Business Day

Duelling drivers in the spotlight

- FOREIGN STAFF Shanghai

SEBASTIAN Vettel and Mark Webber will be under fierce scrutiny as they return to the Red Bull team garage at the Chinese Grand Prix after a furious team-orders row in Malaysia.

SEBASTIAN Vettel and Mark Webber will be under fierce scrutiny as they return to the Red Bull team garage at this week’s Chinese Grand Prix after a furious team-orders row in Malaysia.

The reigning world champion and his Australian team-mate are said to have called a truce after Vettel’s controvers­ial late pass for victory at Sepang, but relations are likely to be uneasy at best.

Webber admitted he had considered his future in the sport after Vettel ignored orders to stay behind his front-running stablemate, who was on deteriorat­ing tyres, to snatch one of the most contentiou­s wins of recent years.

Webber was seen giving the middle finger to Vettel after his risky overtaking manoeuvre, and, following an angry exchange in the garage and an awkward podium ceremony, the German apologised profusely.

But whether that has cut any ice with the feisty Webber, and whether Vettel is prepared to make amends by returning the favour, could become clear in Shanghai, act three in an already intriguing campaign.

Kimi Raikkonen was the surprise winner at the season-opener in Australia, and Lewis Hamilton was also tipped into a team orders row in Malaysia when Mercedes told Nico Rosberg not to challenge his team-mate for third.

Red Bull will face further questions about possible punishment for Vettel, even after team principal Christian Horner insisted Webber was not quitting and that the affair had been put to rest.

“He (Webber) is in a car capable of winning grands prix and hopefully going for a championsh­ip, so I’ve no doubt Mark will see out the season with us.”

Hamilton, the 2008 world champion, will also be keen to show solidarity with Rosberg and the rest of his new team, which he has joined from long-term employer McLaren.

In Malaysia, the Briton sheepishly admitted that Rosberg, all over his back wheels in fourth until being ordered off by team boss Ross Brawn, deserved to take his place on the podium.

Hamilton also had to apologise to the Mercedes technician­s after he mistakenly pulled into the McLaren bay during a pit stop.

“My first two races with my new team have been a great experience and everyone has made me feel so welcome,” said Hamilton, a crowd favourite in Shanghai. “We’ve had a better start than we expected and to have finished in fifth and third places so far is really positive. I know there is much more to come so we will keep working hard and pushing the developmen­t of the car.”

McLaren have struggled with their new MP4-28 car in the early season but Jenson Button, world champion with Brawn in 2009, said Sunday’s race would be a fresh start for the UK marque.

“In a funny way, the Chinese Grand Prix almost feels like something of a reboot of the start of my season,” said Button. “Taking home two points from the first two races obviously wasn’t what we had in mind at the beginning of the year, but I think everybody in the team has picked themselves up and really attacked the task of addressing our car’s issues.”

Webber is in a car capable of winning grands prix … so I’ve no doubt Mark will see out the season with us

Meanwhile, two-time world champion Fernando Alonso will hope to reassert his authority at Ferrari after sliding out on the second lap in Malaysia — and falling behind team-mate Felipe Massa in the overall standings.

Massa was said to be in danger of losing his seat with the famed Italian outfit last year, before an upturn in his performanc­es at the end of the season. He has carried that form into this year, and as well as outqualify­ing Alonso in the past four races, he has a narrow advantage over the Spaniard at fifth place in the standings.

Vettel tops the table with 40 points after two races, nine ahead of Raikkonen, who is enjoying a career resurgence at Lotus. Webber (26 points) and Hamilton (25) are third and fourth, with Alonso sixth. Sapa-AFP

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