All complaints about tyre wear were put to one side as Red Bull and Mercedes filled the top four places in the Malaysian Grand Prix, but harmony within both teams took a hit as their drivers squabbled over position.
Sebastian Vettel emerged on top to claim his 27th grand prix win, putting him level with fellow three-time champion Jackie Stewart in the all-time list, but it appears that he did so against team orders, with Mark Webber reminding him post-race of the instruction 'multi21', apparently Red Bull code for its drivers to turn down their engines and hold station. It was a similar story in the battle for the final podium spot, with Nico Rosberg imploring the Mercedes team to allow him to pass Lewis Hamilton, only to be told to accept fourth position.
Vettel had led from his pole position, fending off the two Ferraris into turn one, and then survived a nudge from Fernando Alonso which left the Spaniard with damage to his front wing. Webber, up from fifth after an unusually mega getaway, was initially unable to take advantage of the situation, despite numerous looks at Alonso, but had grabbed second place into turn one next time around – just as the wing broke free and the Ferrari skated into the gravel trap.
Without Alonso to interfere, and with Massa having been swamped at the first turn, the Red Bulls were able to eke out a gap over the field, with Vettel enjoying a cushion over his team-mate as they negotiated a drying track following a pre-race rainstorm. With lap times tumbling, however, the German decided that he needed slicks instead of Pirelli's intermediates. The stop, on lap five, dropped Vettel to fifth as he struggled for grip in the first part of the lap after rejoining, and Webber was advised to delay his stop by another lap. The decision proved to be a wise one for, when the Australian got back on track, he was ahead of his team-mate, and able to assume the lead when Rosberg stopped next time around.
With a couple of seconds separating them, both Red Bull drivers were then told to look after their tyres, a subtle hint not
to engage in battle while the opposition was still within striking distance. Despite fitting the harder tyre at his first stop, however, Webber was in again just twelve laps later, this time taking on the medium compound that had struggled so much with wear earlier in the weekend. Vettel duly assumed the lead, but held it only for another three laps, after stretching his mediums to 17 tours.
It wasn't enough, however, as Webber swept back into the lead as the German emerged from pit-lane, but could not match the German's initial pace. Vettel, clearly impatient to hit the front again, radioed the team, asking them to get Webber to move over. His request was denied, with another order to look after the tyres….
Webber responded with the fastest lap of the race, but the pair remained close throughout their stint until Webber peeled off again on lap 31, this time receiving another set of the hard tyres and rejoining behind Jenson Button's McLaren as Vettel retook the lead. The world champion had just a lap to try and make his pace work for him, but failed to get enough out of his RB9 and again came out behind both the #2 machine and Hamilton's Mercedes, having briefly snagged an airline as he pulled away.
Button proved to be no match for Webber who, despite running wide as he dived down the inside of the McLaren into turn one, briefly put another car between himself and his main rival. With Button pitting next time around, and Vettel making short work of Hamilton, battle was rejoined at the front, although Webber enjoyed a useful cushion that kept Vettel off his rear wing until both made their fourth and final stops.