Fernando Alonso held his nerve to take the checkered flag in Sepang under pressure from an impressive Sergio Perez. The Spaniard looked destined to be caught by the young Mexican as he reeled Alonso in by a second per lap with less than ten laps remaining. Sadly though, a slip in concentration saw Perez go wide cementing the podium places, rounded off by Lewis Hamilton who never threatened the top two driver for pace late on.
The win puts Alonso on top of the drivers table – a situation nobody could have predicted before the start of the season. Alonso’s performance was doubly impressive considering the recent pace of Ferrari’s car, the F2012, which has been less than impressive. If the Red team had made any improvements to their car before this weekend, it wasn’t apparent on Felipe Massa’s car, which was sporting a new chassis in Sepang. The Brazilian had another tough race, only managing to finish 15th, fuelling rumours that Perez could be set to take the 2nd Ferrari seat at his expense.
The race wasn’t so fast paced all the way through though. Before the formation lap, race director Charlie Whiting declared wet conditions, allowing the teams their choice of tyres. Hamilton, who started from pole managed to improve on last week’s performance into turn one, maintaining his grid position under pressure from team-mate Jenson Button.
Michael Schumacher didn’t have as much luck keeping his 3rd place position; the Mercedes driver was sent into a spin when fast starter Romian Grosjean clipped the German from behind on the first lap; Grosjean later went on to squander his excellent start, beaching his Lotus on lap four. It was a promising qualifying for Mercedes but, as was the case in Australia, their race pace couldn’t match that of qualifying, and so struggled to compete with the surrounding teams.
Just laps after the teams began pitting for full wet tyres in response to worsening conditions, the pace was slowed by the introduction of the safety car on lap seven. The race then ground to a halt two laps later; race control confirming the red flag that had been shown moments earlier by mistake due to lightning storms interfering with electrical equipment.
As the cars parked up on the grid, the unusual sight of a Narain Karthikeyan’s HRT lined up in 10th place provided the Sky F1 Team with an interesting talking point. The Spanish national team neatly anticipated weather conditions and fitted the full wet tyre from the start line. HRT Team Principal, Luis Perez-Sala will have been giving it his best rain dance during the interruption; if the race had been called off, Karthikeyan would have scored HRT’s first championship points – albeit just half a point.
Perez-Sala’s rain dance failed, and the race restarted under the safety car – over an hour after the original race start. With a new ruling limiting races to four hours, whether or not there’d be time to finish was coming into question, as the early evening start in Malaysia was drawing close to sunset. HRT came back down to Earth a few laps later; Karthikeyan colliding with Button forced the pair into the pits, effectively ending both drivers’ hopes of a points finish.
It seemed fortunes were unfairly shared throughout a lot of the teams this weekend. As well as Ferrari and McLaren’s driver’s juxtaposing results, Perez’s team-mate Kamui Kobayashi retired, Maldonado retired on the last lap for the second week in a row – engine failure this time – whilst Senna brought home the rejuvenated Williams FW34 in an impressive 6th. Romain Grosjean watched Kimi Raikkonnen drive to a solid 5th after a five-place gird penalty, and, most noticeably, reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel limped home out of the points in 11th – the first time the double world champion has finished out of the points since Spa in 2010. Whilst Red Bull team-mate scored good points in 4th, Vettel struggled with the RB8 throughout the race; his performance marred by a puncture and mechanical worries on the last lap which almost forced him to park on the track side.
The result attests to the closeness of the 2012 season that had been predicted. Two races in and teams deemed ‘midfield contenders’ such are Sauber are unsettling the big fish. It made for a great race to watch, and long may it continue.