Alonso fends off Pérez for dramatic Malaysian victory
25 March 2012 – Fernando Alonso has won a highly dramatic and rain-affected Malaysian Grand Prix, fending off a persistent challenge from the Sauber of Sergio Pérez. On an afternoon of many surprises, including a red flag stoppage, pole man Lewis Hamilton finished third as Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button failed to score points.
After a GP2 race which was staged in the dry, rain looked to be a certainty at Sepang as light drops fell before the start. Although the shower had stopped before the race started, all cars bar the two HRTs began on Intermediate tyres; both Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan were on Wets, although any advantage the Spaniard could have gained was lost when his car stalled at the start of the Formation Lap.
A clean start by Hamilton saw him keep the lead from McLaren team-mate Button, unlike in Australia last weekend. Mark Webber took advantage to seize third around the outside of Turn 3 as Romain Grosjean hit Michael Schumacher one corner later, spinning both cars; the Franco-Swiss endured his second retirement from as many races when he beached his Lotus at Turn 6 on only the third lap. After pitting for Wets, Hamilton retained his lead as a number of cars – including Webber and Pérez - suffered off-track excursions in monsoon conditions.
The deployment of the Safety Car was quickly followed by the red flag and fears that the event may not restart, bearing a resemblance to the 2009 race. It was finally confirmed at five o’clock – one hour after the red lights had gone out – that the race would continue. A number of cars, including Button, pitted for Intermediates straight away but the McLaren driver’s afternoon was effectively over when he broke his front wing against the out-of-position Karthikeyan, allowing Hamilton back through.
Although Button was now out of the picture, struggling with vibrating Intermediates, McLaren was still set for victory until a slow pit-stop for Hamilton on Lap 15, gift-wrapping the position for Alonso who had started ninth and kept out of trouble. Pérez had pitted on the first lap and took advantage of the tactical move to float through the order, reaching third by the time the race had resumed; this quickly became second following Hamilton’s pit disaster. The Mexican sensationally began to hunt down Alonso.
Setting a string of fastest laps to catch the Ferrari, all looked lost for Pérez – a Ferrari junior driver and set to join the team next year – when he made his final stop (to switch to Slicks) one lap too late. Despite this, he proceeded to close in again on dry-weather tyres; just as an overtake was imminent and following a ‘Be careful’ message from the pit wall, the 22-year-old ran wide at Turn 14 and was unable to make up the lost ground. Nevertheless, second marked a best-ever result, as Team Principal Peter Sauber confirmed by breaking into tears.
Mark Webber salvaged fourth on a difficult day for Red Bull, with World Champion Vettel running fourth until hitting Karthikeyan and puncturing a rear tyre on Lap 47, dashing any hopes of championship points. Kimi Räikkönen confirmed Lotus’ promise as Bruno Senna amazingly rose from first-lap contact with Pastor Maldonado, a spin and broken front wing to finish sixth for Williams, making up for his team-mate’s crash in Melbourne; Maldonado would have scored again today, had his engine not failed just three laps before the chequered flag.
Also making amends was rookie Jean-Éric Vergne, who scored four points for eighth place as he followed home consistent Paul di Resta. It was a double points finish for Force India, with Nico Hülkenberg ninth from a frustrated Schumacher. Daniel Ricciardo pulled off several impressive passing manoeuvres en route to 12th as Vettel, Nico Rosberg, Button and Felipe Massa ended their days in respective 11th, 13th, 14th and 15th places. In the second Sauber, Kamui Kobayashi stopped ten laps from the finish.
As Pérez cemented his superstar status, Alonso’s highly unexpected victory matches Michael Schumacher’s three Sepang wins and throws the Spaniard into the lead of the 2012 championship. His 28th career win moves him into the top five of all-time victories, one ahead of Jackie Stewart and three behind Nigel Mansell. McLaren continues to lead the Constructors’ standings, despite more dissatisfaction for pole-sitter Hamilton.
Formula 1 continues with Round 3 in China in three weeks’ time