Mar.25 (PVM-Reuters) Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso powered to what might be called his greatest triumph in his illustrious career, winning the Malaysian Grand Prix after a mammoth battle with Sauber’s Sergio Perez in the latter stages of a drama packed, rain affected, grand prix at Sepang.
The two drivers, in Ferrari powered cars, battled it out right to the finish line while their rivals – particularly pre-race favourites McLaren and worlds champions Red Bull – imploded in trying conditions. Nevertheless, pole sitter Lewis Hamilton salvaged third for McLaren after leading from the start, but after some pitstop misfortunes, simply had no answer for the leading pair. Mark Webber was fourth for Red Bull.
It was an afternoon packed with drama – the race was halted for 51 minutes as officials red flagged the race after just eight laps due to torrential rain fell at the Sepang circuit.
The downpour reduced visibility to a bare minimum and the wet track caused cars to lose grip, leaving race organisers with no option other than to halt the race and wait for the weather to clear up.
Under clearing skies, the race restarted behind the safety car with Hamilton leading, Button in second and Perez third.
The entire field started on intermediate tyres and as rain began to lash the circuit, opted to switch to wets after a few more laps but with Button telling his team over the radio that the third sector was “like a lake”, the safety car was deployed.
Romain Grosjean was the only casualty before the stoppage, the Frenchman spinning off the track on the fourth lap in his Lotus, beaching his car in the gravel – a second DNF in the first two races of his season.
The McLaren pair held the initiative in the first stanza of the race, but after the restart their game plan went out the window as Button tangled with Narain Karthikeyan and damaged his front wing when he clipped the HRT while battling for position. Thereafter the Australian GP winner was out of contention, in conditions in which he normally excels.
Hamilton was compromised twice during pitstops, but in truth the McLaren went off the boil in the changing conditions and the Englishman spent the afternoon in damage control mode to take third.
Mark Webber’s fourth place for Red Bull was in stark contrast to their dominance a year earlier at the same venue. His teammate, last year’s winner Sebastian Vettel finished down in 11th after spending most of the afternoon battling for fourth place, things took a dive for the world champion as he too clipped Karthikeyan’s HRT, which resulted in a blowout and a limp back to the pits. He resumed after a tyre change, but was told (possibly for strategic reasons in terms of the engine use rules) to park it, with one lap to go.
Kimi Raikkonen’s return to the top of the sport continues to impress, the Lotus driver enduring a tough race in which he battled his way from 10th on the grid to fifth by the time the chequered flag dropped.
Williams were denied a good finish last time out in Melbourne when Pastor Maldonado slammed the wall on the final lap, this time around Bruno Senna made amends by finishing sixth at Sepang, in his best showing to date. Maldonado’s day again ended in heartache as the Renault engine on the back of his Williams expired with the finish in sight. he was running in tenth at the time.
Paul di Resta worked hard to claim seventh place for Force India after hard fought battle with Toro Rosso rookie Jean Eric Vergne. The pair finishing seventh and eighth respectively, with Vergne scoring points in only his second ever F1 race.
Nico Hulkenberg made up for his first lap disappointment in Australia, to take ninth place and ensured that both Force India drivers bagged points despite starting 14th and 16th respectively.
Final point went to Michael Schumacher, who 24 hours earlier enjoyed his best qualifying since his return in 2012. The seven times world champion was sluggish off the line, and midway around the first lap was tagged by Grosjean’s Lotus. This rendered the veteran to the back of the field, and thereafter he spent the race playing catch-up in the Mercedes which has great one hot lap pace, but deteriorates alarmingly in race trim.
Nico Rosberg, who started seventh, ended 13th in the W03, which looked like the mobile chicane described by Red Bull’s Helmut Marko earlier in the week.
But, without dispute, the day belonged to Alonso and Perez – the wily veteran versus the talented upstart. The pair delivered a nail biting show as Alonso defied the pressure Perez was piling on, as late in the race, as the surface dried up quickly, the Sauber C31 gained pace while the Ferrari F2012 struggled.
But, while at his closest to the Ferrari and apparently ready to pounce on lap 51, Perez went off track, lost about five seconds and it was game over for the win. He recovered and tried to reel in the Ferrari, but Alonso had the final laps well covered to take a famous win, with Perez taking an equally impressive and well deserved second place.
Team owner Peter Sauber, who was in tears at the end of the race, will be particularly pleased with a huge points haul, also knowing his team have a strong car and that they made all the right calls on the day – including this one: “Checo be careful, we need this position. Be careful.”
