Sebastian Vettel has taken the lead of the 2013 FIA Formula One World Championship following a controversial victory at the second race of the season in Sepang, Malaysia.
The reigning World Champion disobeyed team orders issued by his Red Bull squad and passed teammate Mark Webber to seize victory.
Webber had led the race after taking the lead from his teammate at the first round of pit stops, as drivers gambled on switching to dry tyres after the race started in the wet.
2012 runner-up Fernando Alonso damaged his front wing on the back of Vettel’s Red Bull car at turn two on lap one, and retired from the race when he unbelievably decided to continue rather than pit for repairs; the wing shattered under braking for turn one and jammed under the front suspension, leaving the Spaniard a helpless passenger as his Ferrari slid off the circuit and became beached in a gravel trap.
As the race played out, it became clear Mercedes could match the rampant Red Bull duo for raw pace, but lacked the ability to make their sensitive Pirelli tyres last the distance. After the final round of pit stops, which saw Vettel and Webber go into battle, Lewis Hamilton was ahead of his Merc teammate Nico Rosberg. Unfortunately, the Briton had to enter a fuel-saving engine mode having expended most of his precious reserves chasing down the Red Bulls during the first half of the Grand Prix.
Rosberg made an attempt to pass, but was quickly ordered to hold back and maintain position, frustrating fans and the German alike. Although annoyed, Rosberg obeyed the order; that's more than could be said for Sebastian Vettel. Pushed up against the pit wall at almost 200 mph, he squeezed alongside Webber in defiance of team orders and proceeded to race alongside his Australian teammate for another four corners before taking the lead outright. The outraged Webber gesticulated furiously, angrily giving Vettel the "finger" as he raced off ahead of the sister car.
The podium ceremony was a tense and acrimonious affair, with none of the top three drivers very happy with the result. “I messed up. I would love to come up with a nice excuse or a nice story but I can't. That's the truth," Vettel said. "I can completely understand Mark's frustration and the team not being happy."
Webber, for his part, remained uncharacteristically muted on the subject, but his indignation was clear. "The team made their decision. Seb made his own decision and he will have protection as usual.” Claimed the bitter Australian.
Lewis Hamilton too felt awkward about his own predicament. “He [Nico Rosberg] drove a smarter and more controlled race than me," said Hamilton. “He is a great teammate. I will speak to the team, or apologize. I said to him he did a fantastic job. He had better pace through the race.
"Nico deserved to be where I am. With the position in the championship the team thought it was logical to stay in position. Would I let him pass in the future? I probably would."
It was an equally disappointing day for Force India; after showing top 10 pace throughout the weekend, the British-based Indian national team had to retire both their cars when Adrian Sutil and Paul Di Resta experienced difficulties during their pit stops.
On the other hand it was an encouraging day for McLaren, with Jenson Button running a strong 5th for much of the race and working a strategy that may have seen him take 3rd before a wheel came off his MP4/28 in the pit lane.
Round three of the 2013 World Championship is in Shanghai, China, in three weeks’ time — but there is little chance the bitterness between Vettel and Webber, deadly rivals, will have evaporated.