The Malaysian Grand Prix had a lot to live up to after last weekend’s race at Albert Park. The weekend started off very much as expected, when in dry running the McLarens look quick with Mercedes and Red Bull pushing them hard.
Similar to Australia, this weekend’s qualifying was full excitement for all the right reasons. In each of the three qualifying sessions a different driver from a different constructor topped the session (Mercedes, Lotus and McLaren). Lewis Hamilton secured pole position for the second week in a row, but his lap was a tad scruffier than that of a week ago. Hamilton could have easily improved his lap by two-tenths of a second, had he not locked up and run wide on the approach to the last corner. Overall the things we learned were, McLaren are the car to beat over one lap, Mercedes can challenge, Red Bull are in a similar position to McLaren last year, where they’re struggling to get the car to work in qualifying. Ferrari were also a staggering 1.3s off the pole position pace in Q3.
The race weekend was tipped on its head when rain started to fall with ten minutes to go before the start of the race. All cars started on intermediate tyres with some opting to change to full wets before the first lap was over. One of whom was Sergio Perez.
The start was an absolute breeze for McLaren with Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton having at least three car lengths between them and their nearest rivals heading in to turn one. Despite his quick start, Lewis Hamilton showed maturity going into the first corner, he opted for the tight line into turn one, allowing Jenson to take the outside line and with little grip, Jenson had no chance but to yield. In the early stages McLaren seemed as if they would canter away from the field, but it was not be.
The rain started falling a lot harder, which forced most of the teams to pit for full wets, which was the only sensible decision at that point during the race. The McLarens held the lead until the red flag postponed the race after 9 laps.
After a 50 minute delay the race was restarted, and this was when the fun started. Jenson Button uncharacteristically slid in to the HRT of Narain Karthikeyan ripping off one side of his front wing, he pitted for a new nose and never recovered. The HRT wasn’t finished however, when Sebastien Vettel attempted to lap the back marker with a few laps to go, the German swiped back over to take the racing line while snatching his rear left tyre on the Indian’s front wing, a dramatic puncture was to follow which cost Vettel a chance of World Championship points.
The main story however, was the arrival of a twenty-one year old Mexican, Sergio Perez. He made an inspired decision after the end of the first lap to pit in for full wet tyres which lofted him up in to third position during the red flag period. Many felt it would be a flash in the pan and would be caught and passed with 45 odd laps remaining. He did anything but! He drove a superb race to challenge Fernando Alonso for the lead, who had inherited it when McLaren botched a couple of pit stops pushing Hamilton down in to third.
Their scrap for the lead was heating up brilliantly before they decided to stop for slicks with 15 laps to go. Perez pitted a lap later than Fernando, which ultimately cost him the top step of the podium. There was a tasty battle brewing when Perez was catching Fernando by almost a second a lap at one point and clearly had the measure of the Spaniard. He quickly caught the Ferrari but when he was it his closest he ran wide and scuppered his chance of the win. After that point, Alonso was not to be beaten.
Alonso, however, has shown again that he can out-drive the capabilities of the car he is in. A brilliant drive for a struggling Ferrari team. I’m sure they enjoyed the taste of the champagne, but it’s not a feeling they should get to accustom to in 2012, on current performance levels at least.
Overall the race was a good one. The main championship winners in this round have to be Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber who scored very valuable points for their campaign, compared to the fruitless drives of that of their respective team mates.
It’s now just a huge shame we have to wait three weeks until Chinese Grand Prix. 2012 is proving to be a classic.
Pos Driver Team Time
1. Alonso Ferrari 2h44:51.812
2. Perez Sauber-Ferrari + 2.263
3. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes + 14.591
4. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 17.688
5. Raikkonen Lotus-Renault + 29.456
6. Senna Williams-Renault + 37.667
7. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes + 44.412
8. Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 46.985
9. Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes + 47.892
10. Schumacher Mercedes + 49.996
11. Vettel Red Bull-Renault + 1:15.527
12. Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1:16.826
13. Rosberg Mercedes + 1:18.593
14. Button McLaren-Mercedes + 1:19.719
15. Massa Ferrari + 1:37.319
16. Petrov Caterham-Renault + 1 lap
17. Glock Marussia-Cosworth + 1 lap
18. Kovalainen Caterham-Renault + 1 lap
19. Maldonado Williams-Renault + 2 laps
20. Pic Marussia-Cosworth + 2 laps
21. Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth + 2 laps
22. De la Rosa HRT-Cosworth + 2 laps
Fastest lap: Raikkonen, 1:40.722