2013 Malaysian GP: Sebastian Vettel defies orders to win as Nico Rosberg told to hold
Intra-team fireworks at Red Bull and Mercedes as Alonso crashes
By James Galloway. Last Updated: 24/03/13 1:47pm
Formula 1's Pandora box on team orders has just been dramatically reopened.
In a ferocious wheel-to-wheel battle in the Malaysian GP, World Champion Sebastian Vettel defied Red Bull team orders instructing him to hold position behind Mark Webber to overtake his team-mate to claim his first victory of 2013. Meanwhile, at Mercedes, Nico Rosberg became embroiled in a prolonged radio argument with team boss Ross Brawn in wake of instructions to stay behind the third-placed Lewis Hamilton.
The intra-team Red Bull and Mercedes fireworks came at the end of what had already been a massively entertaining, and incident-packed, 56 laps around an initially drying Sepang as Fernando Alonso crashed out after astonishingly failing to pit for repairs to a broken front wing while Hamilton forgot which team he was driving for and pulled into McLaren's pitbox.
From there, and once onto slicks, the battle for victory initially distilled into what Sky Sports F1 commentator David Croft described as a "high-speed game of chess" between the Red Bull and Mercedes drivers.
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However, the chess pieces were sent flying in both dramatic - and highly contentious - fashion over the closing stint as the four-way battle broke up into separate intra-team ones between Red Bull's Webber and Vettel for the win and Mercedes' Hamilton and Rosberg over third.
Webber, having assumed the lead through the first round of stops to dry tyres following a rare strong start from fifth, had led until the final stops but was then overtaken by his World Champion team-mate as the pair went wheel-to-wheel for over a lap.
That, however, was not in Red Bull's plan. Speaking to Sky Sports F1 after his drivers had experienced the most frosty of podium ceremonies, Christian Horner confirmed the drivers had been told to hold station with Webber in the lead.
"We let the drivers race until the final pit-stop. At that point, the drivers' interest became bigger than the team's and they started racing each other," Horner said.
Vettel, for his, part apologised to his long-time team-mate in the post-race press conference but the rivalry between them - which first spilled over as long ago as Turkey 2010 - may not recover from this latest incident.
Mercedes, simultaneously, had their own disgruntled drivers on their hands after Rosberg was told to hold station between new team-mate Hamilton over the closing laps, as the Briton focused on saving fuel after setting a ferocious pace in the middle stint.
While Rosberg ultimately heeded the message, ensuring Hamilton claimed his first podium for Mercedes in just his second start, it didn't stop him from repeatedly pressing his case to Brawn in the closing laps, complaints which were met with increasingly stern responses from his team boss.
The Red Bull and Mercedes rows almost immediately took the shine off what had been massively encouraging performances from both teams, on the day Ferrari's challenge failed to materialise.
From third on the grid Alonso had been many pundits' favourite for the race but was careering into the gravel by the start of the second lap after damaging his front wing at the second corner when he tagged the back of Vettel's RB9.
Although the left-front side of the wing was sparking against the track surface for the remainder of the opening lap, Alonso manfully fought to hold back the fast-starting Webber and then amazingly opted not to pit for repairs, seemingly trying to delay the stop until the track dried.
However, the gamble almost immediately backfired as coming down the main straight the broken part tucked itself under his chassis and the Spaniard was helpless to avoid going straight on into the gravel.
With one Ferrari down, Felipe Massa could only come home fifth as the F138 failed to repeat its race pace from Australia with Lotus duo Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen sixth and seventh respectively after difficult afternoons for the Melbourne race winners.
Jenson Button was enjoying an unexpectedly strong afternoon in the McLaren, but after an incorrectly fitted tyre left him stranded in the middle of the pitlane, the Briton ultimately retired as team-mate. Sergio Perez took only ninth.