The weekend got off to a relatively straightforward start with Jean-Eric Vergne and Valtteri Bottas joining the usual suspects in the Q1 drop-zone. Romain Grosjean, Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo missed out on the top 10 shoot-out, as did Esteban Gutierrez, Paul di Resta and Pastor Maldonado.
However, rain arrived at the end of the second session. For Q3, the intermediate Pirelli compound was the tyre of choice. The heavy shower soon moved on with conditions evolving and improving as the session progressed. Vettel dominated to take pole position by nine tenths from Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso.
Lewis Hamilton qualified ahead of Mark Webber and team-mate Nico Rosberg, while Kimi Raikkonen was handed a three-place grid penalty for blocking and dropped to 10th. This promoted Jenson Button to seventh, with Adrian Sutil and Sergio Perez moving up to eighth and ninth.
Drivers faced a tricky dilemma prior to the second round of the 2013 season. A rain shower had caught some drivers out on their way to the grid and conditions varied from corner to corner. Turn three was particularly wet, but the back of the circuit was considerably drier.
The intermediate tyres reappeared for the start with Vettel retaining his lead into the first corner. Alonso locked up at turn two and touched the back of the German’s car, which damaged his front wing. As the cars started the second lap, Vettel had eked out a small lead over the struggling Alonso (Ferrari had decided to keep him out), with Webber, Hamilton and Button rounding out the top five.
Webber was soon up to second place and was lucky to avoid getting hit by the out-of-control Alonso after the Spaniard’s front wing had broken off and gone under his car on the approach to turn one. With no steering, he went straight on and into the gravel trap to retire from the race.
Vettel pitted early for slick tyres and eventually lost the lead to his team-mate. The two Red Bulls ran together on track for the majority of the race, with the 2010, 2011 and 2012 world champion complaining on lap 28 that Webber was too slow. The two Mercedes cars kept them company before dropping back as the chequered flag edged closer.
Webber pitted for the final time on lap 44 and emerged just ahead of his team-mate. The two battled closely for the next two laps, with team principal Christian Horner radioing Vettel saying “this is silly Seb, come on”, before Vettel eventually made the move stick into turn one despite his team-mate giving him very little room on the inside line.
A few seconds back, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Rosberg were also embroiled in a fierce battle – this time for third place. The latter was the faster of the two, but when he asked if he could be allowed past Ross Brawn replied: “Negative Nico. Negative.” Vettel crossed the line to win the race by just over four seconds from Webber, with Hamilton holding on to third.
The Brit had rather awkwardly done a “Jenson” earlier in the race and pitted in the wrong place at his first stop. Following six seasons with the McLaren team, he accidentally pitted in their box before making a quick exit and eventually finding the awaiting Mercedes mechanics further down the pit lane. Rosberg was fourth, ahead of Massa, Grosjean, Raikkonen and Hulkenberg.
Before the incredibly awkward podium ceremony, Webber repeated the now infamous “Multi-21″ command that had been given to both drivers during the race – a team order saying car two (Webber) was to finish ahead of car one (Vettel). However, the German showed his ruthless streak and chose to ignore the instruction and take the victory.
Elsewhere, Button lost out on a potential top five finish after a wheel was incorrectly fitted. He went a lap down and eventually retired with three laps to go. Force India had a disastrous race after both cars suffered wheel nut failures. Perez and Vergne completed the top 10, with Bottas finishing just one second away from a points finish.
Images courtesy of Red Bull/Getty Images and Mercedes AMG Petronas