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F1: Malaysian Grand Prix 2013 - teams are hostage to weather and tyres

Bryan Edwards

The most fun of the weekend in Malaysia was not the (rather sad) race weekend concert but when Lewis Hamilton forgot that he's changed teams and is now driving for Mercedes. The McLaren pit crew who watched him pull in between the lines - with tyres ready - waited patiently while he worked out his error and set off for his own box further down the pit lane. No one else had anything to smile about, including eventual winner, Vettel. He broke team orders to stay behind Webber but says "you know I’m not sorry to win."

The catalogue of disasters for the teams during the Malaysian Grand Prix is a list of bad luck and cock ups that are enough to last most teams a whole season.

How, for example, did Jensen Button's amazing drive to get his woefully uncompetitive McLaren up to the top three end up with him down in 14th place? Simple: his usually flawless pit crew didn't put the right front wheel on properly and he had to stop in the pit lane, wait for the crew to push him back and then fix the problem.

How did Raikkonen, winner in Melbourne just a week earlier, start tenth in Kuala Lumpur? From a poor seventh in qualifying, he was dropped three places for impeding Rosberg during a quick run.

How did Melbourne's long-time leader and, but for a tyre strategy error a likely podium place winner and his team mate both end up in the garage, retired despite two fully working cars? Some kind of problem with the wheels stranded them in the pits during routine pit-stops so that, by the time they returned to the track, they were so far behind they stood no chance of, even, scoring points.

Why didn't Webber win after leading for most of the race? The best thing that can be said about Vettel's timing to change intermediates to slicks was that by coming in a lap early, he avoided a busy pit lane. But he had to sit and watch car after car stream past him as he had close to zero grip for half of each lap, until the other cars dried the racing line a bit more. Webber's change had been better timed and put him in the lead. Vettel also made a later last pit stop and eventually, caught Webber but by that time the team had told Webber he had built a solid position and that he should conserve his car, tyres and fuel and not to race flat out. The team told Vettel about the instructions to Webber and told Vettel to finish second behind Webber. Vettel badgered his team to tell Webber to let his pass but they insisted that he stick to the plan. But Vettel, once more raising questions as to his place in F1 despite his obvious driving talent, mounted a series of brutal attacks on Webber who fought back until, forced off-line, he was bound to give way. Team principal Christian Horner radioed to Vettel telling him that he would have to explain why he broke team orders but Vettel claimed to have realised he had made a mistake only after he got into parc fermé . The two did not make a happy couple on the podium.

And Vettel, in his second slice of podium interview, tried to apologise. He rambled " I think I did a big mistake today. I think we should have stayed in the positions that we were. I didn’t ignore it on purpose but I messed up in that situation and obviously took the lead which, I can see now he’s upset, but yeah, I want to be honest at least and stick to the truth and apologise. I know that it doesn’t really help his feelings right now but I think other than that, obviously a very good race for the team. We handed the tyres I think pretty well today. To sum it up, apologies to Mark, obviously now the result is there but… yeah, all I can say is that I didn’t do it deliberately."

But in his third interview his story had changed again " I got the call and I ignored it" he said. He continued " I put myself above a team decision, which was wrong. I didn’t mean to and I apologise. I’m not happy I’ve won, I made a mistake and if I could undo it I would." Those are the kind of inconsistencies that prosecutors love to hear in cross-examination when a defendant is burying himself.

Webber said "This puts heat on a few people and unfortunately there’s no rewind button."

Why didn't Alonso score points? Because he hit Vettel in the second corner of the first lap and broke his front wing. It dragged on the floor creating sparks but his team did not insist on his coming in. As Webber passed Alonso struggling to turn right, the Ferrari went straight on at high speed at the tight right-hander at the top of the uphill and long back straight, almost collecting the Red Bull. Game over for Alonso.

Hamilton isn't pleased with third: he thinks he should have been fourth behind his team-mate Rosberg who, because of team orders, finished behind him. Hamilton says that the German drove "a more intelligent race" and conserved his car and tyres better. Hamilton spent most of the last ten laps cruising to save fuel and Rosberg had to sit behind him despite being much faster. Rosberg, a bit sulky when he got out of the car, adopted a pragmatic attitude to his position "“If I were in front the decision would have been exactly the same: to hold position. This is an absolutely normal decision to do. If you think about it in a logical way, it makes sense to not risk too much anymore at that stage of the race, remembering the past years as well."

The difference between Vettel and Hamilton is marked: Hamilton has "apologised" to Rosberg because the team told Rosberg to stay behind. Vettel is insistent that he simply made a mistake in passing Webber. But he had ten laps to put that mistake right and, in the light of the now available radio traffic, clearly made a positive choice not to do so. Vettel, no matter what excuses he makes, broke team orders and showboated for the last part of the race, but his elation when getting out of a winning car was slightly muted compared to usual.

But Mark Webber, one of F1's most emotional drivers, is mightily pissed off. In the post race interview, he told one journalist "there were a lot of things going through my mind in the last 15 laps of the Grand Prix, lots of different reasons, not just from today but also from the past."

How did Daniel Ricciardo finish 18th, behind Button who retired? The Torro Rosso driver messed up his race on the way to the grid, falling off "quite fast" and damaging the floor, upsetting his aerodynamics.

Williams can have a half-smile: they got Bottas into 11th on merit. Maldonado's KERS unit failed and he was DNFd.

But there is one team who has a real smile: Marussia. In the days when they came into F1 as Virgin, they were serious people but a bit of a joke. Now the joke is on other teams. With two drivers in their maiden F1 season, they should be pootling around at the back. But at one point in Q1, Bianchi was just 400ths off Vettel's time on a flying lap. They are now snapping at the heels of Williams - admittedly this is at least in part because Williams are struggling at present. With Bianchi 13th and Chilton 16th, and Pat Fry installed as Technical Director, there seem to be major steps forward. It's all a long way from the first days when they turned up at an F1 track with a car that, designed entirely on computer, had never turned a wheel.

The absence of HRT means that there are only two of the recent entrants remaining. The team formerly known as Team Lotus and now known as Caterham has gone through another set of management changes. It's not made things better. But they, too, had their share of misfortune: as Charles Pic (eventually 14th) came into his pit box, Vergne's Torro Rosso was released straight into his path and they collided. That cost him about 25 seconds due to an unexpected nose-cone change.

Pirelli's analysis of the tyre performance was "We experienced high degradation here, but we knew this would be the case due to the extreme nature of this circuit." Quick translation for non-bollocks speakers: we knew the tyres would be shit and they were.