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Sunday, March 24, 2013
Vettel of Red Bull wins Malaysian GP

Associated Press

SEPANG, Malaysia -- Sebastian Vettel's controversial win at the Malaysian Grand Prix left some fans wondering who really decides a race outcome -- the driver or the team.

The three-time defending champion ignored team orders and overtook Red Bull teammate Mark Webber for the victory, leaving the Australian driver clearly annoyed.

In flaunted team instructions to slow down with the race clearly in hand, Vettel highlighted the fact that the team strategy was essentially to end what was a gripping battle between its two drivers with 10 laps remaining.

Red Bull was not alone in that department.

With teams concerned about protecting their cars and saving tires early in the season, Mercedes also advised Nico Rosberg not to challenge teammate Lewis Hamilton for third spot. The only difference was that Rosberg complied.

Hamilton, who acknowledged that Rosberg should have been on the podium, said tacticians are taking the fun out of the sport.

"I didn't enjoy the race," he said. "It's not the same as back in the day when you had stints where you are pushing to the maximum the whole time, you had tires that would last," he said. "Now you're just... it's like you have a hundred dollars and you have to spend it wisely over a period of time. It makes racing a lot different. It's more strategic rather than pure speed racing."

The teams defended their decision to slow things down near the end, though some conceded the tactics may not sit well with F1 fans who pay to see a scintillating finish.

"You know, it's not perfect," Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team executive director, said. "From the sporting point of view, it's not what people want to see, nor what I want to see. But sometimes you have to make a call and you have to make decision and (we) did that to bring home third and fourth."

Red Bull's Christian Horner said the race exposed the "conflict" between the aspirations of a driver to win the championship and the team to win the constructors title -- something his team has done the past three years.

"From a public point of view to see the guys go wheel to wheel was fantastic racing and they raced each other extremely well," he said. "But you are in conflict. When is it a team sport? Our position as a team is to take maximum points."

He said with Ferrari's Fernando Alonso out of the race, Red Bull's priority was to "bank this first and second that we have got."

Horner doesn't only have to worry how the race looked to fans. He must ensure that Vettel's decision doesn't destroy the team chemistry.

The German driver's move left Webber fuming and had team officials remonstrating Vettel publicly after the race. Vettel apologized, but said he didn't realize he had been told to hold back.

"Mark should have won," said Vettel, who now leads the championship standings by nine points from Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen after two races. "I made a big mistake today and we should have stayed in the position. I messed up in that situation and took the lead from Mark and can see now he is upset. Apologies to Mark."

A stone-faced Webber refused to acknowledge his teammate after the race, and said he had been told by the team to keep a slower pace to save the tires to the end. He also hinted that he would have to consider his future -- the latest sign of tension on a team which Webber has sometimes felt favored the German over him especially in 2011 when the two were fighting it out for the drivers' title.

"I want to race as well, but in the end the team made a decision, which we always say before the race is probably how it's going to be -- we look after the tires, get the car to the end," Webber said. "In the end, Seb made his own decisions today and will have protection and that's the way it goes."

Vettel started from pole but Webber grabbed the lead on the ninth lap and stayed in front for much of the race.

Vettel had complained over the team radio earlier that "Mark is too slow" and that they should let him pass. The team response was for Vettel to remain "patient." Webber held him off coming out of the pits on the 43rd lap but three laps later Vettel pushed again, making an aggressive move with the cars almost touching, to take the lead. Team officials immediately calling him "silly" over the radio.

The incident was similar to the events of the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix, when Webber was also leading ahead of Vettel. That time, the two cars crashed when Vettel tried to overtake, spoiling what was a near-certain 1-2 finish.

Horner refused to say what punishment, if any, Vettel would face. But insisted the team would survive and Webber would remain.

"Let's be honest here. There has never been a great deal of trust between the two of them since Turkey in (2010) but there is a respect," Horner said. "If you think of Brazil (in 2012), Mark was told to hold his position and started racing him. They are race drivers and they will push to the limit. That is part of what their DNA is that is part of why we signed them to do the job, and why they performed so well for us as a pairing over the past five years."