On the eve of the Malaysian Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso is aware that even at Sepang Ferrari will not be at its best, and will try to do its best despite the great heat that awaits all the drivers.
"We will also run in defence in Malaysia. It could not be otherwise, since the F2012 is practically identical to the one we used in Australia. We will have to try to adapt it to the best, knowing that there will be suffering. I arrived in Kuala Lumpur last Monday, it is important to quickly acclimatize to the extreme conditions, especially for us Europeans, who are in this corner of the world. It is the longest race in terms of mileage (310,408 km) but above all it is the most tiring from the physical point of view: facing it prepared in the best way is fundamental and, towards the end, can also make a difference on the track".
The Spanish explains:
"There are two points on which we will have to work very carefully: finding the right compromise on aerodynamic load and tyre degradation. In Sepang there are two real straights, very long and a peak speed deficit you pay more dearly than in Melbourne, where the two straight where you could use the DRS were quite short. We will then see how the Pirelli tyres will behave with high temperatures like the Malaysian ones".
As for the stops, the situation of last year for the Maranello team could be repeated.
"Last year we made four stops: we’ll see if the situation will repeat this time. We will have Medium and Hard as compounds while last year the pairing was Soft-Hard: considering that the four types of Pirelli tires this year are much closer to each other in terms of performance on the lap maybe the picture will be different. As early as Friday in the second free practice session, we might have a better idea. The perhaps is mandatory because on each session, especially those mid-afternoon weighs the unknown rain. There is no other place in the world, that of Formula 1, of course, where you go from the blinding sun to the torrential rain in the space of a few minutes: not even at Spa there is such a marked variability. You will have to keep your eyes open and the radar in sight well on the wall in order to be able to manage in the best way a possible change of conditions. At the moment the forecast gives a high chance of rain, both for qualifying and for the race but, honestly, I don’t trust the forecasts. The important thing is to react promptly and seize all the opportunities. The only absolute certainty is that it will be hot. Very hot...".
Pole, lap record and victory. Jenson Button, winner of the Australian Grand Prix, which opened the 2012 Formula 1 World Championship, is probably the most surprised by McLaren seen in this start of the season, the protagonist of a truly overwhelming debut.
"After the race, they asked me if I predicted that we would keep a pace like this. I said I wouldn’t expect that. After the winter tests you can never know for sure what the performance will be. Such a positive debut is extraordinary for the team: pole position, lap record and victory. It’s also an incredible motivation, we know that we have a great car but we don’t feel full. We want to develop the car, everyone is working hard at Woking to bring news to the track".
But now the British have no desire to stop.
"This weekend we want to get the most out of the package we have available. Everyone knows that we never stop: we can develop our car like all the other teams, if not better".
Technical improvements during the season can be decisive:
"This year, unlike last season, we started with a winning package. We have to keep going and we are ready to do it".
The Malaysian circuit, compared to the Australian one, presents a completely different challenge. The Australian semi-permanent track is not a canonical test for teams. In Malaysia, with the presence of fast bends, the advantages and defects of single-seaters are more evident.
"The race in Melbourne showed that several teams could aim for victory at Sepang. Both Red Bull drivers were very fast, I think Mercedes and Lotus will be even stronger. We, of course, will not relax: we are ready for battle".
The memory of those tragic moments that saw the Italian driver Marco Simoncelli lose his life on the Sepang circuit is still alive in the minds of all fans. So to pay tribute to the memory of the late Italian driver, Thursday, March 22, 2012, on the eve of the Malaysian Grand Prix, Ferrari remembers the great talent of motorcycling with a sign with the words:
"Always be with us".
Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, who are in Sepang for the Malaysian Grand Prix, go to the Malaysian track where the Italian driver had the fatal accident on Sunday 23 October 2011. The two Ferrari drivers go to Turn 11 of the Sepang circuit with their physiotherapists, Matteo Orsi and Edoardo Bendinelli, together with Massimo Rivola, Massimo Balocchi and Roberta Vallorosi, representing the whole team, also of whom, such as Stefano Domenicali, is flying to Sepang and would have liked to be there in person to witness all the affection for a pilot of great talent but, above all, an extraordinary guy like Marco Simoncelli, esteemed by everyone as a professional and loved for his joyful and outgoing character. The two drivers bring a pit-board with a message dedicated to the Italian driver. A veil of sadness is visible on Fernando Alonso’s face:
"It won’t be the same: coming back here from now on will always make you think of Marco, I think the Ferrari family and all the Italians who love sport and motorcycling will remember him forever. His death was one of those things that you never expected: we will always remember him and he will always be a hero for all of us".
Felipe Massa’s statement is also similar:
"We wanted to go to turn 11 to make a gesture that reminded Marco, I think it was the least we could do for him, his family and all his fans. I think everyone will be thinking about Marco this weekend".
Regarding the Malaysian Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso is confident:
"I don’t think changing the circuit will make much difference to us. We tried Jerez, Barcelona and then we went to Australia and I think the cars, for all the teams, here are practically identical to the first race, so there will be no surprises. We will try to adapt the car to the track. In terms of performance as well, we are not as competitive as we would like, but in race everything can happen: if you make a good start and adopt a good strategy, you can get a decent finish position".
"We will try and try to score as many points as possible even if we can’t expect miracles. Also in Australia nobody thought that we could finish in fifth place because there were many drivers faster than us, but in the race what happened to the others gave us a helping hand to finish the race in fifth position. So here, with a normal Grand Prix, we could finish more behind, but if it was a strange race, maybe with the rain, then we could also finish in front".
