Sebastian Vettel produces a dominant performance to win in the heat of Malaysia
Rain and reliability issues hold off – Vettel followed home by his team-mate Mark Webber
Nico Rosberg takes the third spot on the podium, with Robert Kubica fourth and Adrian Sutil fifth
McLaren and Ferrari recover from disastrous qualifying to take points – Hamilton in sixth, Massa seventh and Button eighth
Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher retire with mechanical problems
Sebastian Vettel took a controlled and dominant victory in the sweltering Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang this morning. The German made a great start, overtaking his team-mate Mark Webber and second on the grid Nico Rosberg, and executed 56 faultless laps to take the chequered flag. The much-predicted rain did not make an appearance, nor the reliability problems that have dogged Red Bull so far this season, allowing Vettel to profit from the speed of his car and regain some momentum in his world championship charge.
It was very much Vettel’s aggression that provided interest at the first corner, with Mark Webber in close attendance. Webber got a good run out of the second corner and was able to challenge his young team-mate down to Turn 3, although it was something Vettel was able to repel. It transpired after the race that they had been under strict orders from team boss Christian Horner to give each other respect, and Vettel said as much in the post-race press conference.
“Obviously we want to fight for ourselves, but we have to keep the respect. I think that Mark would have done the exact same if he had been in my position,” said the race winner.
Behind him there was the usual melee, but most had got through the twisty first complex without contact. Of particular merit was Lewis Hamilton’s start – from 20th on the grid, he managed to zoom down the inside of a great many, and by the end of the lap was up to 12th. By lap 4 the Englishman had made it to 10th, and was rapidly putting himself in contention for serious points. He quickly caught ninth-placed Vitaly Petrov, likely to be his first stumbling block. There followed an epic battle, with Hamilton perhaps underestimating the Russian GP2 star. Petrov re-took Hamilton on the back straight in heroic fashion, only for Hamilton to sneak past him at the final turn. Down the pit straight the Renault caught the McLaren’s considerable slipstream and Hamilton weaved furiously, trying to break the tow. He repelled the Russian’s attack, but it was at a cost – he was warned for excessive defending right in front of the stewards.
Despite Timo Glock becoming the first casualty of the race, all eyes were on the train that was developing behind the Toro Rossos. Unlike their illustrious rival Hamilton, Massa, Alonso and Button were stuck behind the nippy Buemi and his impressive team-mate Alguersuari. Button took Alonso on lap 9, but the Spaniard could not put up much of a fight. He was carrying a downshifting issue already, meaning his revs fell completely as he slowed for the hairpins, losing him precious tenths.
Button then made his stop incredibly early. It was an effective job by the McLaren mechanics, though not perhaps the fastest – he was stationary for 5.4 seconds and took in total a 23.406 second hiatus from the race as he went through the pitlane.
Schumacher then became the first retirement of note as his right rear suspension looked to have failed. He came over the radio to say that something had broken, and, without drive, had no chance of making it back to the pits. His wonky right rear seemed to tell the story of his comeback so far – it being the sort of thing that so rarely happened to the invincible Schumacher of old.
Meanwhile, Vettel was making strides up front, setting a fastest lap. His championship rivals were starting to get bogged down after their initial verve, and Massa was still stuck behind Buemi. Onlookers were not to know it yet, but the reason Alonso was not challenging his Ferrari team-mate was mechanical rather than tactical. Hamilton was soon past Vitantonio Liuzzi in eighth, but Liuzzi was limping, and then retired. On lap 14 the seas started to part for the big names. Hulkenberg in the Williams pitted from seventh and Petrov from tenth. Buemi, to the probable elation of Massa, dived in too, he taking 24.377 seconds to stop in total. Button, with new rubber and in clean air, had made hay and was past Hulkenberg and Petrov as they came out. It was strategy executed perfectly from the Englishman, and he was on his merry way now.
15 laps had passed, and the Red Bulls had already caught Senna to lap him. The two were exchanging fastest laps, alternating to take tenths out of each other, although there seemed to be no real danger that Webber would threaten Vettel in any signifcant way now. They were followed by Nico Rosberg, alone in the wake of the two Renault-powered machines in front of him and unable to do anything about them. There was another gap to Robert Kubica, who was occupying fourth, Adrian Sutil in fifth and Lewis Hamilton now in sixth. The Englishman was taking an average of a second a lap out of the Force India, catching him hand over fist.
On lap 18 Martin Brundle noted that Fernando Alonso seemed ‘passive’ behind Massa, but an onboard shot confirmed his gearbox problem. It was starting to become a race of attrition; Kobayashi had joined his Sauber team-mate Pedro de la Rosa (who blew up on the warm up lap) for an early bath, Schumacher had of course gone, and on lap 20 Kovalainen (who had clipped Lucas di Grassi in an ugly move) retired after a puncture to the left rear of his Lotus.
Sutil from fifth and Kubica from fourth were the next of the front runners to pit, the Renault team pipping their rival squad by half a second overall, which allowed Kubica to consolidate his comfortable cushion over the German. Alguersuari was continuing to look racy, as he and Buemi arrived on the back of Petrov to fight him for 11th. It was a great move that saw the Catalan take the position, and Buemi follwed suit two corners later.
