Only two weeks into the season, the 2013 Formula One World Championship has already earned its rightful place in the turbo-charged annals of Room 102.
Whoever said team orders were a farce wasn’t far wrong, but they sure as hell make for compelling TV. Yesterday’s Malaysian Grand Prix served up excitement and controversy aplenty – with no serious crashes and not a fatality in sight. How times have changed.
Things were pottering along quite nicely before they got serious – a touch of rain for some tyre drama, a jostle for position seeing Alonso promptly dispatched with a broken front end and an unscheduled visit from Hamilton to the pits of his former team, McLaren. Whilst clearly nonplussed, the mechanics were at least kind enough to step aside and wave him through rather than take their rightful opportunity to force him to hit reverse and back himself out of his sticky hole. “Feel free to pop in and say ‘hi’ any time” McLaren tweeted later, though one suspects that Hamilton will make damn sure that was his last visit – for a while at least.
But come the end of the race, as a familiar trio of Vettel, Webber and Hamilton took their places on the podium, you could have cut the atmosphere with a knife. So where did it all go wrong? With those pesky team orders, that’s where.
A bungled pit stop left Hamilton dangerously low on fuel, forcing him into conservation mode with his team mate, Nico Rosberg, crawling all over his behind. “I can go faster” said a frustrated Rosberg over the team radio, to the response that so could Lewis if they hadn’t messed up his fuel load and that under no circumstances should Rosberg pass. Know your place, son.
Drama was unfolding in the Red Bull team meanwhile, where both race leader, Webber, and his team mate Vettel, following closely in second, were ordered after their last pit stops to turn their engines down, stay in position and cruise on home to a tasty one-two finish.
The problem is that while some people are made to follow the rules, others are made to break them. And this is presumably why Vettel is a three-time world champion and Webber is… well… a racing driver. Tasting victory so tantalisingly close, who can blame Vettel for turning his engine up, taking on his teammate and claiming the lead – and the race – for himself?
Despite proclamations to the contrary, Webber may have been caught napping but he wasn’t without options. He had two choices – turn his own engine up and take on the fight – or take defeat squarely on his unfeasibly chiselled chin. Dare we suggest that he chose not to rise to the challenge because there was only going to be one winner?
Vettel is in for some flack – but let’s be honest, wouldn’t Alonso or Hamilton have done the same? Isn’t that ruthless self-interest the very thing that separates the great from the very, very good?
I would have loved to be a fly on the wall in the Red Bull camp last night, though with much of this played out live on the podium in front of the watching millions, it was hardly necessary. This season is promising some serious drama and I for one cannot wait to see how it all unfolds.