It is populated with ghosts the mind of Felipe Massa, this cute Brazilian guy of 30 years arrived much earlier than expected at the decisive moment of his season, his adventure with Ferrari and perhaps even his career as an F1 driver. The first and probably the most cumbersome of these figures answers to the name Fernando Alonso, the uncomfortable yardstick of comparison. For three years now, the Spaniard has been tormenting the existence of Felipe Massa with his successes, his genius strokes, his leadership gestures. Last time it happened in Melbourne, Australia, when Fernando Alonso showed the whole world how deep his colleague’s crisis was. On Thursday, March 22, 2012, the Brazilian jumped into his chair when, during the press conference, he heard that name, Fernando, and ended up aggravating his position, in order not to appear inferior. A journalist would like to ask him if he had reflected, in these days, on the abundant second delay that he had placed in the race. Fernando Massa interrupts him and says:
"Really to me an abundant second I have also fed the others, Sunday".
Impeccable, in fact. But, perhaps, not really useful to the image of a driver who after a race has already been dismissed by many newspapers that, just to add ghosts to ghosts, in recent days have enjoyed launching the pilot in the event of a dismissal. In addition to Jarno Trulli, many have proposed the candidacy of Sergio Perez, young driver of Sauber, produced by the Ferrari Driver Academy, quite fast, protected by Carlos Slim, or Mr. Telmex, richest man in the world. In the official FIA press conference, Sergio Perez answers the direct question as it pays:
"I don’t know, I’m a Sauber pilot".
But Ferrari has had their eyes on him for a long time, and everyone knows it. Even Massa, who doesn’t get upset.
"Formula 1 is a fast-moving world, things are changing fast. In 2008, many journalists wrote here in Sepang that I was to be hunted. Then I almost won the World Championship and today I’m still here. Now the names of everyone, of Trulli, of Perez, will soon be redone even that of Valentino Rossi. But I am sure I have not lost my talent. And I will be able to prove it".
Because in the end the truth is that the biggest ghost for Massa is Felipe. It’s still him or even he got lost, maybe after the accident in Hungary in 2009. He swears he hasn’t changed, the clock says the opposite. There are fewer and fewer opportunities to prove it: the Malaysian Grand Prix cannot be wasted. That’s why Felipe decided to play it all out, making the team a special request.
"I asked Ferrari to change the car. All of it. There was something wrong with 2012 in Melbourne. Not having understood what, we decided to change it all, chassis, suspensions etc. Everything. They brought from the factory the F2012 which we used to test with which I did exactly the same times as Fernando".
A move between the brave and the desperate: if changing the car was not enough, someone might think that something else needs to be changed. Meanwhile, as Massa complained about a virtually unworkable single-seater in Australia, the team decided to replace the chassis as a precaution. Fearing that there is a congenital defect in the body n. 293 used by the Ferrari driver in Australia. So a new body was sent to Malaysia, the number 294, which in these hours is mounted with all the components to set up the car #6 for the Brazilian. Meanwhile, the evils of the Maranello car are still being investigated. In Malaysia there will be no significant technical news because there was just time to pack the machines from Australia to ship them to Sepang and there is nothing new coming from Italy. The only great effort will be focused on the work of tuning the set-up for the Malaysian track that is very different from Australia because of several fast bends and long straights. The impression is that there are serious analogies with the 2009 season. Now as then, there will be a B version of the F2012, waiting for the Spanish Grand Prix. That is after the tests on track scheduled at Mugello in the first days of May. After all, if today the single-seater is aerodynamically unbalanced, the reason is also in those exhaust terminals folded quickly and fury inwards, to avoid burning the tires behind.
"That was the main problem, not the inconvenience in driving".
You said Felipe Massa in Australia. It seems that Ferrari, however, has to change much more than the bodywork: the exhaust terminals that work best today are the very advanced ones, which allow to exploit the shape of the sides thanks to the coanda effect. Like Red Bull Racing or Sauber. Yet Stefano Domenicali, in Melbourne, had made it clear that he did not want to wait until May.
"I hope to have something new even before. By now we have understood exactly what are the problems to be solved".
As we know, in Australia Charlie Whiting had declared legal the Mercedes system associated with the mobile wing. But the appearance of the complicated F-duct on the Anglo-German cars triggered the reaction of Red Bull Racing and Lotus (dissatisfied with the rejection of the set-up corrector that worked brilliantly in braking). And now the sports stewards of the Malaysian Grand Prix will be called upon to give an opinion on the conformity of the solution studied in Brackley during technical checks. A challenge begins that is not only technical, but also political. The teams are in a situation of studying very complicated (and also very expensive) solutions after asking the FIA for the endorsement of his men. Lately the effort has often been wasted: the front W-duct used by Mercedes at the end of last season and in winter tests was rejected by the FIA, when it specified that the holes on the nose only allowed to cool (the control units or the passenger compartment). Now it is said that on the W03 the flow from the rear wing, when the DRS is active, is brought up to the front wing to balance the single-seater, removing load on the front flaps with a complicated blowing system. To activate the system is the pilot when he presses the button of the wing, so it is always him that would allow the F-duct to come into operation. It is clear that if the idea of Lotus had been rejected, it could not pass even that of Mercedes. Knowing Ross Brawn who is a political fine, as well as an excellent tactician, it would come as no surprise if he was using this F-duct as an excuse to get something else to properly exploit the air passages that have been thought in the body of the Mercedes. Waiting for the British engineer to give us some more surprises, Ross Brawn goes on the attack.
