Red Bull might give you wings, but until yesterday all it had given Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber was heartbreak and disappointment in a season in which proprietor Dietrich Mateschitz demands the Formula One championship title.
But a perfect afternoon in the heat here at the Malaysian Grand Prix put the team back on top as the German and the Australian simply ran away from the opposition, ensuring a crushing victory they desperately needed.
Ferrari's Felipe Massa finished only a fighting seventh, sandwiched between McLaren drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, but that was enough to give him the lead of the world championship with 39 points. But such is the impact of the dramatically revised points scoring system that Vettel's 25 points for victory catapults him up to joint-second place, level on 37 with previous leader Fernando Alonso, whose Ferrari broke down within a lap of the finish while fighting for eighth place.
It was not a great race in the mould of Melbourne last week, but there was always something going on. If it was not polesitter Webber initially pressurising Vettel after losing out to him in the first corner, it was Hamilton's superb charge up the order – he was 12th, up from 20th on the grid, by the end of the first lap – or his subsequent pursuit of Adrian Sutil for fifth place, or Button's fight with the Ferraris as that trio made their way up the order.
Vettel's move on Webber in the first corner was the crucial moment of his race. It was close. Webber refused to be cowed as they sped through Turns Two and Three, where he got a better exit and prepared to challenge his team-mate going into Turn Four. Vettel hung tough, however, and after that he had control.
"We had spoken with Christian Horner [team principal] before the race and he told us, 'Boys, behave yourselves,' and we did," Webber said.
"I realised straight away that I had a good start and I passed Nico [Rosberg] and got a good tow from Mark," Vettel revealed. "It was gain, gain, gain and right then I had the advantage in his slipstream on the long run to Turn One, and then I took the chance I had there. It was quite late, and I just made it. Then Mark had the better exit from Turn Two and Three, but it was very slippery down to Turn Four and we both tried to push. We were fighting ourselves, but we kept the respect for each other."
Once Vettel had established his lead, it was just a question of the two of them easing away from competition that had no answer to their sheer pace and composure. This time there was no faulty NGK spark plug electrode to put Vettel's engine on to seven cylinders, nor any wheel drive pegs shearing to give him three-wheel braking and throw him into retirement in a gravel bed, as happened in Bahrain and Australia respectively.
They swapped fastest laps early on, and, if anything, Webber had the advantage, but when the tyre stops came he lost two and a half seconds with a problem in the wheelgun operating his right front wheel, and thereafter Vettel had it in the bag.
"I didn't stop sweating, but I was trying not to be too extreme in the beginning," he admitted, "and at some stage I was hoping for rain to get a cool down. What a day! We had a magnificent car, and the key was to pace yourself and watch out for the tyres. Bridgestone did a good job to bring two compounds that worked well. We needed a good result after two races where we didn't finish where we want to, and it was crucial in those moments not to panic, to stay relaxed, and first position today is the best result we could get. It's a big plus for the team that Mark was second, a lot of points."
Webber, as ever a sportsman even in defeat, savoured a result that made up a lot for his adventures last week on his home ground. "The spirit and chemistry in our team is awesome," he said. "We fought very hard but Seb did the job at the crucial stage and he deserved the victory. It's a great result for the team, we executed a beautiful weekend."
Behind them, Rosberg and Robert Kubica drove relatively quiet and lonely races for Mercedes and Renault respectively, to finish third and fourth, while Hamilton's electrifying rise, from 20th on the grid to second by the time of his tyre stop on the 30th lap, was a highlight of the race. Such is his competitive fire that he just does not know when to quit. Earlier, that had earned him a black-and-white flag as the race stewards disapproved of his excessive weaving on the main straight as he tried to break the slipstream tow in which Russian racer Vitaly Petrov tenaciously clung as they duelled in the opening laps, but even Hamilton could not find a way past Sutil's finely driven Force India. It is powered by the same Mercedes V8 engine as his McLaren and, try as he might, the 2008 champion could not quite muster the final dregs of speed he needed to overcome his old Formula Three team-mate.
Further back, the fight between Button, Massa and Alonso was just as entertaining. Button had stopped on the ninth lap to ditch his soft tyres for the harder compound, so by the time Massa, on fresh rubber, closed in he was powerless to resist on lap 44. Button kept Alonso at bay, however, twice regaining eighth place as the Spaniard slipped ahead under braking for the first corner, only to run wide. The second time that happened was the 55th of the 56 laps, and no sooner had Button dived back ahead than Alonso's Ferrari engine blew up. The two points he lost cost him joint leadership of the championship with Massa.
Malaysian Grand Prix: Result and standings
FIA Formula 1 Malaysian Grand Prix, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (56 Laps): 1 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 1hr 33min 48.412sec; 2 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:33:53.261; 3 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:34:01.916; 4 R Kubica (Pol) Renault 1:34:07.001; 5 A Sutil (Ger) Force India 1:34:09.471; 6 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 1:34:11.883; 7 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:34:15.480; 8 J Button (GB) McLaren 1:34:26.330; 9 J Alguersuari (Sp) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:34:59.014; 10 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Williams 1:35:01.811; 11 S Buemi (Swit) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:35:07.350; 12 R Barrichello (Br) Williams at 1 lap; 13 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari at 2 laps; 14 L di Grassi (Br) Virgin Racing at 3 laps; 15 K Chandhok (Ind) HRT-F1 at 3 laps; 16 B Senna (Br) HRT-F1 at 4 laps; 17 J Trulli (It) Lotus F1 at 5 laps. Not Classified: 18 H Kovalainen (Fin) Lotus F1 46 laps completed; 19 V Petrov (Rus) Renault 32 laps; 20 V Liuzzi (It) Force India 12 laps; 21 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 9 laps; 22 K Kobayashi (Japan) BMW Sauber 8 laps; 23 T Glock (Ger) Virgin Racing 2 laps; 24 P de la Rosa (Sp) BMW Sauber 0 laps.
World Championship Standings: Drivers: 1 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 39pts; 2 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 37; 3 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 37; 4 J Button (GB) McLaren 35; 5 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 35; 6 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 31; 7 R Kubica (Pol) Renault 30; 8 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 24; 9 A Sutil (Ger) Force India 10; 10 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 9; 11 V Liuzzi (It) Force India 8; 12 R Barrichello (Br) Williams 5; 13 J Alguersuari (Sp) Scuderia Toro Rosso 2; 14 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Williams 1.
Manufacturers: 1 Ferrari 76pts; 2 McLaren 66; 3 Red Bull 61; 4 Mercedes GP 44; 5 Renault 30; 6 Force India 18; 7 Williams 6; 8 Scuderia Toro Rosso 2.Reuse content