F1 Sepang 2011, Red Bull Victorious But Not Invincible
Sebastian Vettel has picked up his fourth consecutive Grand Prix victory by winning in Malaysia on Sunday afternoon. In a race affected by light rain, the German controlled the leading pace as a number of rivals struggled with degrading tyres. Button and Heidfeld completed the podium for McLaren and Renault as Fernando Alonsobroke his front wing when dicing with former team-mateLewis Hamilton.
One word was on the mind of all at Sepang as the 4pm start loomed: rain. Although heavy showers have been predicted to hit the circuit for the duration of the weekend, the 56-lap race was not accompanied by adverse weather conditions despite humidity levels of 83 percent.
A clean start by Vettel allowed the German to retain his lead, with fantastic launches by both Renault cars allowing Heidfeld and Petrov to rise to second and fifth places. Behind, another poor getaway from Alonso saw him drop behind Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa as both Williams cars were forced to retire with technical problems early on, with Barrichello having been a puncture victim after contact with Adrian Sutil’s Force India.
The race was to feature a number of overtaking manoeuvres, with one of the first being Massa on Vitaly Petrov for fifth place, with the Brazilian diving down the inside of Turn 1 on the fifth lap; the Russian was soon passed by Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes, too, with the seven-time World Champion eventually finishing ninth to score for the first time this year. However, team-mate Nico Rosberg could manage no more than 12th after a bad start.
Lap 12 saw the first light rain of the rain in the paddock, although it soon proved to be no more than several spots on camera lenses and umbrellas alike. At the front, Hamilton was able to move to within four seconds of leader Vettel although the former was hampered by grip problems, being caught out and pitting outside of his closest rivals’ patterns. Furthermore, his penultimate stop proved to last for some six seconds, resulting in a rise to second place for team-mate Jenson Button.
The 2008 World Champion – who early on managed a spectacular double overtake on Schumacher and Sébastien Buemi – was also affected by contact from Alonso, who had managed to rise to fourth and challenge for a podium position. However, the duo came into contact heading towards the Turn 4 braking zone, with the Spaniard being caught out as his former McLaren partner remained on the racing line. With a broken wing, the Oviedo man fell to an eventual sixth place behind team-mate Massa (whose own chances of a podium were thrown away in the form of a bad pit-stop). Both Hamilton and Alonso were later handed 20-second penalties, dropping Hamilton to a final eighth position.
Mark Webber’s race was severely hampered by a KERS malfunction which resulted in Red Bull advising Vettel not to use the power-boosting device. Dropping from third to ninth at the start, the Australian soon engaged in a multi-lap, wheel-to-wheel duel with Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi, who was eventually classified seventh as British rookie Paul di Resta scored another point in tenth. Webber, after passing the Sauber, eventually overhauled Massa through the pit-stop window before rising to a credible fourth, benefitting from Alonso and Hamilton’s late pit visits.
Heidfeld’s first podium since the same race in 2009 came following an impressive Turn 1 pass on Hamilton before holding off Webber – who had made an equally impressive move on Kobayashi plus easily overhauling gripless Massa’s Ferrari – in the closing stages.
However, Renault’s day became bittersweet as Melbourne podium finisher Petrov ran wide and became airborne at Turn 8, landing as the steering wheel came off in the Russian’s hands. Sergio Pérez was also left on the sidelines, with his Sauber having come to a halt on the start/finish straight after hitting debris from Buemi’s Toro Rosso.
Vettel’s victory, the 12th of his career, is the German’s second sucessive win at Sepang and sees him extend his championship lead to 24 points over new second place man Jenson Button. In the Constructors’ Championship, Red Bull’s margin over McLaren now moves up to 22.