Posted by Carrot on March 25, 2012 | No Comments
Just when most of us had written off Ferrari for the year, Fernando capitalises on the conditions and reminds us why many consider him the best single driver on the grid. The pace of the McLarens couldn’t handle the changeable conditions and the Red Bulls couldn’t come good so it was left for the the Scuderia and Sauber to contest the victory in Malaysia. Who could have predicted the podium finish we saw on Sunday?
While the rest of the field were squabbling in the wet conditions, Alonso’s opening section of the race was fairly quiet. When everything equalled out he was leading the field and then went about extending his advantage. Everyone was expecting them to fall backwards in a dry race, and to be swallowed up by the frontrunners after he emerged as leader. The Spaniard capitalised on the flaws of his car to keep his tyres working in the cool conditions and left Lewis Hamilton behind. It’s not really a surprise though when you consider that he’s made a habit of winning races he wasn’t expected to throughout his career, much to the detriment of his rivals. After the opening sessions in Australia his chances for this year had been written off, just over a week later he leads the championship standings. In the sister car Felipe Massa went to his now standard form in a race, engaged reverse gear and went backwards in the order. Chances of him retaining his drive in 2013? Nil. However we said the same thing about Ferrari’s win chances in Australia and we saw what happened there. Massa will need a similar miraculous drive to hope to stay in red.
Sergio Perez in a Sauber, now if you told me I’d be speaking about him second in a post-race reaction piece before the season I’d have laughed at you, or at least expected a start like the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix. I’m not laughing now and there weren’t a great deal of retirements. He managed the very impressive finished based on pace and ability. Indeed if not for running wide I think he’d have caught and passed Alonso based on his outright speed. It’s an excellent result for the team, especially given Kamui Kobayashi’s retirement due to brake issues, but I think we’ll all look back at it as the victory that got away rather than the impressive fight to second.
Lewis Hamilton made it two third places in two races, a good score to start any season but when you consider he also had two poles he’ll be looking at it as a disappointing start to 2012. It leaves him in a good position, second, in the standings, but he’s failed to capitalise on his car’s advantage and Alonso’s ahead of him and the Red Bulls are still close enough to be a serious threat when they get their upgrades. In the other car Jenson Button had a race to forget. As much as I’d like to have a go at Narain Karthikeyan for the collision, it was Button’s fault sliding into him on the slippery track.
Mark Webber brought the first of the Red Bulls home in fourth while team mate Sebastian Vettel retired on the last lap but was still classified as a finisher. Although it’s not the results they’re used to, the results are good enough to leave them close enough to the McLarens, especially since they’ve failed to run away in the points standings like they could have done. Hanging on like this will leave Red Bull in a position to challenge when they get back on form, meaning there’s going to a big fight come the mid-season. Unlike with Button, Karthikeyan was at fault in the collision with Vettel and received a penalty of 20 seconds added to his race time. Might not seem a lot, but it did drop him a position and it’s not like a grid drop at the next race would have stopped him from lining up last.
Two races in the points from the two starts since his return pretty much mean that Kimi Raikkonen has silenced the naysayers. Lotus are ahead of the highly rated Mercedes AMG in the standings and are only behind Ferrari and Sauber due to the one race performance of those teams this weekend. Should dry races return Alonso to where he was in Australia I expect Lotus to be ahead of Ferrari for much of the year. It’ll certainly be easier for them to get Romain Grosjean finishing races in the points than it will for Ferrari to get Massa to the same place.
Mission complete at Williams. Bruno Senna scored more points on Sunday than the entire team scored in 2011. It’s certainly an indication of the step forward they’ve made. Pastor Maldonado’s end in a cloud of engine smoke won’t be so celebrated. It’s either a failure due to something the team have done or a weakness in the Renault engine. If it’s the latter then Lotus and Red Bull could be looking at a difficult year given they use the same powerplants.
Rounding out the points were Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg, a double points finish for Force India, in seventh and ninth respectively. Jean-Eric Vergne scoring his first points in his second race for Toro Rosso and Michael Schumacher in tenth. Only a tenth place and a single point for Mercedes AMG is a weekend to despair. This is a team that we’ve had in the running for pole position for both the races we’ve had. Failure to convert on race day could be something they very much regret at the end of the year.
So, where has Malaysia left us? Well it’ll be remembered at the race where Sergio Perez booked his seat in a Ferrari for 2013. There was enough speculation about the move before race day, now it’s a foregone conclusion. It might also be remembered as the race where McLaren enough points to cost them one or even both titles at the end of the year. Two front row lock-outs have not been converted into anything approaching a comparable result on Sunday. Everything else is still up in the air as the teams try and work out where everyone else is and where they fit into the pack. We’ll know more in two weeks when we hit China. See you there.