Fernando Alonso put Ferrari's woes to one side to win the Malaysian GP, but the day belonged to Sergio Perez who finished P2.
After all their pre-season problems and struggles in qualifying, it was a jubilant moment for the Italian outfit as Alonso came from P8 on the grid to win the rain-affected race at the Sepang International Circuit.
The plaudits, though, will go to Sergio 'Checo' Perez and Sauber as the Mexican put in the drive of his life to claim his first podium finish. Pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton finished a distant P3 and he was followed across the finish line by Mark Webber and Kimi Raikkonen.
Spots of rain started to fall with twenty minutes to go before the start. Ten minutes before the start Lotus boss Eric Boullier was predicting that it would be delayed because of the increasing intensity of what was now light rain. However at the top of the hour the cars went off on their parade lap with everyone on Inters except HRT who had opted for the full wets. Only Karthikeyan got away, though and de la Rosa had to start from the pitlane.
1.Hamilton, 2.Button, 3.Schumacher, 4.Webber, 5.Vettel, 6.Grosjean, 7.Rosberg, 8.Alonso, 9.Perez, 10.Raikkonen, 11.Maldonado, 12.Massa, 13.Senna, 14.Di Resta, 15.Ricciardo, 16.Hulkenberg, 17.Kobayashi, 18.Vergne, 19.Petrov, 20.Glock, 21.Pic, 22.de la Rosa, 23.Karthikeayn, 24.Kovalainen
Grosjean got ahead, but was on the edge of control. Webber got past him into Turn 4, while Schumacher was pushed into a spin by Grosjean who lost the rear end of the car at the exit of the corner. Schumi fell a long way back and Grosjean dropped down the order. At this point in the race there was very heavy rain in Sector 1 but little round the rest of the track, even so Sergio Perez decided it would be a good move to duck into the pitlane and change to full wets at the end of Lap 1.
Positions at the end of Lap 1
1.Hamilton, 2.Button, 3.Webber, 4.Vettel, 5.Alonso, 6.Rosberg, 7.Maldonado, 8.Raikkonen, 9.Kobayashi, 10.Massa, 11.Perez (in pitlane), 12.Di Resta, 13.Hulkenberg
On Lap 2, Di Resta and Bruno Senna came in for full wets, on Lap 3 Massa pitted from P10 and on Lap 4 Jenson Button led in Alonso, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo and Petrov. As the rain grew in intensity it became inevitable that everyone should move onto wets. Grosjean had spun off when his Lotus aquaplaned off the track. In came Hamilton, Webber, Vettel, Maldonado, Raikkonen, Kobayashi and Schumacher.
Button had gained time during his one lap advantage on the full wets but he still came round just behind Hamilton as he emerged from the pits.
The rain was getting heavier lap by lap with aquaplaning at Turn 5 and Jenson Button reporting: "the last sector is like a lake" referring to the standing water at Turn 12. Perez was taking full advantage of having changed to wets early and was up to an incredible P3, while Narain Karthikeyan who had started on wets was in P10 for HRT.
Around the circuit there was thunder and lightning and a power cut that dimmed the lights. On Lap 7 timing screens said the race had been red-flagged, but that was amended straight away to a Safety Car. As the SC collected everyone behind it for a lap the rain intensified, another Red Flag message came up, backed up by written confirmation from Race Control that this was a real Red Flag.
Positions behind the Safety Car
1.Hamilton, 2.Button, 3.Perez, 4.Webber, 5.Alonso, 6.Vettel, 7.Vergne, 8.Massa, 9.Rosberg, 10.Karthikeyan, 11.Hulkenberg, 12.DiResta 13.Raikkonen, 14.Maldonado, 15.Schumacher, 16.Kobayashi
The cars formed up on the grid and drivers got out and prepared for the wait Finally at 1704 local time Race Director Charlie Whiting deemed the rain light enough to have a restart behind the Safey Car at 1714.
