Rain interrupted the Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix but didn’t hinder Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso from charging to the front.
The victorious Spaniard was challenged through the second half of the race by another Spanish-speaking driver, Sergio Perez in the newly competitive Sauber. Perez pitted early for rain tires and gained ground to third just before the red flag which stopped the race after six laps. On the restart the Sauber driver put up a great fight, keeping close to Alonso until an off in the later laps put him permanently out of range.
Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren finished third after starting from the pole. Mark Webber in the Red Bull took fourth; his teammate Sebastian Vettel finished 11th after colliding with Narain Karthikeyan’s HRT-Cosworth later in the race.
When the rain stopped the race, McLaren was in control, with Hamilton and Button leading the rest of the field. The McLarens were working great; the big surprise was that in the wet, the 2012 Ferrari was a good car, unlike its dry-pavement personality.
McLaren squandered their domination however; Button came in for Intermediate tires a little too early, and lost speed and track position. When his times on Inters topped Hamilton’s on Wets, Hamilton, pitted, but his team fumbled the rear jack and cost him three positions.
On the restart Alonso passed Red Bull’s Mark Webber, as did his teammate Sebastian Vettel; Webber, however, took the place right back from Vettel. Apparently the young German’s overwhelming superiority of 2011 hasn’t quite blossomed in 2012.
On lap 15, Jenson Button tried to turn inside the HRT-Cosworth of Narain Karthikeyan. The McLaren’s front end washed out, and Button tore the front wing to pieces, necessitating another stop. Karthikeyan was penalized 20 seconds for the collision, but in replays it looks like the Indian driver turned in well ahead of Button and simply held his line.
After everyone had pitted for Inters, Alonso led Perez, Hamilton and Rosberg. This remained unchanged to the halfway point with all the teams anxiously watching the clouds. More rain was predicted, and the Inter tires were shredded, but no one wanted to pit for slicks and then have to pit again for rain tires.
Here Perez had an advantage. The Sauber chassis is supposedly easy in its tires and Perez’s driving style is also. Meanwhile, Alonso was having to deal with his Ferrari on a drying track; all of the car’s handling problem’s were returning.
Between laps 40 and 42 everyone pitted for slicks. Alonso cycled through to the front, with Perez still behind him. McLaren unfortunately made a mess of both pit stops; Hamilton’s took 8.1 seconds as the crew struggled to peel tape off the brake cooling ducts. This killed any chance for Hamilton to challenge the leaders.
Perez continued his brilliant drive, coning to within half a second of Alonso on lap 51, before the Sauber driver ran wide and lost five seconds.
Perez cut three seconds off that deficit by the checkered flag on lap 56. Called the fastest Mexican driver since Pedro Rodriguez by the Speed-TV crew, (possibly hurting the feelings of Adrian Fernandez,) Perez has announced his arrival in F1 in a very loud voice.
Pastor Maldonado blew the engine in his Williams two laps from the end. That was the final bit of drama in the race; Alonso finished 2.2 seconds ahead of Perez and 14.5 seconds ahead of Hamilton.
Alonso now leads Hamilton by five points in the World Drivers’ Championship.