"Every year that I can remember, there has always been a debate or discussion about standards. We have focused on a subject that is not discharges. About the terminals we noticed that the cars are not mounted in the points that the FIA hoped".
The Mercedes team principal is not hiding, saying:
"The FIA told us that there would be no blowout. We were aware that we will never see them again, but some cars mount them. Our wing system is in the spotlight for something that’s probably not well understood. The F.1 is very competitive, the people involved are extremely competitive, because this is the nature of the Circus. We need to work on the written rules and there can be those who give an intelligent interpretation of a solution, because this is the nature of our business". On the eve of the Malaysian Grand Prix, the commissioners delegated by the Federation confirmed the regularity of the device used by Mercedes. On Friday 23rd March 2012, Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time in FP1. The British driver preceded Sebastian Vettel. Nico Rosberg is third, followed by Michael Schumacher, both Mercedes cars. There were problems at HRT: Narain Karthikeyan ended the session after only eight laps due to a gearbox problem. The Finn Valtteri Bottas replaced Bruno Senna in FP1. It is the debut for the Finnic during a weekend of the F1 World Championship. During FP2 Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time again. At this stage in the top four positions there are four cars powered by Mercedes. Behind the Briton is Michael Schumacher, followed by Jenson Button, penalized by braking problems, and Nico Rosberg. Paul di Resta is the author of two track excursions, while Kamui Kobayashi is penalized by a gearbox problem. At the end of the session, the Lotus technicians replaced the gearbox on Kimi Räikkönen’s car, which will be penalized with the loss of five positions on the grid. The problem had already emerged at the end of the previous Grand Prix, due to the overheating of the mechanism due to the entry of grass into the radiators following a track excursion of the car. "We have gathered a lot of useful information that will now allow us to be ready for the rest of the weekend".
There is a flash of optimism in the words of Fernando Alonso, who in the second free practice session in Sepang closes in sixth place.
"This morning we worked a lot on comparing different aerodynamic configurations. In the afternoon we dedicated ourselves to the usual Friday work on tyres, driving with different levels of petrol on board. Both the Medium and the Hard seem to behave quite well, both as performance on the first lap and as degradation over the long distance".
The Spanish Ferrari driver also talks about the difficulties that emerged with heat present at Sepang.
"As always here in Malaysia one of the main goals of Friday is to try to get used to extreme environmental conditions as quickly as possible. Especially in the pits you suffer a lot of heat when you stay inside the cockpit while at least on the track there is a bit of air, even if it is certainly not fresh".
Felipe Massa, on the other hand, is gloomy:
"We don’t have a top competitive car right now. I don’t feel any pressure. Fernando and I had quite different programs from each other and this explains the difference in the ranking. In particular, in the afternoon we chose completely different directions that for me did not work but at least allowed me to understand some important things about the behavior of the car".
There is another climate to McLaren’s pits, as Lewis Hamilton finished in first place both practice sessions.
"The single-seater is fine. We have made some changes to the setup and I am much more satisfied. I am happy with the low, medium and high speed aerodynamic solutions. Now we are focusing on the pace for the race: although I haven’t accumulated many laps, I have great feelings".
English, like Fernando Alonso, speaks of the high temperature in Malaysia.
"There is an incredible humidity, it will be crucial to manage the tyres in the best way, we will have to find the right set-up".
Don’t give up your teammate, Jenson Button.
"We have to work hard for qualifying, we can make progress in the night. I would like to be on pole, it is the key to a good race and makes life easier".
While acknowledging the value of McLaren, Sebastian Vettel does not despair.
"It’s hard to say how competitive we’ll be in qualifying. McLaren looked very strong today, both morning and afternoon. I didn’t see how she behaved in the long runs, I think we’re closer if we talk long distance. But I am not completely satisfied, there is still a lot to do. We certainly didn’t expect to solve all our problems in three hours of rehearsals".
While the Red Bull Racing team principal, Christian Horner, talks about the rear wing of Mercedes, which in his opinion should be uneven:
"The discussion is not over yet, others ask for clarity besides me. Is it a brilliant innovation, and in this case, congratulations to Mercedes, or is it something irregular? We need to clarify the issue and it would be good to leave this weekend with a certainty".
Speaking of Mercedes, despite the excellent second place at the end of FP2, Michael Schumacher does not intend to unbalance himself.
"It was a good day for us and I am delighted with the team’s work after Australia. Despite the unexpected difficulties in the race we managed to recover. However, we know that everyone develops different programs on Fridays, I would say that we do not yet know the full potential of others and we are aware that we should not be too optimistic".
And the other Mercedes, the one driven by Nico Rosberg, did well too.
"I’m quite pleased. We have learned a lot about how to use our tyres and I feel that things are going in the right direction but I don’t know where we are compared to others. It will be very interesting to see how we can handle the situation".
Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali, unlike his colleagues, did not stay on the Pacific to save flight hours (and time difference), after the Australian Grand Prix. But he returned to the factory, to Maranello, to talk to his designers, to motivate them, to understand what is happening: because if there are margins to save this badly born season, they must be identified immediately. And so, the team principal was the author of a tour de force never seen: twenty-one hours of flight on Monday, two days of work and meetings, and then another thirteen hours of flight to show up Friday morning at the pits. After analyzing the data of the Australian Grand Prix, at Maranello the F2012 was in fact rejected without appeal. The project signed by the Greek aerodynamic engineer, Nicholas Tombazis - three wrong cars in the last three seasons - did not make what was due. For the present it was decided to try a massive, almost desperate, aerodynamic intervention that will be distorted. Initially it was thought that, once introduced the developments imagined during the winter (including even the exhausts similar to those of Red Bull Racing, dismantled in extremis, before leaving for Melbourne, because of their unreliability)the situation could have improved significantly. The analysis done in recent days, however, have suggested to the aerodynamics to take a completely different path, in short, to upset the car. What they are already doing, it seems with good results. Explains Stefano Domenicali:
"We know what the problems are with this machine. It is only a matter of speeding up the intervention times and solving them, of course we do not have the magic wand but I am sure we will succeed".