Because all tyres had to be wets behind a Safety Car start, Jean-Eric Vergne who had not changed from his Inters, got a free set of Wets without having to drop time for a pit-stop. The cars cruised behind the Safety Car for Laps 10, 11,12 and it came in at the end of Lap 13. Lewis Hamilton stacked the cars up on the back straight before the line. At this stage many were predicting a quick change onto Inters as the circuit rapidly dried out. Button didn't even wait for the restart and was in for Inters along with many of the midfield - no-one else from the frontrunners.
It proved to be the wise choice because his first middle sector on the Inters was faster than anyone and at the end of the lap everyone else dived into the pitlane. Already on Lap 14 Alonso had got past Mark Webber, to take P3.
In the pitlane Hamilton was delayed because he couldn't be released into the path of the incoming Felipe Massa and so when Lewis Hamilton got back on track he was now behind Alonso, but still in front of Jenson Button. But only by a few car lengths. Leading now was Sergio Perez with Sebastian Vettel, who were the only ones not to change to Inters and they would follow suit a lap later.
Button then made the mistake that would effectively end his race, sliding into the HRT of Kathikeyan who was ahead of him on track position (having not stopped for a change of tyres) and deranging his front wing. The pit-stop made with the cars still relatively bunched up cast him back to P.21. Although he found speed at first he reported that: "the front tyre is shuddering the whole time." And had to change the set again.
Alonso had made it in and out of the pit very quickly, so when Perez stopped for tyres he emerged only just in front of the Ferrari driver who nipped past him in a masterly overtaking move through Turns 1 and 2 to take the lead.
Positions on Lap 16:
1.Alonso, 2.Perez, 3.Hamilton, 4.Rosberg, 5.Vettel, 6.Raikkonen, 7.Webber, 8.Massa, 9.DiResta, 10.Vergne, 11.Hulkenberg, 12. Kobayashi, 13.Schumacher
Hamilton was suffering similar problems to Button and while the McLarens had been the fastest of anyone through the middle sector in the dry, now Hamilton was losing time to both the Sauber and Ferrari in front of him. Fernando was edging out a gap to Sergio 'Checo' Perez, but the gap to Hamilton was greater. Behind the Brit, Nico Rosberg had gained places by staying out on the full wets and was delaying Sebastian Vettel. On Lap 21 Rosberg was a whole 1.1 seconds slower that Hamilton in the middle sector alone.
By Lap 23 Vettel had found a way past with grip on the outside of Turn 1 and soon a flood of cars behind Rosberg were finding their way past. He finally pitted for Inters at the end of Lap 27 and resumed back down in P16.
At the front, Alonso was making Italy (and Spain) proud again with a series of Fastest Laps on Lap 22, 23, 24, 25 and 26. By the time we got to Lap 30 he had stretched out the gap to Perez to 7.7 seconds, while Perez had 7.7 seconds on Hamilton and Lewis has put 8.4 seconds between himself and fourth place Vettel. Raikkonen was a further 7.3 back in fifth, closely followed by Mark Webber who was within a second of the Finn.
The quick lap times continued with Alonso setting more Fastest Laps on Laps 30, 31 and 32. But just as the timing screen went purple to show the latest time for Alonso, so it was being superceded by Perez a few seconds later. Perez was then fastest on Laps 31, 32 and 33. The gap came down to 5.7 seconds.
Although there were reports that there was a rain shower coming or rain near the circuit and even a few drops of rain actually falling, a dry line was being established and the fastest time falling almost every lap. Pirelli's Paul Hembery suggested that the move to dry tyres would be at a lap time of around 1:52s.
On Lap 36 Perez put in a fastest 1:54.738 to close the gap to 3.9 seconds, a lap later Alonso put in a 1:54.7 and Perez aced it with a 1:54 dead closing the gap to 3.2. With 20 laps to go an upset looked on the cards.