Nico Rosberg then pitted, with the Mercedes crew setting the fastest time of the year to change all four of their young charger’s boots. They managed the deed in 3.9 seconds, although it was to be to no avail – he was in with next to no chance of catching or passing the Red Bulls unless there was rain or a mechanical problem. Vettel pitted on lap 24, and Webber the following lap, the Australian being slightly delayed by a right front wheel gun refusing to come off cleanly. Rosberg must have thought he smelt blood, as he promptly turned in a 1m 39.861 second fastest lap. But on his second lap out the pits Webber put any notion of surrender to bed as he turned in a fastest lap of his own, a 1m 39.739. With the exception of a radio message from his team to make sure he kept that right foot flat, the Australian looked a sure bet for second place.
Massa was the next to stop for fresh Bridgestones, and, like Button before him, had done a decent enough job to come out ahead of the Hulkenberg Williams and his earlier nemeses the Toro Rossos. He seemed to like the soft compound that he was now on better than the hard tyres, setting a fastest lap seven-tenths up on Webber’s best of a lap before. But despite his apparent speed, he was after all in a race with Button and Alonso rather than the Red Bulls at the front.
Hamilton had left it rather late, it seemed, to pit, although he did not seem to be suffering from excessive tyre wear. Such had been Button’s pace that it was clear the two would be occupying a very similar piece of tarmac if Hamilton’s stop went to plan. It did, and on lap 31 they came to the first corner together, Hamilton elbowing Button out wide in as friendly a manner as he could. He then turned on the style and pulled out a gap with a fastest lap thrown in, leaving Button to wonder if his own pit stop had been a mite early. There was still no sign of rain, and the track was fast.
But Hamilton was soon to encounter difficulties with Sutil. The German Force India driver was determined not to let his mate by, and, by dint of a similar aerodynamic to technology partner McLaren, the same engine and a fast straight line speed, he could give him a good fight. “He’s too quick on the straights,” said Hamilton to his team. He was to sit behind the Force India’s rear wing for the remainder of the race, lapping at a good rate but unable to pass.
Despite Alonso’s problem, he had sneaked up to fifth by virtue of being the only front runner not to have stopped. His pace was not bad, and he closed on Sutil, but on lap 35 he still had not come in. Massa had cottoned on to the fact that Button’s tyres were not what they were, and was chasing him down metronomically, and this was bad news for Alonso. He eventually went in on lap 37 and came out some way behind the two he had been racing. He set off after them, clocking a fastest lap of 1m 37.633.
On lap 44 Massa passed Button into the first turn, a well executed maneouvre that had been some time coming because of Button’s tyre situation. Alonso was soon on his tail too, hounding him, although both were carrying mechanical handicaps of course. Button defended as best he could. Further down the field Buemi had passed Williams’ Barrichello for 12th, making a good result for all Red Bulls/Toro Rossos a strong possibility. Alguersuari was, of course, in a very creditable 10th now.
Meanwhile, the Red Bulls were serene up front with less than ten laps to go. They were still followed by a relatively lonely Rosberg, a relatively lonely Kubica and Sutil and Hamilton, who probably did not want to socialise at this particular point in time. Massa was attacking in seventh and Button eighth, with Alonso ninth. Everyone appeared to be holding station and for the first time in nearly two races, the action dulled a little. No complaints could be made, however, given all that had happened both today and last weekend.
As the race petered out, Massa’s attack on Hamilton and Sutil faltered. But Alonso was still doggedly following Button and made a move down the inside on lap 55. It was to be his last act of the race – the Ferrari V8 had had enough of high revs followed by no revs and a temperamental gearbox, and gave up the ghost as Alonso put his foot down deep in Turn One. The Spaniard pulled off at the next corner, smoke pouring from the back of the red car.
That would have been the icing on the cake for Sebastian Vettel who less than a lap later took the chequered flag, weaving with exultation as he crossed the line. It was a dynamic and clinical performance in conditions that in the cockpit must have been very difficult, although the move that won the race had been made at the first corner. The famously fit Mark Webber looked exhausted at the end, and there could be no doubt about the efforts required from all the drivers today.
Some, as usual, had been outstanding: Vettel, Rosberg, Kubica, Sutil, Hamilton, Button, Alonso and Alguersuari were particularly remarkable. But the day, and the championship momentum if not the lead, went to Sebastian Vettel.
Pos Driver Team Gap
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
Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 46 laps
Petrov Renault 32 laps
Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 12 laps
Schumacher Mercedes 9 laps
Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 8 laps
Glock Virgin-Cosworth 2 laps
De la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari 0 laps
Fastest lap: Webber 1m37.054s
1. Massa 39 1. Ferrari 76
2. Vettel 37 2. McLaren-Mercedes 66
3. Alonso 37 3. Red Bull-Renault 61
4. Button 35 4. Mercedes 44
5. Rosberg 35 5. Renault 30
6. Hamilton 31 6. Force India-Mercedes 18
7. Kubica 30 7. Williams-Cosworth 6
8. Webber 24 8. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 2
9. Sutil 10
10. Schumacher 9
11. Liuzzi 8
12. Barrichello 5
13. Alguersuari 2
14. Hulkenberg 1