The important thing is not to lose too much road from the competition, meanwhile. For logistical reasons, the first useful date is the Spanish Grand Prix. At that moment, in the plan that Stefano Domenicali has in mind, the season will be decided, even if Ferrari does not officially set a certain date. The important thing is not to decide before. And from this point of view, the overall balance on the track (with only McLaren slightly stronger), together with the ten points taken by Fernando Alonso in Melbourne, can be read as a positive figure. The same cannot be said of Felipe Massa’s performances. Whose crisis, now very deep, does not help. It would be very useful now to have it available to take points from rivals. And instead Felipe does not answer. It is unrecognizable. And even those who have continued to bet on him and to protect him, begin to tire. Of course, in Maranello they know that removing a driver during the current season would risk causing a huge damage of image and would not solve much, especially if the car were not able to make the hoped-for quality leap, so they would save themselves a traumatic closure of the relationship (and proceed as planned at the end of the season). But Felipe Massa must put in his own, and return to be if not winning at least defensible. During the last practice session, which takes place on Saturday 24 March 2012, Nico Rosberg scored the best time using Medium tyres. Next up are the two Red Bull Racing drivers, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, who manage to stay almost until the end of the practice session at the head of the provisional classification. The rain, which falls just before the start of the session, makes the track slightly wet in the first minutes.
A few hours later, during qualifying, Caterham drivers Heikki Kovalainen and Vitalij Petrov, Marussia drivers Timo Glock and Charles Pic and HRT drivers Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Kartikeyan were eliminated. This time, however, the two drivers of the Iberian team manage to score a time within the limit of 107%, compared to the time of the best, Mark Webber. They eliminated the Frenchman Jean-Éric Vergne, with his Toro Rosso. Kimi Räikkönen set the fastest time in Q2, followed by Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg. The two Williams drivers, Pastor Maldonado and Bruno Senna, the two Force India drivers, Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta, Kamui Kobayashi, Felipe Massa and Daniel Ricciardo, were eliminated. In the decisive phase Kimi Räikkönen set the fastest time, but then the limit imposed by the Finnish driver was improved first by Jenson Button and finally by Lewis Hamilton, who took the second consecutive pole position in the season. Third time and second row for the Mercedes of Michael Schumacher, who will have at his side the Red Bull Racing of Mark Webber. Kimi Raikkonen finally set the fifth fastest time, but will start from tenth position: the Finn has to pay a relegation on the grid of five positions after replacing the change. Only sixth time for Sebastian Vettel with the other Red Bull, while Fernando Alonso marks the ninth best performance, but will start from the fourth row thanks to the relegation of Kimi Raikkonen. Romain Grosjean, seventh, completed the top ten, along with Nico Rosberg, eighth, and Sergio Perez, tenth. Inside the Ferrari box comes some signs of improvement after the qualifying of the Malaysian Grand Prix, even if there are still several problems.
"There are improvements, but qualifying for us remains uphill. There were problems in the first two heats and we could not fight with the best in Q3. The happy note is mainly related to the gap from the leaders, it is reduced compared to the qualifying of the Australian Grand Prix. I expect a very complex race on a tactical level, if we make a perfect race we have some chances. The rain, then, is a possibility to take into account. The start and the first corner will be complicated because there will be a lot of play. We know that we have to work hard, especially on the aerodynamics of the car. Here the performance was slightly better than Australia, which means we are going in the right direction but we obviously have to make a triple jump if we want to fight for the first rows".
While Felipe Massa is less optimistic:
"It’s not a great result but it’s also true that we don’t have a very competitive car. I struggled, I was close to qualifying for Q3 but it was not possible. I was not very happy with the car these days, we managed to improve it, there is still to improve but it starts to be in the right direction".
Massa also hopes that the chassis will work better than in Australia.
"In the last race the pace was not great, I hope to have a decent pace, enough to fight and get in the points. Starting in P12 everything is fine, anything that can help me get ahead is positive".
Instead, Lewis Hamilton smiles, with his McLaren winning the second consecutive pole position.
"It was a great weekend even if the start of the day was hard, the change in weather conditions, temperatures that have increased forced me to change the setup of the car but I managed to make good times, even if behind they pushed a lot. Am I under pressure? We all are, we all exert pressure on ourselves, there are sponsors and partners who exert pressure but I appreciated this qualification".
Sebastian Vettel is realistic. Accustomed in the past season to collecting pole position, in the qualifying of the Malaysian Grand Prix does not do better than the sixth time although, thanks to the relegation of Kimi Raikkonen, will gain a position on the grid.
"Doesn’t Red Bull look like it did last year? No. The car has great potential but we are struggling to exploit it. The car slipped a bit too much, there was not enough grip. Le McLaren? They start at the front but we saw in Australia that our pace in the race is very good, during the race everything will be possible, we know what our goal is".
Michael Schumacher is also satisfied, third in qualifying.
