10 Years On: Multi 21

Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel on the podium following the Multi 21 incident in Malaysia, 2013

Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel on the podium following the Multi 21 incident in Malaysia, 2013

Tensions between Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel reached fever pitch on this day at the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix, a race forever known for the Multi 21 incident.

Leading the race in the closing stages, Webber was attacked and passed by team-mate Vettel who went on to win.

That infamous moment a decade ago is known simply as ‘Multi 21’.

It’s a reference that stems from the wording of a team order issued to both drivers.

With Webber in Car 2, and Vettel in Car 1, it was an instruction for the pair to hold position to the finish.

The Multi 21 order

“I was happy with how I drove today,” Webber said after the race.

“It was a very good team result.

“And then yeah… got myself into a position where we were controlling the race.

“I was being told the target lap times, again in relation to how the tyres are.

“Obviously Seb and Lewis [Hamilton] come back to me at one point in the race, I responded and lifted the pace up and got away around the stop.

“We had a pretty good situation teed up towards the end of the race.

“Then, after the last stop, I thought that it would be interesting how the team would deal with it and I was ready for a sprint to the end.

“And then the team obviously rang up and said ‘the race is… the pressure is off now. We need to look after the tyres to the end. Basically don’t fight each other.’

“I turned the engine down,” he added.

“We have some codes in terms of getting the cars to the end.

“In the end, I’m happy with how I drove and… yeah it doesn’t… yeah, emotions are… probably not the best time to talk at the moment.”

Vettel’s response

Initially, Vettel attempted to defend his move to the assembled press post-race.

However, he quickly read the room and changed his tune, offering his apologies to Webber.

“Towards the end I feel I had quite a strong pace and obviously at the very end on a new set of medium tyres had a bit more speed and it was a close fight but I think… yeah… as you can see I’m not entirely happy,” he began.

“I did a big mistake today; I think we should have stayed in the positions that we were.

“I didn’t ignore it [Multi 21 order] on purpose but I messed up in that situation and obviously took the lead which, I can see now he’s upset.

“But yeah, I want to be honest at least and stick to the truth and apologise.”

Pressed by this writer on how one unintentionally passes in F1, Vettel was left floundering.

“I think it’s not an easy situation for me,” he admitted.

“Obviously I’m the black sheep right now. Obviously, I put myself in that position so, as I said, all I can say is apologies to Mark.

“I know that right now, obviously, having just come out of the car, it’s probably difficult to explain everything but the pass was deliberate – obviously I wanted to pass him, you could see that, otherwise you wouldn’t even try, but I didn’t mean to ignore the strategy or the call.

“I made a mistake, simply.”

Christian Horner recounts

In the years since, both have reflected on the Multi 21 event, as has team boss Christian Horner.

The Red Bull team principal suggested the encounter had its roots in the Brazilian Grand Prix the season before.

Brazil was the final round of 2012 and saw Vettel battling Fernando Alonso for the world championship.

There, Webber pushed his team-mate towards the pit wall at the start.

It triggered a chain of events that left the German pointing in the wrong direction following contact with Bruno Senna.

“There was a hangover of that that led into Malaysia, literally two races later, split by four or five months,” Horner told F1’s official podcast in 2018.

“You had a situation where you have Mark in the car ahead, Sebastian on new tyres in the car behind.

“The tyres were pretty fragile, we’re telling them hold position and Sebastian thought ‘F*** you’.”

Webber reflects

Speaking in 2020, Webber admitted there are things he could have done differently.

“One of my biggest regrets, I should have turned my engine right back up (when Vettel attacked),” he said in a video interview with David Coulthard for the sport’s official website.

“But instinctively, I’m like ‘well we should be just closing this race out; we’ve only got three or four or five laps to go and we’re fighting each other and using a lot of material and machinery’, because it was clear for that particular race that we should be shutting the grand prix down.

“Deep down, who knows if Sebastian still to this day regrets that particular grand prix? Maybe he doesn’t, I’m not sure. But look, I wasn’t an angel at certain other events here and there,”

Webber retired from F1 at the end of the season, his place taken by Daniel Ricciardo.

After F1 he moved into sportscars where he won the World Endurance Championship with Porsche.

Together with his wife Ann, he now manages the career of Oscar Piastri.

Vettel meanwhile continued racing until the end of 2022, with 2013 his fourth and final world championship.

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