Fernando Alonso won a rain stopped 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix, holding off a charging Sergio Perez in the final half of the race. Only a mistake from the young driver on a wet kerb kept him from pushing the Spaniard hard for the win, though he still ended the race barely over two seconds behind the two-time world champion. Lewis Hamilton completed the podium. The race began under a cloud and lightly falling rain that fell more heavily early on, bringing out the safety car and stopping the race just nine laps into the fifty-six lap race distance. After fifty minutes of red flag boredom, the race restarted under the safety car with Hamilton and Button leading. Once the SC pulled back in, pit stop mayhem shook up the order and proper racing commenced. In the end, Mark Webber and Kimi Raikkonen completed the top five, while Sebastian Vettel finished outside the points in eleventh, despite odd stoppage orders from Red Bull on the final lap.
Hamilton (1:36.219) started next to Button on the front row after the second McLaren domination of qualifying in a row. The younger Briton set his very fast lap midway through Q3 in Saturday’s qualifying session and no one could touch it during that session. Button barely managed to join his teammate on the front row, pipping third place starter Schumacher with a final, post-checkers hot lap. Next to Schumacher qualified Webber. The Australian made for some drama, as he looked set to be nearly knocked out in Q2, but a quick lap moved him smartly up the order. Raikkonen’s lap was fifth fastest, but he lined up only tenth after a gearbox change five place penalty. That put Vettel and Raikkonen’s Lotus teammate Grosjean on the third row of starters. Vettel, however, made a gamble to use the harder tyre to set his time and was the only top ten starter to line up on that compound.
It really was Hamilton’s weekend, as the driver led both Friday sessions. In the dry morning practice, Vettel, Rosberg, Schumacher, and Grosjean completed the fastest five, while Schumacher, Button, Rosberg, and Ricciardo did so during the dry afternoon session. Oddly, the only damp running came Saturday morning, as a drizzle coated the circuit for about twenty minutes before that session began. It stopped around the time the final practice began and allowed a dry line to form quickly. Rosberg topped Saturday morning, with Vettel, Webber, Raikkonen, and Grosjean joining him. There were no major incidents though most drivers struggled with rear grip. Many increased the heart rates of their mechanics with power slides and trips through the gravel, but the damage was relatively light all weekend. Ferrari continued to fare poorly, as Alonso managed to set only the ninth fastest qualifying lap and Massa made it only to Q2.
Forty minutes before lights out, spots of rain began falling at the circuit. Mike Gascoyne explained, “weather radar showing large shower moving towards us, reporting high probability of rain before the start of the race, will be heavy.” Rain began falling during the Malaysian national anthem, but the sky refrained from the expected deluge, causing much consternation as to tyre choice and track status. But for HRT on full wets, the teams seemed to have chosen intermediates for the start. De la Rosa could not roll off for the formation lap and got pushed back to the pit lane. The track was already damp, but the rain had lightened for the start.
When the lights went out, Hamilton angled to hold the lead into the first turn, but Button had a look. Both were well ahead of the rest of the field. The pole sitter held his lead as Rosberg and Schumacher also went side-by side. Within the spray, Schumacher spun at Turn 4 after a tap to the rear by Grosjean (who had leapt up to third for a moment) while the rain seemed to have increased. Later, Grosjean would indicate that Schumacher hit him, but others not directly involved saw it differently. At some points on the circuit, the spray was heavy while at others the track seemed almost dry. At the end of L1 in the heavy spray, Hamilton led Button by a second, Webber, Vettel, Alonso, Rosberg, Maldonado, Raikkonen, Kobayashi, and Massa as the top ten. Perez stopped, as did Senna, seeming to indicate possible damage for either or both. In the pit lane, rain came down heavily, and both Perez and Senna switched to the full wet tyres.
