World champion Sebastian Vettel apologized to Red Bull teammate Mark Webber yesterday after defying team orders in winning the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Vettel, seeking a fourth straight drivers’ title, moved atop the Formula One standings after overtaking Webber to win the 56-lap race at Sepang International Circuit. Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were third and fourth.
Vettel’s 27th career win came after he went wheel-to-wheel to overhaul Webber with 13 laps to go, earning a rebuke from Team Principal Christian Horner over the Red Bull team radio. Webber said afterward that it was his understanding that Vettel wouldn’t challenge him for the lead in the latter stages.
“I messed up today. I can understand Mark’s frustration and the team not being happy with what I did,” Vettel said in a Red Bull release. “I owe an explanation to him and the whole team. I got the call and I ignored it. I put myself above a team decision, which was wrong. I didn’t mean to and I apologize. I’m not happy I’ve won, I made a mistake and if I could undo it I would.”
After Vettel took the checkered flag, finishing 4.2 seconds ahead of Webber, the Red Bull team relayed a radio message saying: “Good job, Seb. Looks like you wanted it bad enough. Still, you’ve got some explaining to do.”
Webber, whose last victory came at the 2012 British Grand Prix in July, had led for much of the race and came out of the pits after his final stop just ahead of his teammate. Vettel continued to attack after Red Bull asked its drivers to hold position, turn the engines down and look after the tires.
‘Not Handled Well’
“I think Sebastian has respect for me and I have respect for him, but the situation today was not handled well,” Webber said. “I tried to isolate what happened at the end and we got something out of it today, but of course I’m not satisfied with the result.”
Horner described the situation as “frustrating.”
“Formula One is both a team and an individual sport and sometimes there is a conflict between a driver’s desire and a team’s interest,” he said. “What happened today is something that shouldn’t have happened. It’s something that Sebastian has apologized for and it’s something that we will discuss internally as a team.”
There was similar controversy at Mercedes as Rosberg was told by Team Principal Ross Brawn over the radio not to challenge Hamilton -- who’d earlier mistakenly gone into the pit box of his former team McLaren -- for third place.
Hamilton said Rosberg deserved to finish on the podium instead of him.
Top of Standings
“The team made the call for us to hold positions and we both respected that,” Hamilton said in a Mercedes release. “I have to say big congratulations to Nico. He drove a smarter and more controlled race than me this afternoon and deserved to finish where I did.”
Rosberg still said it was a “great day” for the team.
“It was disappointing for me having to hold position but I understand the team’s decision to safeguard our positions and to make sure that both cars got to the end with a strong team finish,” he said.
Vettel’s victory, which came after he started from pole position, lifted the 25-year-old German to 40 points atop the standings, nine ahead of Kimi Raikkonen after two races.
Felipe Massa finished fifth for Ferrari, whose other driver, Fernando Alonso, went out on the second lap with a collapsed front wing. Romain Grosjean was sixth ahead of Lotus teammate Raikkonen, the winner of last week’s season-opener in Australia.
Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez of McLaren and Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne rounded out the points-scoring positions.
The next Grand Prix is scheduled for April 14 in Shanghai.