There is no way Alonso woke up Sunday morning before the race and said: “I am going to win this afternoon…”
But that is exactly what he did, taking a woeful car – the Ferrari F2012 – and squeezing every ounce of performance in ultra-tricky conditions to score not only the most unlikely win of his career, but also a win that will give the under-fire Ferrari F1 team management some breathing space. There are a lot of heavy hitters at Maranello that now owe Alonso, big time.
The Spaniard said after his 28th F1 career victory, “A big surprise today the win. We were not competitive in Australia or here. Our goal was to score as many points as possible. An unbelievable result, a great job from the team. We maximised the potential in our hands. Keeping calm in some strange conditions at the begin with inters and the switching to dry tyres. The team deserve this win. It’s a tough time for us at the moment but this is a Sunday we will remember.”
But the Spaniard did not mince his words regarding what his team has to do to regain lost ground, “I think [the win] changes nothing. We are in a position that we don’t want. We don’t want to be fighting to go into Q3 and for points. The goal was not to lose many points. We did the job trackside. So this is a positive news but coming to China, Bahrain and China there is a lot of stuff coming to the car and this is the real job to do. We are very united and this win will make us very happy. But it doesn’t change our determination to improve the car and to keep winning.”
It is always great to watch a newcomer make it onto the F1 podium, as their joy is unrestrained and Perez was the picture of genuine pleasure, on the second step of the podium, celebrating his best grand prix finish to date. The young Mexican said afterwards, “Was the win possible? I think so. I was catching Fernando towards end of the race. I knew I had to get him soon because in all the high speed corners I was losing my front tyres running behind him. Then I ran wide in the quick left hander. I touched the kerb and I went onto the dirty side of the track. It was completely wet and I lost the win. Today the win was possible.
“The team have done an incredible job. They called me [into the pits] always at the right time. Unfortunately Fernando pitted one lap earlier than us towards the end and he opened some gap. The pace was fantastic. I have to say many thanks to the team,” added Perez.
Despite starting from pole it was in the end a lack-lustre day for McLaren, Hamilton was upbeat after the race, “It think we can be satisfied. Fernando and Sergio drove fantastically today and it was very tough to catch them. We would have liked to have more points this weekend but I can’t complain as I’m on the podium for the second weekend in a row. I was able to stay out of trouble with the conditions. We did a great job.”
Action resumes in China, in two weeks time, with Alonso leading the championship standings with 35 points, followed by Hamilton on 30 and Button with 25 to his credit.
Subbed by AJN.
Malaysian Grand Prix Result – Sepang, 25 March 2012
|2||15||Sergio Perez||Sauber-Ferrari||56||+2.2 secs||9||18|
|3||4||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren-Mercedes||56||+14.5 secs||1||15|
|4||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing-Renault||56||+17.6 secs||4||12|
|5||9||Kimi Räikkönen||Lotus-Renault||56||+29.4 secs||10||10|
|6||19||Bruno Senna||Williams-Renault||56||+37.6 secs||13||8|
|7||11||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||56||+44.4 secs||14||6|
|8||17||Jean-Eric Vergne||STR-Ferrari||56||+46.9 secs||18||4|
|9||12||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||56||+47.8 secs||16||2|
|10||7||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes||56||+49.9 secs||3||1|
|11||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||56||+75.5 secs||5|
|12||16||Daniel Ricciardo||STR-Ferrari||56||+76.8 secs||15|
|13||8||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes||56||+78.5 secs||7|
|14||3||Jenson Button||McLaren-Mercedes||56||+79.7 secs||2|
|15||6||Felipe Massa||Ferrari||56||+97.3 secs||12|
|16||21||Vitaly Petrov||Caterham-Renault||55||+1 Lap||19|
|17||24||Timo Glock||Marussia-Cosworth||55||+1 Lap||20|
|18||20||Heikki Kovalainen||Caterham-Renault||55||+1 Lap||24|
|19||18||Pastor Maldonado||Williams-Renault||54||+2 Laps||11|
|20||25||Charles Pic||Marussia-Cosworth||54||+2 Laps||21|
|21||23||Narain Karthikeyan||HRT-Cosworth||54||+2 Laps||23|
|22||22||Pedro de la Rosa||HRT-Cosworth||54||+2 Laps||22|
|Ret||14||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber-Ferrari||46||+10 Laps||17|
|Ret||10||Romain Grosjean||Lotus-Renault||3||+53 Laps||6|