• Malaysian Grand Prix

Vettel leads Red Bull one-two after bitter battle

ESPN Staff
March 24, 2013

Sebastian Vettel won the Malaysian Grand Prix after a bitter battle with team-mate Mark Webber for the lead that came within inches of disaster for Red Bull.

Webber had led the early stages of the race and was still leading when the cars emerged from their final stops. With concerns over tyre wear Red Bull then told both drivers to hold position to the end of the grand prix, but Vettel ignored the message and an intense battle ensued before Vettel came out on top to win by 4.2s.

Lewis Hamilton finished third ahead of Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg after a slightly more placid battle for the final podium spot, but earlier in the race his attack on the Red Bulls was curbed by needing to save fuel. Rosberg was continually told not to attack Hamilton towards the end of the race as Mercedes looked to secure a solid points haul and he reluctantly complied.

Felipe Massa finished in a distant fifth place after team-mate Fernando Alonso's fight for victory ended on lap two when his damaged front wing folded underneath his car. In sixth Romain Grosjean led home the two Lotuses, which showed none of their tyre-saving magic in the heat of Malaysia with Australia race winner Kimi Raikkonen seventh.

Nico Hulkenberg took a solid finish in eighth ahead of McLaren's Sergio Perez, who had to make a late stop for tyres. Jean-Eric Vergne took the final point, making the most of the high rate of attrition.

The race started in wet conditions after a heavy downpour half an hour before lights out which resulted in a number of cars running off track en-route to the grid. Vettel got a good start from pole position while Alonso nudged the back of the Red Bull in turn two, damaging his front wing. Webber had made good progress up to third and after passing Alonso at the end of the first lap the Ferrari's front wing folded under the car at high speed and saw him slide off at turn one.

The first crucial move came in the first pit stops, when Vettel pitted earliest for slick tyres despite sector one still being very wet. Webber stayed out for another two laps and rejoined in the lead, with Vettel unable to get too close to his team-mate. Hamilton was third but would have been much closer to the leading two but for a pit lane error when he pulled in to the McLaren area for his first stop as his old team waited to receive Jenson Button.

Button was up to fifth after the first round of stops and looked set to complete a three-stop race that would leave him on for solid points when a loose wheel at his final stop ruined his chances and eventually forced his retirement.

Webber dictated the pace at the front - with Vettel at one stage saying "Mark is too slow, get him out of the way. He is too slow" - and the two Mercedes closed within five seconds to make it a four-car race for victory.

Further back, the two Force India's were forced to retire after a wheel nut problem saw both drivers suffer long pit stops before parking up in the garage. There was good racing up and down the field with Raikkonen struggling to find a way past both Hulkenberg and Perez.

At the second round of pit stops Hamilton came in earlier to get the jump on Vettel, managing to do so but then losing out in the DRS zone six laps later. That was enough to give Webber a cushion and when the final round of pit stops took place he was over four seconds clear of his team-mate. However, Webber rejoined with Vettel right behind him and had to impressively defend for the rest of the lap.

Vettel was warned to be "careful" by the team on the radio, but he didn't heed the message and attacked again on the following lap, almost hitting the pit lane wall as he squeezed down the inside of Webber's car. Christian Horner radioed to Vettel "Come on Seb, this is silly", but Vettel didn't relent and eventually Webber left him enough room to pass around the outside of turn four.

The drama was on a smaller scale at Mercedes where Rosberg kept asking to be allowed to pass Hamilton who was conserving fuel, but team principal Ross Brawn denied the request.

While Vettel took the chequered flag to take the championship lead, the drama continued ahead of the podium. Little was said between the two drivers with Webber saying Vettel took matters in to his hands as focus shifted from the race to the Red Bull dynamic...

Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber come close to contact fighting for the lead © Sutton Images