Pit Stops for Full Wet Tyres (L3):
On L3, Di Resta also pitted for the wet tyres. Massa did so as well on L4, as did Glock and Pic. At the front, Hamilton was losing time as the rain continued to fall. Meanwhile, Grosjean spun and beached himself in the gravel. He wanted a push, but the marshals began working to pull him out. L5 put Button, Alonso, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, Petrov, and Kovalainen into the garage for wet tyres. Though the start had not been declared wet, the use of inters and wets made the multi-tyre compound rule null. Meanwhile, Hamilton had begun to complain of aquaplaning on his inters. He pitted with Webber, Vettel, Rosberg, Maldonado, Raikkonen, Kobayashi, and Schuamcher for wets on L6. Red Bull neatly stacked Webber and Vettel, with barely a second ahead. Hamilton came back out directly in front of Button, maintaining his lead but only by his fingernails. By the end of L6, Vergne and de la Rosa were the only drivers yet to stop, though the latter began the race on wet tyres.
Safety Car (L7):
The Safety Car was deployed on L7 while a radio transmission from Button indicated that the final sector is “like a lake.” Muliple drivers had been slipping off and on the track in the heavily raining conditions. There was a bit of drama as it appeared that red flags had been waved, but only the SC had been deployed. At the end of L7, Hamilton led Button, Perez, Webber, Alonso, Vettel, Vergne, Massa, Rosberg, and Karthikeyan (yes, Karthikeyan!) as the top ten. Raikkonen sat in thirteenth, Schumacher fifteenth. Senna pitted for new wet tyres on L8. Vergne remained on the intermediate tyres, the only man yet running on them. Radar appeared to indicate that the rain would continue in the same manner for the next thirty minutes.
Red Flag (L9):
The race was suspended on L9, rather than continue formation laps behind the safety car. The top ten order remained, as Hulkenberg, Di Resta, Raikkonen, Maldonado, Schumacher, Kobayashi, de la Rosa, Petrov, Glock, Kovalainen, Pic, and Senna completed the field still running. Grosjean was the only man out after his picnic in the gravel trap. The local sunset time remained about three hours away, leaving a good bit of time before a twilight situation might end the race altogether. On the grid, McLaren and more teams began setting up large tents over the cars to keep water out of them. Apparently, the HRT budget did not stretch to such an extravagance and there on the tenth and seventeenth grid positions there were only umbrellas. In order for full points to be awarded, forty-two laps (three-quarters distance) must be completed.
Restart Under SC (1 hour, 39.29 minutes remaining on race time):
The race restarted behind the safety car at 5:15 pm local time, leaving more than two hours before local sunset time. Race control also directed that full wet tyres must also be fitted, giving Vergne a leg up on pit stops as he had been on the inters at the time of the red flag. Similarly, DRS remained disabled in the wet conditions. Hamilton led Button, Webber, Perez, Alonso, and Vettel as the top six. Only Vergne, Karthikeyan, and de la Rosa had not pitted, though the switch between compounds was no longer necessary. Meanwhile, de la Rosa came under investigation for team personnel on the grid (too slow getting off the grid before the restart or at the race start itself).
The cars were finally released to race with 42 laps remaining. Rosberg had told Mercedes he wanted to switch to inters. Just before the restart, de la Rosa was assessed a drive-through penalty for the team personnel too late on the grid. Hamilton neatly stacked the field, squirting away as Perez looked very racey on Button. Button, Rosberg, Raikkonen, Kobayashi, Petrov, Glock, and Senna all dove in for inters while Alonso dove through on Webber for third. Vettel also took Webber’s position, but the Australian took it directly back. At the end of L14, also switched to inters, leaving Perez in the lead. Alonso, Weber, Massa, di Resta, Maldonado, Schumchaer, Ricciardo, Kovalainen also stopped. Hamilton had a terrible stop, as the jack was slow and Lewis nearly stalled. Button, well down the order due to the stop but with a healthy lead over Hamilton, ran into an HRT and had a number done on his front wing. Button had a bit of a twitch at the hairpin and could not keep from bumping Karthikeyan. Perez, Vettel, Vergne, Hulkenberg, Pic, Karthikeyan, and Maldonado all pitted (along with the damaged Button) on the next time by.
By the end of L16, Alonso led Perez by 2.4s, Hamilton, Rosberg, Vettel, Raikkonen, Webber, Massa, DI Resta, Vergne, Hulkenberg, Kobayashi, Schumacher, Senna, Ricciardo, Kovalainen, Petrov, Glock, Maldonado, Button, Pic, de la Rosa, and Karthikeyan as the complete running order after the pit stops and damage shook out the field. Button was soon the fastest man on track down in twentieth, with no more rain expected for the race duration. At the front, Hamilton was not so quick, losing time to Perez. Alonso had improved his gap up to more than three seconds, but Perez in second had more than five and a half seconds on Hamilton. The closest drivers on the track were Di Resta and Vergne, fighting over Di Resta’s ninth place. The latter was pushing so hard that he had a small trip over the grass as well.
