China GP: Things get personal
FIGHTS ON THE INSIDE: Formula 1 will see a different type of battle at the Chinese GP, one between team mates instead of rival teams. IMAGE: AFP
Author: CHRIS LINES
SHANGHAI, China - When the 2013 Formula 1 season reconvenes for this weekend's Chinese GP the biggest battles could be between sets of warring team mates rather than rival teams.
The division is deepest at Red Bull where - three weeks on from the Malaysian GP - there is still plenty of ill-feeling between three-times World champion Sebastian Vettel and No.2 driver Mark Webber over events of Sepang when Vettel ignored team orders to stay behind Webber.
ALL ABOUT THE TEAM
He passed his Aussie team mate and won the race.
The fury in the immediate aftermath - reports that Webber would walk out on the team, that Red Bull must suspend Vettel - has died down due to the German's public contrition but has not gone away entirely.
Team principal Christian Horner said of Vettel: "He's said he can't turn back the clock but he's accepted what he did was wrong. He's apologized to the team and to every member of staff for his actions because he recognises the team is vitally important.
"Being part of the team is a crucial aspect to being able to challenge for the championships."
Horner, whose own authority was undermined by Vettel's actions because it was his order that was ignored, once again finds himself having to placate an understandably angry Webber.
The events at Sepang represented the deepest fissure yet between the two Red Bull drivers, trumping 2010 when they collided on track during the Turkish GP and then at the British GP. That was also the year Webber had to use an old front wing because his new one was handed to Vettel - but he won the race anyway.
Webber returned to Australia in the weeks since Malaysia to mull over his future, but Horner was sure he would see out the rest of his one-year contract. Horner told Sky Sports: "He is big enough to know there was no malice and no intent to create any situation like that. He is in a car capable of winning grands prix and, I hope, World championships.
"I have no doubt Mark will see out his contract."
The conflict at Red Bull meant the other team orders conflict from Sepang was largely overlooked, with Mercedes telling Nico Rosberg not to overtake third-placed Lewis Hamilton despite the German's protest that he was faster.
Heading into Sunday's race in Shanghai - where Hamilton is the only double winner and Rosberg the defending champion - team boss Ross Brawn had denied the team orders indicated Hamilton was the de facto No.1 driver or that he was given any such promise when making the move from McLaren.
"In the contractual negotiations we had with Lewis, never was the issue of who was No.1 or 2 mentioned from his side," Brawn said.
"He wants the same equipment, the same opportunity, and it is great that he has that confidence and that approach; that he doesn't want favouritism.
"He just wants parity and that is why Lewis felt a little bit awkward about the situation."
The other intriguing team mate fight is at Ferrari, where a revived Felipe Massa is sustaining his challenge to the undisputed No.1 Fernando Alonso.
Massa has qualified ahead of Alonso for the previous four races: the US and Brazil at the end of 2012 and now 2013's Australia and Malaysia. Should he do so again in China it will be the first time in Alonso's F1 career that he had been out-qualified by a team mate five times in a row.
Alonso, though, usually got the better of his team mate on race day and will be aiming for another strong performance in China to make up for his DNF in Malaysia, with expectations high of a title challenge this season.
Another team badly needing an improved performance is McLaren, well off the pace in the opening two races as the team looks to remedy the teething problems of its new-look 2013 car.
The three-week break between Malaysia and China came at the right time for McLaren, which believes it will have a car in China more consistent in its performance across various levels of fuel load and tire degradation.
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh said: "The engineers, designers and mechanics have worked tirelessly and painstakingly to unlock the car's potential. We feel confident that we are starting to turn the page."
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