In Malaysia, when it rains, it pours…at least on Sundays. It at least livened up the happenings which meant Ferrari scored an unlikely win with Fernando Alonso finishing first ahead of the fast-charging and mightily impressive Sauber (yes, a Sauber) of Sergio Perez in second. McLaren pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton had to be content with another 3rd place finish.
Red Bull’s Mark Webber finished fourth with Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen fifth, Williams’ Bruno Senna sixth and Force India’s Paul Di Resta seventh. Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne finished eight ahead of the second Force India of Nico Hulkenberg in ninth. Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher picked the last point in tenth place.
The result was in much due to the changeable weather conditions at Sepang as it was due to the teams’ strategies, driver errors, backmarker blues and tyre wear in equal measures. It was drizzling at the start but not enough to warrant a Safety Car start and both McLarens had a good start and were steadily pulling away at the head of the pack. Michael Schumacher and Romain Grosjean were involved in a coming together which saw the Mercedes card drop down the order and a few laps later, Grosjean spun into the gravel trap and into retirement.
Whilst the HRT team started on full wets, most of the others were on intermediate tyres. Sergio Perez & Bruno Senna changed to full wets at the end of the first lap and by lap six, all of the field was on full wets as the rain increased in intensity. The Safety Car was deployed on lap seven and after a couple of laps, it was decided to red flag the race as the rain was continuing and it was deemed unsafe to race around any more. Order was Hamilton & Button at the head, with Perez, Webber, Alonso, Vettel, Vergne, Massa, Rosberg & Karthikeyan in the top ten.
Race restarted behind the Safety Car after a fifty-minute delay and a few laps later, it pulled in, allowing for the cars to race each other. Almost immediately, half of the field came into the pits to fit on the Inters. Those who chose to stay on the track had another lap on the wets and some made their moves, with Alonso passing Webber into third place. Lap 15 saw the other drivers head into the pits for Inters and that was where the race lead changed hands. Leader Hamilton had a slow pit stop as the incoming Ferrari of Massa was let through – which meant Alonso moved ahead of him. Perez had stayed out, and led the race for a while before he came in and the order was Alonso, Perez & Hamilton at the head.
In between these shenanigans, Jenson Button had a wretched few laps as he clipped the HRT of Narain Karthikeyan & damaged his front wing, leading him to pit again and fit another set of Inters. As if that wasn’t enough, he wasn’t getting any grip on the new sets and had to pit again to change them – dropping him well out of contention for any points.
There were plenty of exciting battles in the midfield as Raikkonen, Vettel and Rosberg raced each other for the fourth place and Di Resta, Hulkenberg & Senna competed for 7th & 8th places. But it was interesting at the head of the order as well as Perez was cutting Alonso’s lead with each passing lap. And when the track was dry enough to fit on slick dry tyres on lap 40, the gap was even more steadily reducing. As it looked like Perez would catch Alonso, he clipped a kerb and ran wide, allowing Alonso to pull ahead and stabilise the gap to 4 seconds.
Vettel also had a coming together with the HRT of Karthikeyan and suffered a rear-left puncture and a tyre change saw him drop out of the points into 12th place, which turned eleventh as Pastor Maldonado’s Williams retired on the penultimate lap due to an engine failure.
Fernando Alonso though welcomed the win, stressed that the team have to make improvements to be on pole-challenging and race-challenging positions more often and not score wins due to other conditions playing into their hands. Hamilton was satisfied with his third place finish and Perez was absolutely ecstatic with his second place – but for a mistake, he would have challenged Alonso for the lead and who knows, might have won it himself!
Alonso now leads the drivers’ championship with Hamilton second and Button third. The next race is in Shanghai in three weeks time.