Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Monsoon Conditions in Malaysia Sees Alonso Splash to F1 Victory

Photo Credit: Sauber Motorsport AG

Under the fanfare of an all-new Formula 1 season for 2012, the Australian Grand Prix was 58 laps on a perfectly dry race track. The McLaren Formula 1 team secured the first pole with Lewis Hamilton driving and winning with Jenson Button's entry for the new year event. Heading into the second grand prix of the 2012 season, the question for whether what was seen as at Albert Park would be the sign of things to come through this year's Formula 1 tour.

In qualifying for the 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton continued the rocket start for the McLaren team taking pole. With his fellow teammate Jenson Button placing the McLaren-Mercedes beside him on the front row, Hamilton appeared ripe for picking a 2012 victory in the early season. What would throw the McLaren chances of an easy drive in the 56-lap event at Sepang International Circuit was a wet track. Starting the Malaysian Grand Prix, the starting field lined up predominately on intermediate Pirelli tires (only exception was the HRT F1 cars that elected for full wet weather rubber from the start). Complicating the decision for teams was the nearly dry sections of the Malaysian race track lead into heavily drenched areas of the circuit.


Photo Credit: Charles Coates/LAT Photographic


With the McLaren-Mercedes cars of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button at the front, the 2012 Grand Prix of Malaysia went green. Despite aggressive jockeying for position at the start of the Malaysian Grand Prix, all Formula 1 cars travelled safely through the Sepang International Circuit's turn one unscathed. There was a major incident on the lap 1 of he Malaysian Grand Prix when the third place-starting Mercedes GP car of Micheal Schumacher was punted into a spin after contact with the Lotus-Renault of Romain Grosjean. Schumacher recovered quickly from the impact spinning his Mercedes F1 W03 back into the race just a few positions down. As for Grosjean, the French driver would retire his Lotus-Renault race car on the third lap of the grand prix concluding what is two early exits in his first races of 2012.

Instead of competing each other on track, race drivers and teams found themselves battling the elements of increasing rainfall. Several cars on the initial laps of the Malaysian Grand Prix were hydroplaning off the race track including the Red Bull-Renault of Sebastian Vettel. As many drivers reported that areas of the race track have turned into a lake, Formula 1 dispatched the Mercedes SLS AMG safety car and would red flag the event on lap 8 when the rain showers intensified. After more than a 50-minute delay where Formula 1 race cars waited on the Sepang International Circuit's grid, the Malaysian Grand Prix restarted under yellow. After a few laps behind the safety car, the competitors were once again set off under green.

Through a complex pattern of pit stops and tire strategy, Malaysia's 2012 Formula 1 event saw many surprise contenders emerge as front-runners. Opting to full wet Pirelli tires on the first lap of the Malaysian Grand Prix, the Sauber team pitted their Mexican driver Sergio Perez for what turn off to be a well-timed technical move for position. Able to take advantage of the wet weather tires on the Sepang International Circuit almost the entire full were running on intermediates, Perez gained a lot of track position that put the Sauber team car close to the lead pack. Up to third place before the red flag, the Sauber-Ferrari of Perez would lead lap 14. The 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix would be a career race Sergio Perez and the Sauber F1 team.

Photo Credit: Sauber Motorsport AG

While the Malaysian Grand Prix appeared to be a prime location for the McLaren F1 team to celebrate a second 2012 win, the complications of the wet race track and some serious mistakes proved costly for the British squad. Jenson Button collided with a HRT-Cosworth on track on lap 15. Requiring two additional pit stops more than the leader, Button's McLaren was relegated out of the top-10 points paying position for the Malaysian event. While the second McLaren of Lewis Hamilton endured to finish on the podium of the Malaysian Grand Prix, a chance at a win was discarded by a slightly later pit stop at the initial term of the Formula 1 race.

For what has been uncharacteristic struggle for the Red Bull Racing team so far in 2012, the Malaysian Grand Prix is continuing to show Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber off their stride that carried through the past two seasons. Incurring the deepest difficulty in the event was the Red Bull Racing team's reigning champion Sebastian Vettel. Losing radio communications early in the grand prix, Vettel was running as high as 4th in Malaysia until an incident with the slower HRT-Cosworth of Narain Karthikeyan. Lap 46 contact between the HRT car and the #1 Red Bull-Renault resulted in damage for which Sebastian Vettel was forced out of the points. Electing to continue on even with damage to his RB9 race car, Vettel finished deep in 11th place (the German driver's worst completed ace since the 2010 Belgium Grand Prix). Thanks to the late race usage of slick tires, Mark Webber emerged from the Malaysian Grand Prix with a better team outcome bringing his Red Bull-Renault came across the line in 4th place.

During the final stage of the Malaysian Grand Prix, it was the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso skating in the lead. With major concerns about the 2012 Ferrari race car following the Australian Formula 1 round, the rain falling through the race in Malaysia gave the two-time Formula 1 World Champion Alonso a fighting chance for victory. Sergio Perez with a Sauber powered by a Ferrari engine mounted a firm charge on Fernando Alonso's factory car. While Perez was able to catch Alonso, a mistake by the sophomore Sauber pilot resulted in overrunning a corner cutting a late battle among the Ferrari engines. "On the final stint, when I was on the hard tyre compound, my tyres had degraded quite a lot. It wasn’t easy and I went wide and touched a curb. I actually was lucky not to go off." said Alonso in post-race commenting on what would amount to a second-place finish.

Crossing the line with a 2.2-second advantage on Sergio Perez, Fernando Alonso captured his 28th grand prix victory at Malaysia. While the pace of the latest Ferrari race car in dry weather will still be a question through 2012, the win at the Malaysian Grand Prix gave the Ferrari F2012 race car at least one victory this season thanks to the masterful Alonso drive.

While Sergio Perez celebrates his first Formula 1 podium, the Mexican driver could not think he let a victory slip away. “It is a great day for me. The team did a very good job and I feel very happy for them. It is a really nice feeling to have been on the podium here, but I think victory was also within reach." Joining the podium celebration was Lewis Hamilton who captured his second 3rd place result in 2012.

With Mark Webber placing 4th, 5th place was claimed by the surviving Lotus-Renault of Kimi Raikkonen. In the first two races returning to Formula 1, Raikkonen has acquired points in both grand prix events for 2012. Bruno Senna, Paul di Resta, Jean-Eric Vergne, Nico Hulkenburg and Michael Schumacher rounded off the top-10 for the Malaysian Grand Prix 

After two-straight weeks of Formula 1 racing, the race teams and drivers of the world's top open wheel series will next run the Grand Prix of China on April 15th. 

2012 Formula 1
Malaysian Grand Prix
Race Results

  1. 5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari
  2. 15 Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari
  3. 4 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes
  4. 2 Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault
  5. 9 Kami Raikkonen Lotus-Renault
  6. 19 Bruno Senna Williams-Renault
  7. 11 Paul di Resta Force India
  8. 17 Jean-Eric Vergne Scuderia Toro Rosso-Ferrari
  9. 12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes
  10. 7 Michael Schumacher Mercedes GP
  11. 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault
  12. 16 Daniel Ricciardo Scuderia Toro Rosso-Ferrari
  13. 8 Nico Rosberg Mercedes GP
  14. 3 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes
  15. 6 Felipe Massa Ferrari
  16. 21 Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault
  17. 24 Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth
  18. 20 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault
  19. 18 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault
  20. 25 Charlie Pic Marussia-Cosworth
  21. 22 Pedro de la Rosa HRT F1
  22. 23 Narain Karthikeyan HRT F1
  23. 14 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari
  24. 10 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault


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