"We’re close enough, we’re not as far away as we were last year. Now it’s up to us to follow a good development program, work methodically and stay focused throughout the season. I think everyone is concerned about the high temperatures. We prepared, we learned the Australian lesson and we reacted. I have good feelings, we have a car that should work better in the race".
The first two consecutive rows won by McLaren in the first two Grands Prix of the season have a precise meaning. Red Bull Racing’s dominance ended here. You don’t have to wait for the race to officially say it. That can win anyone, the distances this year are very close and then we are in Malaysia where it rains a dozen times a day, but regardless of who will win 25 points, what appears now certain is that after three years of technical pursuit, McLaren designed the right car (the drivers already had them for some time, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button are perhaps the best pair of the circus) and, with the help of engineering solutions to the limit of the regulation, Since it appears that the discharges are manifestly irregular, it has succeeded in becoming a favourite. A role that was played by Adrian Newey, the genius of aerodynamics, who now has to lower his head, study rivals and try to make up for lost time. Mission far from impossible. As always happens when a regime falls there are those who love to dedicate themselves to revisions of various kinds. Among these is Lewis Hamilton, who on Saturday, to those who ask him if he is not surprised to see Red Bull Racing so far from pole position, responds by taking away the satisfaction of clarifying some things:
"Well, amazed... Let’s say that last year Red Bull took a frightening advantage from the blown exhaust. And now they don’t have them anymore".
A sentence that must be read in the light of the fact that the technical solution of blown discharges had been at the center of numerous controversies at the time. Fernando Alonso’s analysis is certainly more elegant:
"I honestly expected something like this to happen. This is a sport that advances by cycles, and it is unthinkable that there are eternal cycles. They last, like, two seasons at the most, and then someone else comes along and passes you. Perhaps only Ferrari was an exception to this rule, with Michael’s cycle. For the rest we have never seen anyone last forever".
It must be said that the situation of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton at the moment is quite different from that of Red Bull Racing in previous years. It is not in fact a pure and unchallenged domain, but rather a generic supremacy. Supremacy that might just be momentary. And not only because we are just at the second race, but also because the impression is that the others are all crowded around the British. Looking at the list of times you notice in fact that within a second there are, in addition to Red Bull Racing (where the novelty is that Sebastian Vettel seems a bit uncomfortable), both the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean, and the Mercedes of a newfound Michael Schumacher (how nice to see him back there) and Nico Rosberg. The Ferrari is missing, unfortunately, but this is another story. Sunday, March 25, 2012, at the start of the Malaysian Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton maintains the first position, followed by his team-mate, Jenson Button. Behind, Romain Grosjean recovered several positions. However, at Turn 4, after a collision with Michael Schumacher who was trying to pass him, the Frenchman ended up spinning and slipping, along with the German, at the back of the group. Meanwhile, the two Red Bull Racing cars of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, chased by Fernando Alonso, took third and fourth place. The intensity of the rain increases more and more and the track conditions worsen. During the fourth lap Romain Grosjean is the author of a spin for the second time and goes off the track, thus ending his race. The rain forces almost all drivers to return to the pits to change the tires and mount the wet ones. On the sixth lap, given the difficult weather conditions, the race stewards let the safety car enter the track. The first two positions remain unchanged while Sergio Pérez of Sauber takes third place, gaining several positions after returning for the tire change before all at the end of the first lap; in fourth place is Mark Webber and following Fernando Alonso, who gained a position on Sebastian Vettel during the pit stops. During the ninth lap, given the persistence of the rain, the commissioners decided to suspend the race by the explosion of the red flag, waiting for an improvement in weather conditions.
The standings saw Lewis Hamilton in first place, followed by Jenosn Button, Sergio Pérez, Mark Webber, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Jean-Éric Vergne, who is still on intermediate tyres, and having not stopped, he gained several positions. After about 50 minutes of waiting, at 5:15 p.m., local time, the race starts again. After four laps behind the Safety car, the race resumed its normal pace and, immediately some drivers, including Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg, returned to the pits to mount the intermediate tires. In the first corner, Fernando Alonso moved up to fourth place, overtaking Mark Webber. A lap later, during the pit stop, a carelessness of the mechanics and the traffic in the pit lane lead Lewis Hamilton to lose his position in favor of Fernando Alonso; Jenson Button, who finds himself ahead of his teammate, but behind the Spaniard, breaks the front wing in a contact with Narain Karthikeyan and is forced again to return to the pits, thus finding himself in P22. After Sergio Pérez’s pit stop during lap 15, Fernando Alonso passes the Mexican at turn 3 and takes the lead of the race, starting to distance the Sauber-Ferrari driver. The Mexican driver is followed by Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Räikkönen and Mark Webber. During lap 24, however, Nico Rosberg was overtaken by Sebastian Vettel and, during the next lap, also by Kimi Räikkönen, thus passing in sixth position. A few laps later also Mark Webber managed to overtake the German Mercedes driver, in clear difficulty due to tyre wear. The gap between Fernando Alonso and Sergio Pérez, after almost eight seconds, begins to fall after the thirtieth lap with the Mexican, considerably faster, who leads in the wake of Ferrari on lap 40, when the Spaniard returns to the pits to mount the Soft tires. The track in fact dries and the drivers are forced to make a new stop at the pits, to change the intermediate tires with the most performing dry tires.
