Fernando Alonso Takes Top Podium SpotEnlarge Photo
The 2012 Formula 1 Malaysian Grand Prix went to Ferrari's Fernando Alonso on Sunday, in changing conditions that sparked multiple tire changes, a long red flag situation, many laps by the safety car and a surprise second place finisher--who came oh so very close to winning the race.
Even though Alonso was the race winner and gained control of the points chase, the story of this race was Sergio Perez, who became the first Mexican driver since 1971 to finish on podium; Pedro Rodriguez took a podium slot in that year's wet Dutch Grand Prix--also won by a Ferrari. Perez finished 2.2 seconds behind Alonso; third place Lewis Hamilton was 14.5 seconds back.
While qualifying at Sepang was dry for the Formula 1 troops, race day dawned with changeable weather conditions. As the field rolled off, nearly everyone on the grid took on Pirelli intermediates for the start. Lewis Hamilton led them away as the lights went off, but within a couple of laps everyone was stopping for full wets as the rain grew more persistent.
Seven-time champ Michael Schumacher spun after being touched by Romain Grosjean, losing spots and resuming in 13th as Grosjean ended up 18th. Hamilton made his stop on the sixth lap, as did the two Red Bull cars. All continued on but on the ninth lap, red flags flew as McLaren driver Jenson Button reported the last sector was "like a lake."
With the safety car deployed three hours after the race start (just after 5 pm local), the race continued under caution. The question became one of tire choices and everyone was officially relegated to Pirelli wets for the restart. When to switch to intermediates once the safety car returned to paddock became the question of the day. A slower stop than Alonso's relegated Hamilton to third place, but it was a duel between the Ferrari factory car and the Sauber customer Ferrari-engined machine that was totally enthralling.
Sergio Perez - Sauber F1 Team photoEnlarge Photo
This duo traded fastest laps time and time again and on the drying track, the Sauber chassis was easily the match of the Ferrari, as Perez hounded Alonso from mid-race to the evening checkered flag.
"It was an incredible race," Alonso proclaimed. "While we have been going through this difficult time, no one at Ferrari gave up. Everyone has doubled their efforts to try and catch up. The strategy was perfect, the mechanics did an impeccable job, the engineers did their best in preparing the car and I drove at my maximum for all 56 laps of the race."
Perez, who started on intermediates, changed to rain tires and after 41 laps went to the hard dry Pirelli tires was pleased--yet dismayed--with his result. "It is a really nice feeling to have been on the podium here, but I think victory was also within reach. Twice in the race I was catching Fernando; on the final stint, when I was on the final stint, when I was on the hard tire compound, my tires had degraded quite a lot. It wasn't easy and I went wide and touched a curb--I was actually lucky not to go off!"
Hamilton, the 2008 F1 champion realized early on that "this was a tough, but fascinating race. It was difficult trying to judge the best time to change tires and we were probably a little late on that, but that's how it goes sometimes. All in all, it's been a positive weekend and I'm not too frustrated--my aim for this season was always to be consistent," he said.
Behind this trio, Mark Webber was best of the rest, fourth and 17.6 seconds in arrears. "It was a busy with a lot of calls going on at the restart and with the tires. It was a mixed-up race," Webber said, "and it was good to get some points but you've got to take your hat off to Fernando and Perez today."