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Malaysia 2012 - Sauber sparkle under darkened Sepang skies // Ferrari finish ahead as HRT qualify for their first race of the year

Published by Christine

The field stay close in Sepang
The field stay close in SepangCredit: Pirelli & C. S.p.A.

An extended race in Malaysia saw Fernando Alonso victorious, but Sauber were the real winners after showing some fighting spirit to take second place. Despite an hour's delay after eight laps due to the poor conditions, the racing action continued as it had begun - frantic, mixed up, and fascinating.

Just one team managed to get both their drivers into the top ten, whilst it was a weekend of both fortune and failure for McLaren, Mercedes and Williams.

Ferrari

To look at Ferrari’s Malaysia qualifying results, you would have thought they were in for another disappointing weekend. Felipe Massa was out in Q2, securing 12th place on the grid, behind the Williams of Pastor Maldonado. Fernando Alonso was not that much further ahead, qualifying ninth and starting the race eighth.

Massa has been given a new chassis for this race, the team eager to prove that his poor performance in Australia was more to do with the car and the driver. Whether it was the conditions (we have seen Massa struggle in the wet before), just some more bad luck, or the exact opposite of the proof the team were looking for, Felipe finished the race in 15th place. There was one particular occasion where he outbraked himself, and lost several places in one go. Mistakes are understandable in the circumstances, but they were always at the wrong time.

Fernando Alonso was having a different afternoon, promoted to the lead after the red flag delay. He inherited a couple of the positions due to McLaren’s bad fortune, and jumped Pérez in a pit stop battle. The lead was his, although it looked as though he wouldn’t have been able to hold off the Sauber driver for very long if Pérez hadn’t been having his own troubles. Even in the press conference, whilst happy and smiling, Alonso admitted that the car had not improved and there was still plenty of work to be done to make them a truly competitive team once more.

7/10

Sauber

After a solid double points finish in Australia, the Sauber team were looking to continue their good start to the season in Malaysia. Qualifying didn’t start out as well as they may have hoped, with Kamui Kobayashi dropping out in the second session and lining up on the grid 17th. Sergio Pérez managed to do a little better, qualifying tenth. He was also promoted up one place by Kimi Räikkönen’s grid penalty.

Kobayashi started the race well, and was making progress through the field, despite the difficult conditions. Unfortunately, he had a brief outing across the track which knocked him back down the order again. Then the team brought him in to retire, with the car suffering a brake issue. A disappointing DNF for Kamui,

Meanwhile, Pérez made an early pit stop call, coming in on only the second lap to put on full wet tyres. As the weather worsened, Pérez was on the right rubber to move forward so that the red flag dropped with him sitting comfortably in third place behind the two McLaren drivers.

He also stayed out longer than those two in front of him, which moved him up into the lead of the race but only briefly. When the immediate post-red flag pit stops were over, it was Fernando Alonso leading with Pérez tucked up behind. The Mexican put in an incredible drive to the end of the race, catching the Ferrari on several occasions. However, when it counted, he couldn’t make the pass for the lead, and then he made a small mistake that dropped him back a little. Second place is nothing to be sniffed at, and the Sauber team admitted they were emotional at the amazing result, but there’s that tiny wrenching feeling that he could have had a win for the Swiss team. Chalk that one up to experience.

9/10

McLaren

Lewis Hamilton was disappointed after losing the win in Australia to his teammate, but to make up for it, he took his second pole position in a row in Sepang. It was another McLaren 1-2 with Jenson Button in second place on the grid.

The race was almost the complete opposite of the action in Australia, with Hamilton keeping his lead to begin with. The difficult weather conditions, safety car, and a bungled pit stop saw him lose out, dropping down to third. However, he kept his head and more importantly kept out of trouble to take that podium position. Afterwards, he admitted to being happier with the result than he had been last week, but with two pole positions and no wins, frustration must be starting to set in.

For Button, it was all going swimmingly, until a collision with Narain Karthikeyan. He attempted to overtake the HRT car and crashed into it, knocking off the front wing of the McLaren. The extra pit stop dropped him way down the order, and unlike the Canadian Grand Prix in 2011, he couldn’t make any serious headway. Eventually, he managed to finish 14th, out of the points.

Despite a podium, it was no doubt a tough weekend for McLaren, and they’ll be looking to get back on form for China.

