Malaysia delivers a storm of Formula 1 action

2012 Formula 1 Malaysian Grand Prix

Fernando Alonso drove a brilliant race for Ferrari, claiming the top step of the podium.

Malaysia delivers a storm of Formula 1 action. TOM WILKINSON reports on thrills, spills and plenty of rain – it’s round two, in Sepang.

After another close qualifying session, we were set for a thriller in Sepang.
With heavy rain threatening before the start, there was plenty of speculation about a Safety Car start and even a delayed start. However, with the rain falling less heavily than predicted, the race started normally with most cars choosing the intermediate tyre.
As the lights went out, the McLaren’s got away very well and Hamilton led the race from teammate Button. Grosjean also started very well but through turn three, the two Red Bulls crowded the Lotus. In turn four the Frenchman collided with the Mercedes of Michael Schumacher, sending the Mercedes spinning. Rosberg and Vettel were lucky not to get caught up in the incident as they both took to the grass on the outside. The two Williams cars then collided, sending Maldonado into the gravel.  Lewis Hamilton led the race on the first lap very comfortably, but the rain started to fall more heavily.
By lap four the rain was incredibly heavy and many teams chose to pit for the extreme wet tyres. However, it was too late for Grosjean as slid off the circuit and became beached in the gravel. The Pit lane saw lots of action as many drivers switched to the extreme wet tyres. Red Bull made a double pit stop with Webber and Vettel. Then the heavy rain arrived and the track surface was flooded. The Safety Car had to be called out on lap seven as conditions worsened.
Two laps later, the race was suspended. A red flag was thrown and the cars all lined up on the grid in race order.
After almost 50 minutes, the race restarted behind the Safety Car, All cars were instructed by the FIA to fit the extreme wet tyre. On lap 14 the race was once again underway; Hamilton got a great restart along with Sergio Perez in the Sauber. Many cars chose to head into the pit lane to fit the intermediate tyres. A lap later Hamilton pitted from the lead along with several others, but Perez continued and took over the lead. The McLaren team had to hold Hamilton’s car as Massa came into the Ferrari pit box, which let Alonso out ahead of Hamilton. The action in the pit lane was frantic.
A fascinating race was all set up but then Button ruined his race when he collided with the HRT of Karthikeyan. The McLaren driver accepted the blame on that one. Meanwhile the Ferrari of Alonso was leading with Perez in second and Hamilton in third, a real mixed up race meant there was plenty of action. Daniel Ricciardo made a blinding move on Bruno Senna at turn five, all the way around the outside of the Williams for 14th place.  The ice man Kimi Raikkonen kept his cool too on the way up to sixth place.
Nico Rosberg came under increasing pressure again from the Red Bulls and Raikkonen in the battle for fifth place. The Mercedes just doesn’t have good race pace so far this season. Vettel eventually made the move using DRS down the main straight. Raikkonen did the same, just one lap later. Webber however chose to make his move at turn five, all the way around the outside. The Mercedes lost three places in as many laps. Meanwhile Ricciardo was on the move once again as he made another brilliant move at turn five, this time on Kobayashi.
Felipe Massa had another weekend to forget,  he made a simple mistake at turn nine which let the Force India of Paul Di Resta through into eighth place.  He came under immediate pressure form rookie Jean-Eric Vergne in the next few corners. The Frenchman wasn’t letting Massa go without a fight, the young Toro Rosso driver having a great race and eventually got past the Ferrari in the DRS zone. The race then settled down, but rain was threatening. This changed race strategy as many teams chose to run as long as possible without having to pit.
The Sauber of Sergio Perez was setting ever faster lap times and catching leader Fernando Alonso. The young Mexican was flying in this race, he was the man on the move. Red Bull told Webber that the rain was getting closer, would the weather have the final say on this race? Toro Rosso didn’t think so as Ricciardo pitted for the option tyre. Slick tyres could be the way to go as a dry line was appearing. Ferrari pitted Massa the following lap also for slick tyres, but it wasn’t a great stop for the Brazilian.
Ricciardo was setting much quicker sector times on the slicks, it was clear that was the tyre to be on. The pit lane was filled with frantic activity as Alonso then headed in but Perez stayed out on the intermediates and took the lead of the race. He then pitted for slick tyres on the following lap and re-joined behind Alonso. But a 7.1 second gap meant that the Mexican had his work cut out to catch up, but catch up he did in fantastic style.
But disaster struck the reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel after he made contact with an HRT and punctured his rear left tyre. Pieces of rubber were flying off the limping Bull and laying on the racing line down the back straight. Cars had to dive around the debris. That didn’t stop Perez however, just a car’s length from Alonso, he looked like he could take the win at Sepang.
The Ferrari was under immense pressure just a few laps from the end. But the Sauber cracked first and made a mistake. The gap went back to five seconds. No such problems for Kimi Raikkonen as he set the fastest lap of the race.  It was a great drive from the flying Fin, the Lotus proving its strength again this weekend.  There were problems right at the end of the race again for Pastor Maldonado, the Renault engine failing in the Williams ended his race just one lap from the end.
Sebastian Vettel then retired, after an indecisive decision from Red Bull. He was instructed to stop the car due to an emergency. There were no such issues with Fernando Alonso though as he crossed the line to take his first victory since Silverstone 2011. He won the Malaysian Grand Prix just 2.2 seconds ahead of Sergio Perez with Lewis Hamilton in third.
It was a fantastic race in Sepang filled with action right from the start. It was a superb drive from the young Mexican Perez, with many saying we could well see him replacing Massa in the Ferrari before the end of the season. If he continues driving like that, it could be a serious possibility.
What a race it was in Malaysia, close wheel-to-wheel action – 2012 is delivering real excitement so far.
That race was filled with surprises and incident. What a season we have here.
This is how the top ten finished:
1.       F Alonso (Ferrari)
2.       S Perez (Sauber Ferrari)
3.       L Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes)
4.       M Webber (Red Bull)
5.       K Raikkonen (Lotus Renault)
6.       B Senna (Williams Renault)
7.       P Di Resta (Force India)
8.       J Vergne (Toro Rosso)
9.       N Hulkenberg (Force India)
10.     M Schumacher  (Mercedes AMG)
Malaysia delivered a storm, we now catch our breath once again, and head to China. You can of course read all the race build up here at Until then you can stay up to date with all the latest F1 news with me on Twitter @TomWilkinson89 #TWF1.