Lead positions were not changed during the pit stops, except for Mark Webber who overtook Kimi Räikkönen. The extra lap with the intermediate and a not very fast stop make the gap between the first two to seven seconds. However, Sergio Pérez, who has Medium tyres, is even faster than Fernando Alonso and starts to approach again. During lap 48 Sebastian Vettel, after a contact with Narain Karthikeyan punctured the rear tire and was forced to return to the pits, climbing in twelfth position. Pastor Maldonado breaks the engine two laps from the end, and, for the second Sunday in a row, sees vanishing points in view of the finish line. In the final laps Sergio Pérez gets closer and closer to Fernando Alonso but, during lap 50 he makes a mistake finishing wide at Sunway Lagoon, and he doesn’t manage to worry the Spanish driver. Fernando Alonso won the Malaysian Grand Prix, followed by Sergio Pérez, while Lewis Hamilton managed to finish the race in third position. Mark Webber, Kimi Räikkönen (author of the fastest lap since his return to Formula 1), Bruno Senna who wins the first world championship points of the season for Williams, Paul di Resta on Force India, Jean-Éric Vergne on Toro Rosso, Nico Hülkenberg with Force India and Mercedes of Michael Schumacher. Sebastian Vettel remains at the margins of the points, in eleventh position, first called back to the pits during the last lap for the withdrawal, then left on track until the checkered flag. We almost forgot about it. Lost among speakers, regulations and dollars, we almost forgot how exciting a Formula 1 Grand Prix could be. Then, suddenly, on a mixed afternoon of rain and sun, from the darkness of the Malaysian jungle came out him, Fernando Alonso. For a couple of hours everything lit up and the mind went back to the epic years of Gilles Villeneuve and those of Ayrton Senna, when the TV was not yet in high definition but the chills still came in 3D, when overtaking was a man thing, and they needed liver and heart to detach fifty meters after the opponent, and not enough drs or whatever it’s called.
"The most beautiful victory".
He shouted on the radio with his voice cracked by crying his track engineer, Andrea Stella, all wet, climbed on the wall, with his face in his hands, when the race was history.
The sign displayed by the team towards the straight line stops. And never an expression of joy was more sincere, and perhaps even more precise than this. Ten minutes before the start, the Ferrari men had grim faces. They knew they had the fourth-fifth car on the grid, and by their own admission they would consider sixth place an excellent result. The problem was explaining it to the media, fans and Luca Montezemolo on Monday morning. They did not see, however, on the horizon, the black clouds that were coming to prepare the background for the great staging of the man at the wheel who becomes a hero, and overcomes the limits, his own and even those of the mechanical vehicle. It was enough to look up at the sky to understand that something beautiful was about to happen, just at that moment and right in the circuit where five months ago tragically Marco Simoncelli died. The first drop of rain was very punctual. It fell from the parts of Fernando Alonso’s car, about five minutes before the start. The others all came together a few moments later; but it was just a general test, and the only result obtained by that little hiccup was that everyone had to change the tires, put the intermediates and begin to compulsively consult the weather radar. At the start, Fernando Alonso immediately subtracted from the opponents two positions that became three within a few minutes. Then it really started raining. Which in Sepang means that the sky spills over the earth with an ocean violence and everything, every activity of men, must be immediately stopped. Imagine a car race. Safety car, red flag and all under the gazebos waiting for news. That came a long time later (Button also found time to eat a plate of penne al sugo). Half an hour or more. The clouds had passed, driven by the usual wind, and had given way to a psychedelic twilight, curiously tinged with pink. You could start again, therefore, even with the flooded track and reduced visibility. It’s for real drivers, not kids with a contract, a sponsor and a squad car. And in fact, the members of this category, have all disappeared, as if by magic, confined to the bottom of the race or parked in the pits.
At the second start, just out of the scene the safety car, there was the impression that there were two different races: one between the various drivers remained in the race, the other between Fernando Alonso and his car. Yeah, his car, the F2012, one of the most mysterious objects seen this year. A genuine paracarro, an unwavering object that is causing poor Felipe Massa to be fired, but which in the hands of Fernando Alonso was dignified in Australia, and even victorious in Malaysia. If you ask the men of Maranello for news or explanations of this phenomenon, those in response raise their backs and say, and who knows? Even Alonso can’t explain it. What is certain is that for about twenty laps the Spaniard seemed to push the F2012, far beyond its own mechanical limits, imposing a dizzying pace to the race. Thanks to which, in the space of a few kilometers, taking advantage of the chaos of the second tyre change, he defeated all, even the two Red Bull Racing, also the McLaren of Jenson Button, also that of Lewis Hamilton. In the end, in the dark, only he remained on the track, in his red car, chased - since an antagonist always wants us - by Sergio Perez, very young Mexican of the Academy Ferrari, aboard a Sauber never so fast: that little Mexican earned a second per lap compared to the Spanish car, when laps were missing more than ten and the gap was only 6 seconds. In short, continuing so the overtaking was certain. At that point, however, Fernando Alonso completed the masterpiece, transforming his race. He stopped attacking and started defending. Or rather waiting for the moment to defend himself. But there was no need for it because, having arrived furiously under the Spaniard, Perez paid the price for his enthusiasm and his young age. He made a mistake, a straight in the corner, which drove him back five seconds away, and ended the race there, catapulting Fernando Alonso to the top of the podium, Ferrari at the top of the World Championship standings and this race in the legend of Formula 1.
"It was a great surprise to win today, we weren’t competitive here, it’s an incredible result".
Immediately after winning the Malaysian Grand Prix, Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso does not hide all his joy:
"We had a good qualifying and today I was calm in extreme conditions. Congratulations to the team that made a prefect pit stop, this Sunday we will remember".
