A jubilant Sebastian Vettel has belatedly but resoundingly kick-started his F1 2010 World Championship challenge into gear with a superb victory in the Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang this weekend – a race that was won, he reflected afterwards, within mere seconds of the starting lights going out.
Having qualified directly behind his pole-sitting Red Bull Racing team-mate Mark Webber in Kuala Lumpur, early-season pace-setter Vettel made a lightning getaway to pull alongside and past the Mercedes Grand Prix of Nico Rosberg on the run down to the first corner and then, when Webber left the door open, the sport's youngest-ever grand prix-winner did not need to wait for a second invitation.
Catching the Australian somewhat unawares, Vettel dived down the inside into Turn One, and whilst the pair would go on to duel around the course of the opening lap as Webber bade to regain his advantage, the move stuck. And from that point on, whilst the lead would ebb-and-flow somewhat with the RBR duo trading fastest lap times, for the Heppenheim native there was no looking back.
“What a day!” enthused the 22-year-old German, who was denied victory in both Bahrain and Australia through a spark plug failure and suspected wheel-fixing issues respectively. “I realised that I had a good start past Nico and I was then able to gain on Mark; it's a long sprint down to Turn One and I had an advantage, so I took the chance and just made it through! Mark had a better exit out of Turn Two though Turn Three, but it was very slippery and we both tried to push. We are here to fight, but you should always keep respect and I think we both had respect for each other. If Mark had been in my position I'm sure he would have done the same.
“After that it was a question of getting away from our competitors. I could see that Mark and I had the same pace – he was a little quicker in the beginning, but I was trying to save my tyres so I could pull away before the stop. The second stint was extremely long and it's very hot here – I didn't stop sweating. It's very physical and at some stages I was hoping for rain just to get a bit of a cool down! Yesterday was extremely difficult with the conditions, but today it stayed dry.
“We have a magnificent car, and the key once again was to pace yourself and watch your tyres. Bridgestone did a good job bringing two compounds here that worked well. It's a very good result for us after two races where we didn't finish where we wanted. Thanks to the team – it's crucial not to panic in that moment and stay relaxed as it's a long season. Sitting here on Sunday afternoon after finishing in first position is the best result we can get. On top of that, Mark is in second place. It's a big plus for the team and a lot of points for us, I'm very, very happy.”
Indeed, after such a frustrating beginning to the campaign, Vettel now sits just two points shy of the world championship lead, with Red Bull having similarly closed up in the chase for the constructors' crown, lying now 15 markers adrift of Ferrari in third place, when prior to the weekend it had been a gaping 52. The energy drinks-backed outfit's team principal Christian Horner hopes that is only the start...
“A fantastic team performance,” enthused the Englishman, a former racer himself. “The race ultimately came down to the first 500 metres. Both drivers had excellent starts, Sebastian got the inside line into Turn One, Mark gave him enough space and they fought each other through Turn Two and into Turn Three. That was the difference between them today; they matched each other tenth-for-tenth in pace and it was great to see the team achieve a faultless one-two finish.
“It's been a huge amount of hard work. Obviously we've had frustrations in the first two races, but the team has stayed focussed. We've had tremendous support from the factory this weekend, and people gave up their Easter to ensure that our cars had the best opportunity for finishing at arguably one of the toughest races. Both cars behaved impeccably, so it puts us right back in the championship and gives everyone a lot of confidence.”
“What a good result!” agreed Fabrice Lom, principal track support engineer for RBR's engine-supplier Renault. “It's the one we deserved since the beginning of the season, but due to reliability problems we were not able to make it. Now it's done, the reliability is there and it's a one-two finish – it's great. After all the difficult times we are a team and we are back in the fight. Our big competitors didn't score a lot of points, so it's a really good result for us and the engines behaved very well in this heat. We are fully happy today.”