Magic Alonso masters the monsoon: Malaysian GP analysis

By on Sunday, March 25, 2012

Fernando Alonso leads the championship after his win

When Felipe Massa arrived in Sepang this morning, he was probably in an optimistic mood. After all, he had qualified just a few places behind his team mate and was showing a bit more pace than previously. Fast forward a few hours and he’s had a terrible race, made worse by the fact that Fernando Alonso won and Sergio Perez – his probable future replacement – finished second.

Fernando Alonso’s drive was a master class in how to win a Formula One race. Ferrari pitted Alonso at precisely the right time after the Spaniard had benefitted from a clash between Romain Grosjean and Michael Schumacher. Alonso gained from a mistake by McLaren to leapfrog Lewis Hamilton and pounced on Sergio Perez to take the lead at Turn 3. Nevertheless, it wasn’t all plain sailing. The F2012 quite clearly does not have good pace, as proved by Alonso’s inability to put a gap to Perez. However, that would be applying a great discredit to the star of the race, who pressurised Alonso from the moment the drivers switched to Intermediate tyres.

Sergio Perez was unbelievable in his pursuit of Alonso. Photo credit: Sauber Motorsport AG

Perez was one of the first to change to the full wet compound prior to the red flag period and found himself sitting third behind the two McLarens. As the race progressed, there was a slow realisation that Perez wasn’t just out of position, but that he could actually win the race. Sadly a mistake at Turn 14 put paid to the dreams of many fans, but it was an outstanding drive that will live long in the memory. There were whispers of team orders between Ferrari and Sauber, although even in the unlikely event that they did occur, we’ll never know. Either way, after a tough rookie season Sergio Perez is demonstrating that he has the qualities to fight for Formula One victories. A switch to Ferrari is inevitable, although many suggest it would be better to hold on until the start of 2013 rather than risk his reputation by jumping into an ill-handling car.

The heavy rain which suspended action on Lap 9 of the race provided a comical moment as half of the field promptly erected gazebos to protect their cars. According to Ted Kravitz, teams had to enquire as to whether this action was legal and not harming the spectacle of the show. Yes, F1 even has rules for gazebos…

The race was undoubtedly a missed opportunity for McLaren. Despite starting from the front row, the team will take just fifteen points back to Woking after Lewis Hamilton lost time in the pits on his way to third, while Jenson Button had a horrendous afternoon. The Brit clumsily clattered into Narain Karthikeyan, sustaining front wing damage, and struggled for pace on his first set of Intermediate tyres. Luckily for Button, he avoided further embarrassment by narrowly avoiding clashing with team mate Hamilton before his faux pas with the HRT. A day at the office to forget for Button. Hamilton on the other hand was much happier with his podium. Alonso is unlikely to have a car competitive enough to win the championship while his main rivals all faltered. In a close fight for the title, Hamilton has nudged ahead.

Sebastian Vettel’s start to 2012 went from bad to worse. The man who could do no wrong in 2011 made a silly error when lapping Narain Karthikeyan and paid the price. Twelve points could be valuable come Brazil and he’ll rue his misjudgement. Mark Webber was fairly anonymous but collected some decent points by finishing fourth.

Speaking of points, Williams already have more than they gathered in the whole of 2011 courtesy of an outstanding drive by Bruno Senna. The Brazilian made contact with his team mate and dropped to 23rd during the red flag period. Nevertheless, he made a series of great moves – as well as shrewd tactical calls – to move up to 6th place and collect eight points. Pastor Maldonado was less fortunate as he lost tenth place after an engine failure on the penultimate tour.

That meant it was Michael Schumacher who took tenth place after another utterly dismal day for Mercedes. On an afternoon where there was a chance to shine, Mercedes failed to glimmer at all. Schumacher was unlucky on the first lap but spent the remainder of the race in catch-up mode. Nico Rosberg simply slipped down the order without putting up much of a fight. Only two races into the season and the pressure will be on the team, particularly Rosberg. He’s not providing the F1 world with the evidence to suggest that he is more than merely a good, competent racing driver. He needs to put in a couple of fantastic drives to say ‘Look, I can be a world champion’. The more time passes, the more fans begin to question him.

It was a good day for Kimi Raikkonen. Even though the Finn had never run the wet Pirelli tyres, he showed strong pace and took the fight to the Red Bulls, eventually finishing in 5th place. Romain Grosjean was one of only two retirements, the other being Kamui Kobayashi.

Force India was the only team to get both drivers into the top 10, while a special mention has to go to Narain Karthikeyan. The Indian gambled on wet tyres and was P10 when the red flag flew. He then managed to get more exposure for his team by being involved in incidents with Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel. Not bad going!

Driver Ratings:

  • Sebastian Vettel – 5/10
  • Mark Webber – 7/10
  • Jenson Button – 3/10
  • Lewis Hamilton – 8/10
  • Fernando Alonso – 10/10
  • Felipe Massa – 3/10
  • Nico Rosberg – 5/10
  • Michael Schumacher – 6/10
  • Kimi Raikkonen – 8/10
  • Romain Grosjean – 2/10
  • Paul di Resta – 7/10
  • Nico Hulkenberg – 7/10
  • Kamui Kobayashi – 5/10
  • Sergio Perez – 10/10
  • Daniel Ricciardo – 5/10
  • Jean Eric Vergne – 8/10
  • Pastor Maldonado – 7/10
  • Bruno Senna – 9/10
  • Heikki Kovalainen – 5/10
  • Vitaly Petrov – 7/10
  • Narain Karthikeyan – 6/10
  • Pedro de La Rosa – 5/10
  • Timo Glock – 6/10
  • Charles Pic – 5/10

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