next wave of pitstops were underway. The main points of note being that Hamilton remembered to go the right garage and Force India made a total balls up of Paul Di Resta’s pitstop. Disaster doesn’t even cover it – he was stuck there FOREVER. Pretty much most of the grid trundled in for new tyres and back out and all the while Paul’s car was just stationary. In the end they took a hammer to it which was, as the husband quipped, straight from the Jeremy Clarkson School of Engineering.

The Jeremy Clarkson School of Engineering - enrol at your peril
The Jeremy Clarkson School of Engineering – enrol at your peril

So after all the pitstops the front order was as you were: Webber, Vettel, Hamilton, Nico and Button. Back in the misery zone of the Force India garage, it was Sutil’s turn for a disastrous pitstop and shortly after that Di Resta was forced to pit and call it a day.

And we had our first Vettel Strop of the afternoon. He radioed in to say Webber was too slow and get him out of the way. Now lets see Seb, you’re actually on the track driving the car behind Mark’s. If he is so frigging slow then just overtake him. Just a thought. It occurred to me then (even allowing for the heat of the battle) what a disparaging way that was to speak about your team-mate IN PUBLIC (global audience of 500 million and counting). The world and their dog (even Lewis’s dog) hears those transmissions. Not very cool my friend.

Sometimes life can be hard for Seb
Sometimes life can be hard for Seb

So at the halfway point the order was: 1. Webber, 2. Vettel, 3. Hamilton, 4. Rosberg, 5. Button, 6. Massa, 7. Grosjean and 8. Hulkenberg. Kimi was having an officially dismal afternoon but hadn’t quite reached the abyss of despair of the Force India team who due to an inability to change tyres had to retire their second driver of the day. Back to reality for Adrian Sutil after those brief moments of glory in Melbourne.

The next lot of pitstops kicked off with Lewis Hamilton coming in on lap 31. He was promptly followed in by Webber and Nico, and then Vettel on the next lap. Hamilton had jumped Vettel in the pits to move into 2nd place but he was ordered by Mercedes to ‘lift off and coast’. Turned out his phenomenal pace was due to a high fuel setting and fuel preservation was the the key. So it didn’t take long for Webber to pull away and for Vettel to make his move.

Meanwhile it was a free for all bunfight down in the pits as Massa had an unsafe release into the path of Perez and the Hulk had an unsafe release into the path of Kimi. That then triggered a long and feisty on track battle between Kimi and the Hulk including lots of angry comments from Kimi over the radio (Kimi does angry…who knew?). Button drove off from his garage with his front right tyre not fixed properly meaning he had to be wheeled back down the pitlane to his garage to have it reattached. He lost a shedload of time as a result which was desperately unlucky as he was very nicely placed I thought in all that mayhem.

On lap 38, the husband had another biscuit. He wrote this in my notebook when I wasn’t looking. To be honest, if I need help blogging I’ll consult the 5 year old.

From around the lap 42 mark all the drivers came in to pit for the final time and this is where the fun and games really began. Webber pitted after Vettel and rejoined the track JUST ahead of his team-mate. Seb was told over the radio to “be careful” and Brundle sagely observed that Red Bull felt it necessary to manage Seb’s mood. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that Kevin The Teenager was in the house. With 10 laps to go, the two Red Bull drivers were having The Most Monumental Scrap. And if truth be known it was incredibly exciting racing! They swapped places a few times while Christian Horner pleaded “this is silly, Seb, c’mon” but TO NO AVAIL. Eventually Seb pushed Mark wide and bludgeoned his way into the lead as we all knew he would. Adrian Newey just sat on the pitwall with his head in his hands as he watched his babies (ie. the cars, the cars, please not the cars) coming perilously close to being trashed.

Team-mates in action. Ouch.
Team-mates in action. Ouch.

Not to be outdone, Lewis and Nico were having a fierce battle of their own. Along with Newey, Ross Brawn was also sitting slumped on the pitwall with his head in his hands. Nico was begging over the radio “I can go so much faster, please let me past”. Ross’s reply was “negative, Nico” which is not-very-subtle code for ‘we have team orders ok’. Nico wasn’t going to give up and kept badgering the team over and over again only to be told that Lewis’ pace was what they were asking him to do and he (Lewis) could probably go a lot faster. As Nico said at the end “remember this one”. Yup he has taken one for the team, big time.

Lewis and Nico. Still friends for now.
Lewis and Nico. Still friends for now.

In other news, Massa was running P5, Button gave up the good fight and retired, Kimi had finally got past the Hulk and Perez was looking desperately unimpressive once again. As the chequered flag fell, Vettel zig-zagged across the line in a churlish overly flamboyant way. Webber didn’t deserve that. Over the radio, Horner said to Seb “looks like you wanted it badly enough…you have some explaining to do”. Oh boy, it was clearly all going to kick off…

Here are the results of the Malaysian Grand Prix 2013:

  1. Vettel
  2. Webber
  3. Hamilton
  4. Rosberg
  5. Massa
  6. Grosjean

Coming up Part 2 – The Fall Out.

A storm is gathering...
A storm is gathering…

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