Meanwhile, DRS was again on the table, beginning on L20. That seemed likely to help Vettel, just a second behind Rosberg, and Raikkonen less than a second behind Vettel. They were all looking for Rosberg’s fourth position. Further back, Ricciardo made a Kobayashi-style move on Kobayashi to take fourteenth while Button worried about his front, which was just “shuddering.” He was also struggling with the rear, having “no grip.” Though Alonso had gained nearly a five second lead on Perez, the Mexican driver began pushing for a lap or two and clawed back a few tenths. He also gained even more time on Hamilton. It wouldn’t last for Perez as Alonso went fastest of all and straight back to a five second lead as L23 began.
Vettel had a close move, using the DRS to make his way around Rosberg into Turn 1 and leaving that German to fend off Raikkonen. The Finn neatly did the same at the beginning of the next lap, leaving Rosberg to slide back into Webber’s clutches. Well over five seconds (and soon six seconds) in the lead, Alonso told Ferrari that it was raining in Turn 4. Button pitted on L25 from nineteenth for another set of inters. As halfway approached, Webber made his own way around Rosberg on the outside at Turn 5 for sixth while Senna passed Schumacher for twelfth. Perez began pushing even harder, setting a new race fast lap. He was unable to gain on Alonso, but grabbed a bit more of a gap on Hamilton. That fast lap wouldn’t last as Alonso gained seven tenths on Perez as L27 began. Further back, Massa was not faring so well as his teammate. The Brazilian ran wide onto the grass and lost position to Di Resta and nearly Vergne. Vergne made his way around with DRS at Turn 1. The struggling Rosberg pitted for new tyres on L27, as did Massa on L28.
Halfway (End L28):
Alonso and Perez continued to trade fast laps (though Button was the fastest man on the track) as halfway came and went, keeping the gap at a steady six seconds. IT had gone up to 7.7s at halfway, with Hamilton another seven seconds behind Perez. Vettel, Raikkonen, Webber, Di Resta, Vergne, Senna, and Hulkenberg completed the top ten. Schumacher was eleventh, Massa sixteenth, and Button nineteenth despite his race fast laps. Kobayashi and Schumacher were in the midst of a lovely duel for eleventh, as Kobayashi made the pass around the outside as Webber did so on Schumacher’s teammate a few laps previously.
As a possible shower loomed, teams were busy telling drivers to try and make their tyres last. Still, Perez continued to claw back some of his gap to fellow Ferrari-powered leader Alonso. Odd as it looked, Button was pressing Massa hard for sixteenth. He continued to get next to the Brazilian, but remained unable to make a pass stick. They were very close coming to the line, but Button got a bit of a slide int the damp. Button went to the outside in T1 as Ricciardo nearly made it three wide, but the Briton had set himself up to go outside at Turn 2 and make the pass, leaving Ricciardo to go a bit wide behind them. At the front, Perez was less than five seconds behind Alonso, with Hamilton more than ten seconds behind the Mexican driver.
With twenty laps to go, the rain was just close enough to keep teams from allowing their begging drivers to change to the dry tyres. Perez had gained another second on Alonso on L36, putting the gap at 3.9s as the Sauber continued to be easy on its tyres. Behind them, Hamilton, Vettel, Raikkonen, Webber, Di Resta, Vergne, and Hulkenberg completed the top ten. The gap between first and second continued to diminish, even as Alonso posted race fast lap because Perez bettered the Spaniard’s lap.
Dry Tyre Pit Stops Begin (L38):
Ricciardo pitted from seventeenth on L38. He took on fresh slick tyres and became the benchmark for tyre strategy. Meanwhile, Perez was just 2.3s behind Alonso while McLaren told Button that rain was coming and he should try to make the end of the race on his current set of tyres. Massa and Karthikeyan followed the Australian’s lead and made the switch to slicks as well. At the front, Perez was barely more than a second behind Alonso, but the Spaniard was still safe from DRS. L40 brought stops for Webber, Di Resta, Senna, and Kovalainen. Also, Schuacher, Maldonado, Rosberg, and Button pitted. Ricciardo posted the race fast lap once his slicks got hot, while L41 saw Alonso pit. Perez did not, but Vettel, Raikkonen, Vergne, Hulkenberg, and Kobayashi did as well. Alonso had a fantastic stop, switching to the harder compound, presumably hoping that they would last for the final fifteen laps.