Daniel Ricciardo was the first onto slick on Lap 38 and by lap 39 Perez had got the gap to Alonso down to just 1.3 seconds. Ricciardo was soon the fastest man on the circuit and at the end of Lap 39 Mark Webber and the midfield cars pitted.
Alonso, Vettel and Raikkonen pitted a lap later, but crucially Sauber and McLaren left Perez and Hamilton out on the track. When they rejoined they had both lost time - Vettel was much closer to Hamilton and Perez had lost four seconds to Alonso and was now 5.7 back. Yet again he started to haul in the gap with some fast laps and by Lap 46 he was just 2.3 behind with ten laps to go.
Vettel was also closing on Hamilton but on Lap 47 shredded his left rear tyre against the front wing of an HRT and limped back to the pits scattering debris along the back straight as he went.
Positions on Lap 50
1.Alonso, 2.Perez, 3.Hamilton, 4.Webber, 5.Raikkonen 6.Senna, 7.DiResta, 8.Vergne 9.Hulkenberg, 10.Maldonado, 11.Schumacher, 12.Vettel
By Lap 50 'Checo' was sitting on Alonso's gearbox in a much faster car and looking for a way past. Right at this time his engineer came on the radio with what could be considered a contentious/conservative call: "Checo be careful, we need this position, be careful."
Straight away, Perez went off track at Turn 14 and lost five seconds, handing the race to Alonso. Although the Mexican closed the gap in the six laps to the flag he'd given himself too big a gap - he was in no danger from the following McLaren.
Maldonado's engine started to smoke on Lap 54 and he gave up the final points position to Schumacher as he retired the car. This gave rise to a comedy exchange on the radio to Sebastian Vettel from his engineer. At one moment it was "retire the car, retire the car" then it was "stay out, stay out", then it was "stop the car, stop the car". Some thought that it might be a tactical retirement to get a new gearbox but Vettel's car still came up on the timing screens as P11 at the chequered flag - 75.5 seconds down on the jubilant winner Fernando Alonso.
Second was the hugely impressive Sergio Perez who may well have booked his place in the No.2 Ferrari in 2013, followed by Lewis Hamilton, a resurgent Mark Webber and an equally impressive Kimi Raikkonen who had managed his wet tyres far better than Rosberg had to bring the car home in 5th and claim fastest lap on Lap 53 - a 1:40.722
Bruno Senna made up for the Williams heartbreak from Melbourne to finish 6th ahead of Di Resta in 7th, Vergne in 8th (this time not mugged on the last lap), Hulkenberg in 9th and Schumacher in 10th. Jenson Button finished 79 seconds off the leader - his two extra pit-stops giving him five trips down pitlane as opposed to the winner's three.
Ferrari will be under no illusion that their season is suddenly back on course, but Alonso's win will be an inspiration to make rapid progress. And right now everyone will want to know the exact details of Sergio Perez's contract.
01. Alonso Ferrari 2h44:51.812
02. Perez Sauber-Ferrari + 2.263
03. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes + 14.591
04. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 17.688
05. Raikkonen Lotus-Renault + 29.456
06. Senna Williams-Renault + 37.667
07. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes + 44.412
08. Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 46.985
09. Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes + 47.892
10. Schumacher Mercedes + 49.996
11. Vettel Red Bull-Renault + 1:15.527
12. Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1:16.800
13. Rosberg Mercedes + 1:18.500
14. Button McLaren-Mercedes + 1:19.700
15. Massa Ferrari + 1:39.300
16. Petrov Caterham-Renault + 1 lap
17. Glock Marussia-Cosworth + 1 lap
18. Kovalainen Caterham-Renault + 1 lap
19. Maldonado Williams-Renault + 2 laps
20. Pic Marussia-Cosworth + 2 laps
21. Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth + 2 laps
22. De la Rosa HRT-Cosworth + 2 laps
Did Not Finish
Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 47
Grosjean Lotus-Renault 4
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