(Image source: www.motorpics.com)
Where do you start with a race like this? Ferrari wins; Sauber finish second; Red Bull struggle; Mercedes, having threatened to take pole, scrape a single point; Bruno Senna, dead last at one stage, finishes sixth for Williams and Jenson Button, the winner in Australia, has a nightmare on his way to 14th. Just who would have believed any of that?
No one – least of all Fernando Alonso – would have bet on Ferrari winning in Malaysia. But give the Spaniard the whiff of an opportunity and he’ll nail it. When Alonso saw the dark clouds gathering just before the start, he would have realised that here was his chance.
Conversely, Lewis Hamilton and Button, having locked out the front row for McLaren for the second race in succession, would have seen the rain as a major threat to a race which, on paper, looked like being theirs. But a wet race – as Button knows all too well following his unexpected win in Canada last year – can turn the form book its head.
When the race started with the majority of the field on full wet tyres, I was probably not alone in saying that here was a golden opportunity for Michael Schumacher to capitalise on his second row grid slot and make full use of a deft touch that has brought so many victories on similar occasions in the past. But such a dream for the much-improved Mercedes team was spun into a race-long decline on the first lap.
When the rain got worse and finally forced the race to be stopped after nine laps, Schumacher was 15th. But, at the front, there was a key change. Sergio Perez, having gambled by stopping early for full wet tyres, had gained massive ground as the leaders made their tyre changes on laps five and sixth, the Sauber driver finding himself third behind the McLarens.
At the restart, it didn’t take long for the track to dry sufficiently for a change to intermediate wet weather tyre and it was here that McLaren’s race fell apart. Button, by his own admission, made a misjudgement and hit the back of Narain Karthikeyan’s HRT; Hamilton’s pit stop costing time as he overshot just enough to have him held back as cars streamed past in the pit lane.
Perez took the lead for two laps but Alonso, having jumped from eighth to fifth at the start and then enjoyed another very fast pit stop, pounced. That, everyone thought, would be the end of Perez. But, more than once, the little Mexican set fastest race laps as he kept within three seconds of the Ferrari.
Sauber then made the first of two mistakes: they stopped Perez one lap after Alonso when the track was clearly dry enough for slicks; and then effectively told their driver not to do anything stupid as he gave chase once more. Having closed to less than a second of Alonso, Perez got onto a wet kerb, ran wide and lost five seconds with eight laps to go. Had it not been for those moments then, with the help of DRS, Perez, driving the quicker car, would have won.
Hamilton took third, a further consolation for McLaren being that Red Bull had done even worse. Vettel finished out of the points after suffering a puncture as he clipped the unfortunate Karthikeyan. All of this brought one more unexpected statistic; after two races, Fernando Alonso is leading the championship. If you believed that before the start of the Malaysian Grand Prix, you would have believed a Sauber was about to finish second. That’s how unexpected this result had been.