But Alonso, you know, is also the driver of concreteness. And in fact he immediately corrects the shot:
"Nothing will change for the future. We want to fight to win, the goal was not to lose too many points against the leaders and this is the positive aspect of these two races. We are a very united team and this victory will make us happy but it will not change our determination to improve the car. Now we will have some improvements on the single-seater, the team is making all possible efforts, we are a united team and this victory makes us happy".
Happiness also shared by the president of Ferrari, Luca Montezemolo:
"I am very happy for this victory: today in Sepang there was rain but in the end for us came the sun. Fernando once again raced an exceptional race, confirming himself as an extraordinary driver, in every respect. I am also very happy for Stefano Domenicali and for all his men who have had a good reward for a perfect track work, from strategy to pit-stops to car preparation. There is still a lot to work on but this success gives us that extra adrenaline that we needed at a time like this".
"How much trouble does Perez give me? Zero".
Felipe spent another opaque day at the wheel of Ferrari. The Brazilian ended the Malaysian Grand Prix in P15. As mentioned, the young Sergio Perez finished second with Sauber, behind Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari. Perez himself, in the last few days, has been approached by the Maranello team.
"I’m happy for him and his team. How much does it bother me? Zero. I think more about myself, my work. I don’t pay attention to others, if others are good for me it’s not a problem. I’m happy for him, he did a great job".
Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali uses the same concrete tone:
"It’s nice to win, but we’re not happy with the car’s performance. There is a positive emotional charge for those who have to work in Maranello and we know that we still have to improve a lot. The strategy was perfect, the World Championship ends in November. We weren’t dead before but we know we still have to work. Perez was strong, but Alonso on the radio was quiet and in the end it went well".
Looking to the future, Domenicali says:
"It is not enough to always hope in the rain, we must be able to do well in all conditions. We have to work in the insertion in the slow curves and recover some speed".
Finally, Domenicali said a word of encouragement for Felipe Massa:
"We must be close to Felipe at a difficult time for him. He is part of this team and has the maximum support of everyone. This victory must also be a stimulus for him".
Sauber’s Mexican driver, Sergio Perez, is happy for the surprise second place but at the same time admits that he could do even more coming ahead of Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari.
"Yes I could win. I knew I had to get there soon, because the tyres were degrading. Then I hit the curb and there I lost the chance to win. My pace was great, I have to thank the whole team".
Lewis Hamilton sees the positive side of the race, after he conquered the third place in Malaysia:
"I’m on the podium for the second week in a row, I don’t have to complain. Given the track conditions I was lucky to have succeeded. I must be satisfied, however. And I must congratulate Alonso and Perez, they made a great race and it would have been difficult to reach them. I wanted to score more points but I don’t have to complain".
Sebastian Vettel, on the other hand, blames the blow:
"No points for me. It didn’t go well, the race was difficult also because I lost radio communication, it becomes frustrating to lose points this way".
Expressed the warm joy, still in the car, with the hands that make the duck in front of the camera car (the exultation typical of the Spanish) and cold, half an hour later, still soaked with rain and champagne, in a press conference, Monday, March 26, 2012 Fernando Alonso says to the media:
"We are not competitive, neither in qualifying nor in the race. We were not competitive in Australia, we were not here. That’s why winning was even sweeter".
Obviously, he didn’t see it coming.
"Obviously not. Our goal was to make a few points to defend ourselves and not lose too much ground compared to the competitors. We made 25, and we are in the lead of the world. I would say that the mission is accomplished".
How did this happen?
"As they say... we maximized the potential. We made a good qualifying (feeling Alonso who defines a good qualifying in ninth position makes an effect, ed) and then thanks to cold blood and extreme conditions we found on track we made the big hit".
What’s the difference now?
"Nothing. This victory will only serve to work with more serenity. The goal, shortly, is to recover a couple of tenths and return to fight for victory on a dry and sunny day and not only in races like this".
Can you explain the race strategy?
"It was perfect. We started with the intermediates. Then we went to the extreme wet because aquaplaning was really important and at the pit stop we passed Vettel, anticipating him by a lap. Then, after the restart, we returned with Hamilton to change the intermediate. I was behind him when we entered but I went out front, I think he had a problem, but my team did an amazing job".
In the end, dry tires.
"The Mediums. They were the right choice, we weren’t sure but we saw that the others had mostly put averages. We didn’t have to invent anything, we had to copy what others did".
Have you ever won a race like this?
"Something similar had happened in Korea, rain on departure, red flag, arrival in the dark... But here we also had problems with the car. The telemetry broke and so I was forced every time I passed the finish line to read aloud the data on the petrol...".
As Sergio Perez sees it in red, he’s a Ferrari Driver Academy driver, right?
"Perez has a contract with Sauber and will respect it. I also think that soon will come the victory that today was not so far for him. But Ferrari has a very strong pair of drivers and I sincerely do not see the possibility of not racing with Felipe in the future. He had a hard time in Australia but here he was competitive again. When the car improves, Felipe and I will always be on the podium together".
