SEPANG, Malaysia, March 24 (Reuters) - Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel apologised to Red Bull team mate Mark Webber on Sunday after ignoring orders and stealing a Malaysian Grand Prix victory from the angry Australian.
“I am the black sheep right now...all I can say is apologies to Mark,” the German, seemingly contrite, said after a win that gave Red Bull a one-two finish and him the lead in the championship after two races.
“The pass was deliberate, obviously I wanted to pass him...but I didn’t mean to ignore the strategy or the call. I made a mistake, simply.”
Webber had driven a masterful race to climb into the lead from fifth on the grid and was told by his team to ease off in the closing stages to protect the car and tyres as he led Vettel and the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton.
Triple world champion Vettel was supposed to do the same but instead attacked and passed his shocked team mate after a ferocious battle with 12 laps remaining to seal a 27th grand prix victory.
The Australian made his feelings evident afterwards, saying only “Multi-21, Seb. Multi-21” - a reference to the team instruction - and giving the German the cold shoulder before they went on to the podium.
“He’s not a happy camper. How he deals with it down the line we’ll wait and see. He’ll be frustrated and kicking a few doors around tonight,” his father Alan told Britain’s Sky television.
Wrestling with his emotions, with the occasional heavy sigh, Webber said it would take time to absorb what had happened.
“It’s still very raw at the moment because we had a plan before the race as we do for most grands prix as to how things will be in a certain scenario,” said the 36-year-old, who has accused his team in the past of favouring Vettel.
He alluded to the Turkish grand prix of 2010, when the pair collided while fighting for the lead and threw away a lot of points, and said he would take time out to go surfing in Australia ahead of the next race in Shanghai on April 14.
“I think this will be good medicine for me,” he said. “But there was a lot of things in my mind in the last 15 laps of the grand prix to be honest. So whether the medicine is enough, we’ll see.”
The Australian said he had turned his engine down, looked after the tyres and had been “completely reassured twice that we were not going to abuse the cars on each other.”
Team principal Christian Horner said the matter would be dealt with internally.
“As far as the drivers are concerned, we let them race up to that last pitstop and then from a team’s perspective, with the issues we’ve had this weekend, we wanted to control the race and manage the tyres to the end of the race,” said Horner.
”But at that point the drivers’ interest became bigger than the team’s and they took it into their own hands to start racing each other which was obviously uncomfortable for us. But they are race drivers.
“We’ll sit down with them and discuss it as a team. They’ve raced each other hard before. They are very competitive. They are both race car drivers, It’s difficult.”
Horner recognised there was a “conflict of interest” between the team’s aims and that of the driver but said the team was paramount.
“You are still part of a team and at the end of the day everybody has to do their bit within the team and it’s difficult to watch. And the risk in a situation like that is that you give up 43 points,” he said.
Vettel appeared ready to soak up the criticism.
“I am not really too worried, I don’t really care about the criticism that is coming up now. I owe an explanation to Mark and the team. And that’s it,” he said.
“Everyone else obviously has the right to have their own opinions but for sure it is not a victory that I am very proud of because it should have been Mark‘s.” (Editing by Alan Baldwin)