7/10

Red Bull

Mark Webber managed to outqualify his teammate for the second race in a row, which must be a disconcerting experience for Sebastian Vettel. The German has been complaining about the performance of his car, and it looks like the defending champions do have some work to do. However, Vettel did choose to start on a different tyre to everyone else - opting for the harder compound. As the race was so wet, it didn’t make too much of a difference, but qualifying just two tenths off the pace of his teammate on the different compound wasn’t as bad as it seemed at first.

During the race in Malaysia, Mark Webber was not one of the obvious drivers, he concentrated on running his own race and finished fourth - the exact same position that he started. That’s no mean feat, considering the ups and downs of the race, but equally it was nothing spectacular.

Vettel was having a similar race until the moment he collided with the aforementioned Narain Karthikeyan. Attempting to overtake the HRT backmarker, Vettel found himself with a rear puncture that caused another impromptu pitstop. He didn’t fall as far back as Button did, and clawed back some of the places to finish 11th. Another disappointing day for the world champion, and some post-race comments about Karthikeyan showed that the lack of results is starting to get to him.

6/10

Lotus

After a disappointing qualifying performance in Australia, Kimi Räikkönen already knew he was going to have another setback in Malaysia, after the team had to change his gearbox after practice. With a known five place grid drop to come, Kimi set about putting his foot down and trying to qualify as high up as he could. Fifth place became tenth on the grid, which, whilst frustrating for the Finn, was no doubt an improvement on the previous outing.

His lack of experience on the Pirelli tyres was a hindrance in the race, and by the time the GP was red flagged, he was down to 13th place. However, after the restart, when everyone piled into the pits at the same time, he made it back up the order and from then on had a good, clean race. He finished fifth, and was even frustrated with that, thinking he could have done better if it had been a dry race. Nevertheless, it was a good points haul for the second race in a row.

And what of his teammate? Romain Grosjean qualified well, picking up seventh place that was then boosted by the drop of his teammate. However, when the rain really started coming down in the first few laps of the Grand Prix, Romain spun off into the gravel and beached the Lotus. It was unrecoverable and he was out of the race just four laps in. The lengthy delay and the remainder of the afternoon, he sat through on the pit wall.

5/10

Williams

The Williams pair were close to each other in qualifying, but not quite fast enough to get into the top ten. Pastor Maldonado admitted he made a small mistake during Q2 which damaged the car a little, but the team weren’t expecting to make it through to the final session anyway.

For a team like Williams, wet conditions can be a blessing, with chaos allowing the opportunity of a surprise result. The surprise in this instance was actually a brief coming together of the two drivers. Bruno Senna clipped the back of his teammate’s car which threw him into a spin and forced him to make an unscheduled pit stop for a new front wing. By the time the red flag came out, Maldonado was sitting 14th, whilst Senna was dead last.

Luckily for the Brazilian, once the race restarted, he managed to make use of his early pit stop by staying out longer than those around him. He moved up to 14th and then crept slowly forward to eventually finish sixth, securing the team those much-needed points.

Maldonado was also on course to pick up a point or two, but his engine began issuing blue smoke as the race came to its conclusion. Pastor was forced to retire from the race, although it was the second weekend in a row that he was close enough to the end of the GP to still be classified despite no longer running. The potential is still there, it’s just taking Williams a little time to warm up.

5/10

Force India

There were no excuses from Force India for their poor qualifying performance in Malaysia. Paul di Resta found himself 14th on the grid, whilst Nico Hülkenberg was two places lower. Both claimed they could get no more out of the car, and the difference between the pair was less than two thousandths of a second.

The tricky conditions played into their hands, as both drivers managed to get up to 11th and 12th at the red flag break. Considering the chaos out there, Di Resta and Hülkenberg had a very anonymous race, gradually improving to a points position. Notably, they were the only team to get two drivers into the points, which is a result in itself.

6/10

Toro Rosso

The pace that Toro Rosso showed in qualifying for the Australian GP was lost here in Malaysia. Daniel Ricciardo scored 15th on the grid, whilst Jean-Éric Vergne couldn’t make it out of the first session and wound up 18th. It was his own rookie mistake, as well, locking up and damaging his tyres before running out of time to attempt another decent lap.