Perez, still on those old tyres, managed a personal best sector two on his in lap. Hamilton pitted as well, but the drama came as Alonso barely passed Glock into Turn 1 as Perez exited the pits. That put Alonso back into the lead. Hamilton had a terrible stop, 8.1s in the pit stall, while McLaren attempted to cool his right front brake by removing brake duct tape. Just as all the stops shook out, it began raining lightly in the paddock.
At the end of L42, Alonso led Perez by 7.1s, with Hamilton (another 11.7s behind Perez), Vettel, Webber, Raikkonen, Di Resta, Senna, Vergne, and Hulkenberg the top ten. Schumacher was twelfth, Rosberg fifteenth, and Button sixteenth. Still, Grosjean was the only man out of the race. Perez continued to take chunks of time out of Alonso’s lead as he had before the tyre changes. For seventh, Senna pushed his way around Di Resta. Meanwhile, “Meteo France reports that raain is extremely close to the circuit. The problem is that the shower is hovering and hardly moving,” according to Autosport.
10 Laps Remaining:
Perez had the gap down to 2.3s with ten to go, as the top five remained unchanged. Hamilton was still well behind the Mexican (12.6s), leaving the duel for the lead to Alonso and Perez as a light rain continued to fall. Vettel lost a massive amount of positions with a puncture just a few turns from pit in. He dipped his rear against the front wing of Karthikeyan while passing the lapped car. Perez gained even more time on Alosno as they had to navigate the rubber left by Vettel. In fact, it put Perez within a second of Alonso and allowed him the ability to use DRS. Meanwhile, Kobayashi had pitted and retired from the race. With a slightly better corner exit, Alonso managed to keep just enough of a gap across the line to keep Perez, who had better corner entry, behind. There was an interesting message from Sauber to Perez, telling him they “need this position” and adding that it was raining in the first few turns. Moments after that message was played, the Mexican lost time by running wide and nearly into the gravel after clipping the kerbing at Turn 14.
With five to go, Perez gained back another six tenths after his off had dropped him back 5.3s from Alonso. The top eight were well spread out, but Hulkenberg and Maldonado were together a second and a half behind Vergne for eighth. Five seoncds behind Hamilton and in fourth, Webber was happily setting the race fast lap as the laps themselves ticked away. Perez was again within four seconds of Alonso, but it seemed difficult that he would catch him with just three to go. Still, the young driver pushed hard.
Further back, Maldonado lost tenth and the final championship point as his Renault engine let go with two laps remaining. He managed to make it to the garage under his own steam, but it was the second race in a row ending in heartbreak at the end for the Venezuelan. Perez began the final lap just 2.5s behind Alonso as Vettel was told to “box box box. We’re going to retire the car.” Next, Red Bull frantically told Vettel to stay out, then to stop the car, “emergency!” In the end, Vettel stayed out to claim eleventh. It would make no difference to Alonso, who won the race as his race engineer Andrea Stella nearly collapsed in tears on the pit wall.
Final Positions, 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix:
Driver Team Gap 1. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 2. Sergio Perez Sauebr 2.2 3. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 14.5 4. Mark Webber Red Bull 17.6 5. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 29.4 6. Bruno Senna Williams 37.6 7. Paul Di Resta Force India 44.4 8. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 46.9 9. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 47.8 10. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 49.9 11. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 75.5 12. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 76.8 13. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 78.5 14. Jenson Button McLaren 79.7 15. Felipe Massa Ferrari 97.3 16. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1 Lap 17. Timo Glock Marussia 1 Lap 18. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1 Lap 19. Pastor Maldonado Williams 2 Laps 20. Charles Pic Marussia 2 Laps 21. Narian Karthikeyan HRT 2 Laps 22. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 2 Laps Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 10 Laps Romain Grosjean Lotus 53 Laps