Amongst all the controversy between Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber after the Malaysian Grand Prix, little attention was paid towards the huge contrast with their Mercedes rivals, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
Team orders were back on the agenda for the first time in a while as racers from both Mercedes and Red Bull were caught up in real tussles for the lead and third place, respectively. Whilst Webber and Vettel, now the 2013 Driver’s Championship leader after today, battled each other all the way and risked a repeat of their race-ending crash at the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix, Nico Rosberg reluctantly accepted Mercedes’ request to stay in fourth. It’ll be a tough decision for the German to take, but why was he put in that position?
With around twenty laps remaining, Rosberg expressed his frustration at Hamilton’s slow pace and demanded to have a chance to go past him via the team’s radio. The request mirrored Vettel’s impatience earlier, telling Red Bull to “get [Webber] out of the way, he’s too slow”. As Red Bull told Vettel, Mercedes issued Rosberg instructions not to overtake Hamilton and keep his distance. Further communications between the two showed that he wasn’t at all happy about the decision, but it had already been established that Hamilton was under orders to heavily save fuel.
Why couldn’t Rosberg have just skipped past his team-mate to claim the podium finish that both of them felt he deserved? There’s obviously the worry that there was the chance of them taking each other out of the race, but there were plenty of opportunities for him to breeze past the struggling Hamilton on a DRS-assisted straight. It wasn’t as if Rosberg needed to protect the back of Hamilton either, as there was a huge gap back to the battle between Massa, Grosjean and Raikkonen.
Rosberg responded testily to words of congratulations after the race, warning that Mercedes should “remember this one”. What that means to Hamilton and Rosberg’s long friendship is probably relatively nothing (no, that isn’t a real term), it’s just team orders. It is clear, though, that Lewis Hamilton is holding the most favour at his new team, something Rosberg may have to get used to.
On the subject of remembering (or remembrance..?), it was a weekend to forget for all of Britain’s riders. Aside from Hamilton’s lack of celebration on the podium, he’s already managed to forget who he is racing for when he sidled into McLaren’s area of the pit lane during a routine change of tyres. All smiles after the race, but the team have some real work to do if they want to be competitive before the start of the European season. A disastrous pit stop saw Jenson Button called back after his front tyre wasn’t fitted properly, a depressing callback to the various failures of the 2012 campaign. He later retired from the race whilst in the points.
Paul di Resta and the whole Force India team had an even worse time. On several occasions, the pit crew were stumped by what was going wrong, including overheating parts and a wheel that wouldn’t lock into place. Both drivers were quickly retired after too many faults, coming after a strong start to the Scot’s season in Australia.
Max Chilton continues to endure a tough start to the season at Marussia, finding himself heavily beaten by team-mate Jules Bianchi. Chilton, in one of several new seats for this season, came in behind the Caterhams of Pic and van der Garde. Hopefully, he can push forward and match Bianchi for pace both in race and qualifying.
Formula One Drivers’ Championship (British riders)
After 2 races
Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 4th, 25 points
Paul di Resta (Force India) – 10th, 4 points
Jenson Button (McLaren) – 13th, 2 points
Max Chilton (Marussia) – 20th, 0 points
Malaysian Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton – 3rd, +11.981 sec
Max Chilton – 16th, +2 laps
Jenson Button and Paul di Resta retired