Round two of the 2012 Formula 1 season took place at the Sepang circuit in Malaysia, the fourteenth running of the event that began back in 1999, and ultimately saw an entertaining Grand Prix affected by the weather.
McLaren-Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton took pole position for the second race weekend in a row, ahead of team-mate Jenson Button, while Michael Schumacher was the leading Mercedes driver in third. Mark Webber qualified fourth for Red Bull Racing, setting the same time in qualifying as Kimi Raikkonen, but the Finn was relegated to tenth on the grid due to a penalty for a gearbox change on his Lotus.
Rain before the start meant that twenty-two of the twenty-four starters began the race on the Intermediate Pirelli tyres, with only the two HRT-Cosworths of Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan starting on the Full Wet compound.
The rain worsened as the race begun, with pit stops for full wets starting at the end of the opening lap, with Sergio Perez in the Sauber one of the first to make the switch. Romain Grosjean had made a storming start in his Lotus, moving up to third from seventh on the grid, but a collision with Schumacher at turn four saw them both fall down the order, with the Frenchman spinning out completely on lap four.
The rain worsened still further, and on lap seven, the safety car was deployed, with only the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne still on Intermediate tyres. Two laps later the red flag was deployed, with the race suspended with conditions becoming too dangerous for the drivers. Hamilton still led the race from Button, with Perez’s early stop for full wets enabling him to jump up into third place ahead of Webber, Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari and the second Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel.
The race resumed when the rain subsided behind the safety car, and by the time it left the track, some drivers took the gamble to switch back from the full wet tyres to the Intermediates. Once of these was Button, who traditionally is one of the wet weather maestros, but this time he found himself out of position, colliding with Karthikeyan’s HRT and breaking his front wing, ruining his afternoon and ending his chances of points.
Another driver to pit early was Alonso, and when all drivers had pitted, the Spaniard found himself in the lead, ahead of Perez and Hamilton, who had been delayed in the pits during his own stop when the Ferrari’s stacked their drivers in front of him. Nico Rosberg was now running fourth for Mercedes, ahead of Vettel, Raikkonen, Webber, Felipe Massa of Ferrari, Paul di Resta’s Force India and Vergne.
It was looking like more rain would hit the circuit the race, with radar seemingly showing rain was imminent, so drivers were reluctant to take the gamble to switch from intermediate tyres onto the dries, but eventually Daniel Ricciardo of Toro Rosso took the plunge, and with the Australian setting purple sector times, it brought everyone in to the pits for a tyre change.
Alonso pitted from the lead on lap forty, with closest challenger Perez following him in the following lap. But whereas the Spaniard fitted the Medium tyre, the Mexican took on the Prime tyre, and began cutting the seven-second gap down, until on lap fifty, the two were together on track.
It looked for all the world that Perez had the pace to take what would have been his first Grand Prix victory, but a small mistake cost him over five seconds, and despite being quick enough to close the gap down again, Alonso was able to hold on for his first victory of the season. It had been thrilling to see the underdog Perez close down the two-time World Champion, but ultimately it was the veteran who took the spoils.
Pole sitter Hamilton was happy to finish third, ahead of Webber’s Red Bull, while Raikkonen was fifth in his Lotus. Bruno Senna was sixth for Williams after a good final stint, with the Brazilian finishing ahead of di Resta and Vergne, while Nico Hulkenberg was ninth in the second Force India.
Schumacher inherited the final point on offer after Pastor Maldonado’s Williams expired in the closing stages. Vettel’s race was compromised late in the day as he became the second frontrunner to clash with Karthikeyan, with the German receiving a puncture after clipping the front wing of the HRT; Vettel would finish just outside the points in eleventh.
Alonso’s victory propelled him to the top of the World Drivers’ Championship on thirty-five points, five ahead of Hamilton, while Button’s failure to score saw him drop down from top spot into third. McLaren still held the advantage in the Constructors’ championship ahead of Red Bull, while Ferrari, courtesy of Alonso’s points, was third.
2012 Malaysian Grand Prix Race Result (Top 10)
|1||5||Fernando Alonso||ESP||Ferrari||56 Laps|
|4||2||Mark Webber||AUS||Red Bull-Renault||+17.688s|
|7||11||Paul di Resta||GBR||Force India-Mercedes||+44.412s|
|8||17||Jean-Eric Vergne||FRA||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||+46.985s|
|9||12||Nico Hulkenberg||GER||Force India-Mercedes||+47.892s|