Vergne went on to have a very mixed up race as well. At some point, he was doing battle with Felipe Massa for mid-field positions. At another, he was chasing down Paul di Resta, hoping to pick up sixth instead of seventh place. As it was, he ended with the latter, and a nice points haul to get his name on the scoreboard.

Ricciardo had his own fun and games, overtaking Bruno Senna early on in the race in a beautiful move around the outside. However, he too found himself doing battle with Massa at the wrong end of the scale before eventually making his way up to 12th place. A difficult weekend for the team, and one where they made the best of what they had, whilst hoping for better things to come.

4/10

Mercedes

There’s been plenty of speculation over how fast the Mercedes car could be, in the right circumstances, and qualifying in Sepang looked as though it was the time for the German squad to show their true colours. Michael Schumacher was fast throughout, eventually having to settle for third on the grid. He was only behind two McLaren drivers though, with Red Bull and Lotus firmly behind him. For Nico Rosberg, things were a little bit harder, and he locked up his tyres and caused himself some vibrations. Eighth on the grid was improved to seventh when Räikkönen took his penalty, but it was still a way off Nico’s elder teammate.

Once the race was underway, Schumacher was hit from behind by Grosjean and went into a spin, which ruined all the hard work from Saturday. He managed to claw back tenth place and a single point but went away from the afternoon very disappointed. Rosberg, meanwhile, was riding high after the restart, finding himself up in fourth place, but once he switched to the intermediate tyres, things went downhill quickly. The Mercedes driver felt like he had significant wear on the compound and lost several positions fighting the rubber, but when he came in for a new set, the engineers told him that the previous tyres looked fine. As the man himself said, the team are strong in qualifying but really need to sort out what they are doing come Sunday.

4/10

Caterham

There’s still no forward progress for Caterham on a Saturday. The team are desperate to start making it through to Q2, but so far their qualifying results have been carbon copies of those in 2011. Heikki Kovalainen led Vitaly Petrov for 19th and 20th, the two ahead of Marussia and HRT.

In the race, Kovalainen had an unscheduled pit stop for a new nose which forced him further down the order, and helped the aforemention Glock finish ahead of him. He crossed the line 18th when the race finished. Petrov was just two places ahead of him, but felt a lot happier about the result - his first finish for the team, and he said afterwards that he felt they really worked well as a unit in the adverse weather. A good weekend for him, perhaps, even if the results don’t reflect that.

2/10

Marussia

It’s difficult to see any improvement in the Marussia car as yet. They qualified in the same position as Australia, 21st and 22nd. Timo Glock admitted Saturday was a very tough day, losing the balance of the car between final practice and qualifying getting underway. Meanwhile, Charles Pic seemed happy enough that he was closing the gap to his teammate - even if the pair of them are no closer to closing the gap to anyone else.

The team are finding some early reliability with their new car though, making it two races in a row that they have had both cars get to the chequered flag. It’s not a big ask, but considering they had very little running with the new car before the season began, two consecutive double finishes is a great start.

In terms of results, Pic found it a difficult afternoon due to the conditions, and given his rookie status in a less-than-stellar car, it is forgivable. Glock was very pleased to have finished in 17th, more importantly ahead of Heikki Kovalainen in the Caterham. They are chasing the Caterham team in all aspects of a weekend and in Malaysia, Glock was sandwiched between the two drivers. The rivalry continues!

3/10

HRT

HRT’s biggest achievement in Malaysia was qualifying for the race itself. After failing to make it past the 107% cutoff in Australia, the pair of Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan had to sit out the Grand Prix, waiting for Sepang for another chance. They grabbed at the opportunity with both hands and made it through to the race, although for Narain it was just by a couple of tenths of a second. There is still a way to go before they are comfortably qualifying for races again and 107% is a thing of the past.

Before the race even got underway, Pedro de la Rosa was having mechanical trouble. The driver was pushed off the grid as the formation lap started, a fuel pressure issue in the car. He did make it into the race, starting from the pitlane. After the rain-delayed restart, he was given a drive through penalty for having personnel on the grid too long. Despite all of that, he managed to finish the race, two laps down.

Narain, meanwhile, was having a different experience. As a backmarker, he found himself colliding with both Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel. Button later accepted blame for the incident between them, whereas for the accident with Vettel, Karthikeyan was given a post-race penalty. He was classified 22nd and last, and went away feeling a little bruised by the whole backmarker experience.

2/10

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