“Magico” was the word displayed on Fernando Alonso’s pit board as he crossed the line to take a brilliant victory in the Malaysian Grand Prix. Incredibly, after all the talk of crisis within the Prancing Horse camp, the Spaniard now leads the Drivers’ World Championship after two rounds, while Scuderia Ferrari is in third place behind leaders McLaren and Red Bull. “If it’s a crazy race, maybe with rain, then maybe we can finish in front,” said Fernando on Thursday in the FIA Press Conference and it seems that, apart from a talent for driving, perhaps he also has the talent to predict the future!
Having had a mainly dry weekend since Thursday, somehow the rain chose the moments leading up to the start to arrive over the Sepang circuit. It was light enough for everyone to fit the Pirelli intermediate tyres, but heavy enough to cause plenty of spray off the open-wheeled cars. As the lights went out, Hamilton and Button maintained their first and second grid positions, followed by Webber, Grosjean briefly, Vettel with Fernando up one to seventh.Having started third, Schumacher spun, while Felipe went up two places to tenth. Fernando was fifth on the second lap and on lap 3, as the rain intensified, Felipe was the first to pit for Extreme rain tyres and on the following lap, Grosjean parked his Lotus in the gravel in the treacherous conditions. Lap 4 and Fernando, Button, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, Petrov and Kovalainen switched to the rain tyre. On lap 5 it was the turn of Hamilton, Webber and Vettel doing a double stop, Rosberg, Maldonaldo, Raikkonen, Kobayashi and Schumacher.
The conditions were getting worse and at first the information on the monitor said the race had been Red Flagged. However, a few seconds later the red band came off to be replaced with the message that the Safety Car was deployed. But as the track was virtually a river, the Red Flag did come out on lap 9. The cars formed up on the grid in the order, Hamilton and Button first and second for McLaren, then Perez (Sauber,) Webber (Red Bull) Fernando fifth for Ferrari, Vettel (Red Bull) Vergne (Toro Rosso) the only one of the lead group not to have changed to extreme tyres, then Felipe eighth in the second F2012, with Rosberg ninth for Mercedes, followed by another non-stopper Karthikeyan who had moved up 13 places in the Hispania!
As the restart took place behind the Safety Car, after a stop of almost an hour, the rules demanded that all cars had to be on Extreme rain tyres. Button pitted immediately for Intermediates and that saw him get ahead of his team-mate, who was also passed by Fernando and although Perez, who had made up a lot of ground when Sauber were the first to put him on extremes after the first start, got ahead of the Ferrari man, Fernando immediately got ahead of him again. With Button having dropped back after a collision with Karthikeyan, Fernando was now leading, with a comfortable margin of around six seconds over Perez. However, the situation changed when the track became dry enough for slicks to be fitted for the first time in the race. The Sauber proved to be much faster than the F2012 and the Mexican was able to close right up to Fernando. However, the pressure eased when Perez ran wide onto the back straight, the gap growing to at last five seconds again. The Mexican did fight back, but by this stage there were not enough laps remaining for him to get ahead, so a delighted Fernando punched the air as he crossed the line to take a brilliant and frankly unexpected victory; a victory that puts him in the lead in the Drivers’ World Championship, 5 points ahead of Hamilton and 10 in front of Button.
Felipe’s afternoon was less successful: after an early stop for extreme tyres, he had moved up from twelfth on the grid to eighth at the restart. He battled with Vergne in the Toro Rosso but then ran wide losing several places, dropping as low as eighteenth at one point before eventually taking the chequered flag in fifteenth place.
Stefano Domenicali: “An incredible win, absolutely unexpected, but that does not make it any less wonderful and emotional! Once again, Fernando was amazing, driving with a cool head and determination, managing to get the very best out of this car and of the very changeable weather conditions. Today’s victory does not change a jot in terms of our situation: we know that, at the moment, we do not have a car competitive enough to fight for the win under normal conditions and that we have a lot of work to do to catch up. Clearly this win gives us even more motivation, because it shows that this championship is not at all clear cut and anything can happen. A slight improvement in performance can result in a good step forward compared to other teams. Felipe suffered too much with degradation on his front tyres, which led to him making one more stop than his team-mate: this is a particularly difficult moment for him, because he cannot get the most out of a car that, objectively, is very difficult to drive. We have an obligation to stay close to him, which is as it should be in such a closely knit team. Now we will enjoy this moment for a few hours, but tomorrow we must be back in the factory again pushing on the development of this F2012. Finally I want to congratulate Sauber, who today secured their best ever result and congratulations also to Sergio Perez, a youngster from the Ferrari Driver Academy, who today confirmed his great talent.”
Fernando Alonso: “It was an incredible race! I am very happy, for me and for the whole team: I am proud of this fantastic group of people. While we have been going through this difficult time, no one gave up, in fact 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. I would never have bet on this win and I would think anyone who did so must have picked up a tidy sum! As I returned to the pit lane on the cool down lap I didn’t even know where to park the car: to win with all the problems we have got is something quite extraordinary. In the wet, I was going very well, but then when the track dried out, our weaknesses showed themselves. Sergio got very close and I was trying to stay on the only dry line: if he wanted to pass me, he would have had to take a risk. Yesterday, he and I ended up ninth and tenth and today we found ourselves fighting for the win, which shows how unpredictable is this championship. Our aim was damage limitation for these early races of the championship and now we even find ourselves leading the classification. Now we absolutely have to improve the performance starting right away with the races in China and Bahrain. We must get back to work immediately so as to find at least the two or three tenths that could put us back in the fight for the top places.”
Felipe Massa: “First of all, I want to congratulate Fernando on this great win, which came thanks to him driving a fantastic race. It is a very important victory for the team, although it must not let us forget that our car is not yet at the level of the best. Obviously I am disappointed with my result. Things were going well at the start and I was able to fight with the drivers directly ahead of me. When the track was drying, I suffered more and more with tyre degradation and I could not maintain a good pace. We opted to follow what Rosberg was doing ahead of me, as he too was apparently struggling with his tyres, but it did not work out and we lost a lot of time with this extra stop, given also that the others stayed on track for around a dozen laps more before switching to the dry tyres. It is important for us to try and understand why there is such a strong difference in the way our cars perform, but ultimately, our aim is to have a more competitive car in as short a time as possible.”
Pat Fry: “This win is a wonderful reward for all the efforts we are making here at the track and back home at the factory to try and turn around a season that immediately saw us facing an uphill struggle. However, this result must not be seen as a case of all our problems having unexpectedly solved themselves: that’s not the case and everyone is aware of it. Fernando drove a fantastic race, pushing throughout the entire time, always being very careful but never overdoing it. The F2012 seemed to behave very differently depending on the conditions in which it was running: today, there were moments when it was absolutely competitive, others when it struggled. We had already seen in Melbourne on Friday that on a damp track, the situation was not bad and today it went even better. Towards the end, Perez was very quick, partly because his Hards were working better in these conditions than Fernando’s mediums. Another decisive factor in today’s win was the work in the pits and on the pit wall: at every pit stop, Fernando managed either to make up places or to stay ahead of his pursuers. Felipe made a good start but suffered quite badly with the front tyres as the track was drying. We tried to remedy the situation, bringing him for an extra stop and clearly that cost him valuable time. We must try and understand why, for him, the car ends up being even more unstable in terms of its handling compared to the way it works for his team-mate: it is one of our tasks for these coming days along with obviously trying to find the tenths in performance terms that we are still lacking.”