Alonso claims surprise win
Alonso wins from eighth on the grid, as Perez left to rue late slip
By James Galloway. Last Updated: 27/03/12 4:10pm
Fernando Alonso withstood an astonishing charge from Sauber's Sergio Perez to give embattled Ferrari the most unlikely of victories in an enthralling rain-affected Malaysian Grand Prix.
In an amazing 56-lap race that finished almost three hours after it started after a characteristic Sepang storm had prompted an early and prolonged red flag period, Alonso stealthily moved to the head of the field as the front row-starting McLarens ran into trouble around first pit-stops stage following the 50-minute stoppage.
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Their demise also allowed Perez through - the Mexican having started ninth but stopping at the end of the first lap to put on wet tyres - and although initially overtaken by Alonso, the 22-year-old produced the drive of his life as he relentlessly began to eat into the Spaniard's advantage on intermediates tyres and then on slicks as the track dried.
Having closed onto the tail of the Ferrari, it seemed inevitable he would pass but with six laps to go he inexplicably ran wide over the still wet kerb going through turn 13.
The lost momentum was enough to give Alonso the breathing space he needed to deliver Maranello its first victory since last July's British GP and the team a real shot in the arm after their much-chronicled troubled start to the season.
For Perez, second was still a marvellous result - the best for Sauber as an independent constructor since the team's formation in 1993 - but the Mexican ruefully acknowledged in the post-race press conference that victory should have been his given the rate with which he caught the Ferrari.
Still, it's likely to do his chances of replacing Felipe Massa alongside Alonso anytime soon no harm at all - particularly as the man in question endured another dismal afternoon en-route to a lowly 15th.
Lewis Hamilton finished 14.5s adrift in a second successive third place, but last week's top two, World Champion Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button failed to score in 11th and 14th places respectively as they both had tangles with HRT's Narain Karthikeyan.
Hamilton's afternoon had started in fine style with the 2008 World Champion holding the lead into the first corner from team-mate Button and impressively racing away at the front in the early slippery conditions as rain steadily began to fall around Sepang.
Then came the drama.
With the field soon switching from the intermediates after starting on the full wets, the safety car was pressed into service on lap seven and then, amid increasing thunder and lightning, the red flag was dropped two laps later.
A 50-minute stoppage ensured as Race Director Charlie Whiting waited for the conditions to improve and, following four further laps behind the safety car as drivers re-acclimatised to the conditions, the race finally resumed for real on lap 13.
Although the field had to fit the full wet tyres for the re-start, the leading runners were swiftly back into the pits for inters and this is where McLaren's race began to unravel.
Race leader Hamilton slightly overshot his marks on his arrival into the McLaren pit box, causing delays with the rear jack, but his problems were compounded when the mechanics had to delay his release while they waited for Massa to come down the pit lane.
Conveniently for Ferrari, this allowed Alonso to jump ahead of his former team-mate and resume ahead of the two McLarens, Button having stopped the lap before.
However, Melbourne victor Button's afternoon was soon to hit the buffers - or the rear of Karthikeyan's HRT in actual fact - as the Briton tagged his rear wing against the Indian's car at the turn nine hairpin, breaking elements of his front wing and puncturing his tyre.
An unscheduled return to the pits ensued but once back on the track Button badly struggled for grip on his latest set of intermediates and it wasn't long before he was returning to the McLaren box for a new set. Game over.
With Hamilton unable to do anything about Alonso or Perez, the Briton started to come under pressure from the flying Red Bulls in the closing stages on slick tyres but Vettel became the second front runner to botch an overtake on Karthikeyan and picked up his own front puncture, dropping him out of the points.
Mark Webber was therefore left to come home in fourth in the sole points-scoring Red Bull as Kimi Raikkonen kept his nose clean to secure a solid fifth for Lotus.
Bruno Senna was another star performer as he recovered from lap-one contact with Williams team-mate Pastor Maldonado to storm back to sixth, finishing ahead of Force India's Paul di Resta and Jean-Eric Vergne - who opened his F1 points account at the second attempt.
Nico Hulkenberg made it two Force Indias in the top 10 in ninth as a second successive late demise for Maldonado gave Michael Schumacher the final point, the German's afternoon having been wrecked on lap one when he was tapped into a spin by Romain Grosjean as they battled for third.