The farewell between Massa and Ferrari takes place in Sepang on a day of rain and glory. Rain for all, glory only for Fernando Alonso. For him, for Felipe, no. If until Sunday there was still some possibility of a renewal of the contract with Ferrari also for next year, after yet another disappointment on the track (started twelfth arrived fifteenth) this chance is wrecked, so much so that during the evening, at the usual press conference after the race, the Brazilian, perhaps for the first time, admits to being disappointed by himself. The problem is, he’s not the only one disappointed. In recent weeks, the list of people who have stopped hoping for his performance has been very long and, by now, the only two who defend him are Fernando Alonso and Stefano Domenicali. The others, in the team, starting from the president Montezemolo have now given up for lost the driver. And if it were not for a matter of style - changing a racing driver is considered an extreme ratio, even a little vulgar - they would have already provided for its removal. All the more so because Sergio Perez, the natural substitute for Felipe Massa, now that Sauber has put in his hand a well-made car, is continuing to strike quite heavy blows: after the extraordinary recovery in Melbourne, started twenty-second and finished seventh, It was repeated in Sepang, scaring until the last lap a perfect Fernando Alonso, and missing the victory for a trivial mistake dictated perhaps by inexperience: just moments before attempting the assault on the Spanish, Perez in fact put a wheel on a curb and went long in the curve, losing those five seconds that allowed Fernando Alonso to win the race. On the point - it must be said - many people think that it was not a mistake, but the execution of a team order, keep the position, arrived just before via radio from Sauber who did not want to annoy Ferrari, team friend and engine supplier. Theory rejected with disdain a little by everyone in the paddock. Stefano Domenicali explains:
"I would have said so myself, attacking put at risk what was the best result in the history of his team".
On the Mexican driver, the Maranello team has had his eyes on him for a couple of years, so much so that he entered his program for young people, the Ferrari Driver Academy: he is fast, intelligent and is very supported by one of the richest men on the planet Carlos Slim, Mr. Telmex, which doesn’t hurt. However, the handover should not take place before next year. And not only because of the style issue mentioned above, but also because Perez has a contract with Sauber that both parties seem willing to respect. The important thing is that Felipe Massa recovers from this deep crisis, gets out of the lethargy in which he is and returns to be if not winning, at least defensible, otherwise it will be necessary to think of a plan B as soon as possible, a driver to run in his place until the end of the season. Because beyond everything, beyond the defense of Fernando Alonso :
"We are very strong, and we will go on the podium together as soon as the car becomes competitive".
And the increasingly unconvinced denials of Stefan Domenicali:
"It is not true that we exonerate Massa, let us enjoy this victory".
There is only one thing that this weak Ferrari really cannot afford: to continue racing with one driver, as it has done for some years. Peter Sauber, an F1 legend, is one of those Swiss who hate small talk. The team principal of the homonymous team sees the Italian journalist approach and already gets nervous. He brushes his beard for two days, adjusts his shirt and, abruptly, anticipates the question, almost barking.
"What is it?"
In fact, he already knows what’s going on. There is that Sergio Checo Perez, his driver, goes fast. And many, in F1, think of a resounding change in the race. What do you say? Can you do that?
"I don’t want to talk about this here".
In fact, there are many...
"In Italy you talk too much".
But if they asked, what would you say?
"That’s not gonna happen".
What if they insist?
"Sergio is a driver of my team, he has a contract, he’s fine here and we’re fine with him, so there’s nothing. We said at the beginning of the year: our drivers are Kamui (Kobayashi, ed) and Sergio and we have only one word".
Peter Sauber discovered Felipe Massa, Kimi Raikkonen and now Sergio Perez. How does he do it?
"I watch them run, I talk to them and I decide. Kimi took a test in 2000 and impressed me with his ability and personality. And I also discovered Fisichella. All the drivers we have pulled out have a good story behind them. But Perez also has a particular story".
Can you tell it?
"Some Mexican emissaries from Carlos Slim, the one from Telmex (the richest man in the world) came to us and asked us to give this boy a chance. I had never seen it before, we gave it a try: it was very fast and we said: ok, let’s try. Last year we liked it and this year is going very strong. But he is still a little young, you have to give him time".
Is he too young for Ferrari?
"I said I don’t want to talk about this".
What features affected you about Perez?
"Obviously the speed. Then it also has a good feeling of driving and is very competitive in every situation, with the dry, with the rain, with the Hard tires, or with the Soft".
Did you expect a start of 2012 like this?
"We are very satisfied. Already in the tests we noticed a remarkable improvement. Then the gap between the teams is very small. It will be an interesting championship".
Someone read in his radio message to Perez during the race ("keep the position, we need the result") a form of attention towards Ferrari and Alonso.
"No, we really needed the result. It’s obvious".
You sure you didn’t talk to Ferrari about a Perez-Massa exchange?
"Safe, 100% safe".
And now the word passes to Nicholas Tombazis, Athenian aerodynamic engineer, already of McLaren, to which Ferrari since 2006 has entrusted the design of the car. It’s up to him to carry out the mission that has imposed itself naturally to the team after the Malaysian miracle: finally giving Fernando Alonso a decent car to try at least to compete for the world title. Stefano Domenicali’s strategy, developed after qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix, when it was realized that the F2012 was a second behind the competitors for the title, is very clear. Defend yourself until the Spanish Grand Prix, the one in which even for logistical reasons it is easier to bring the most relevant aerodynamic innovations, and then try to return to competitive. There were two conditions for the plan to be successful. The first: that Fernando Alonso (and not Felipe Massa, since the Brazilian has other problems at the moment) managed to score enough points to stay within range of the competition. The second: that the team could pick up the logical thread of a car that, designed to be revolutionary and dominant, turned out to be slow. Taking up the thread meant in fact restructuring the entire design, remaking some parts, probably the exhaust (which, as McLaren teaches, remain one of the most relevant areas of contemporary single-seaters), certainly the whole front.
Created by Fernando Alonso, with a breathtaking race, the first of the two conditions, now Tombazis must try to make the second and give the Spaniard, finally, a car at the height if not the red color of the body or the talent of the driver, at least the expectations of those who do not want to throw yet another season already in the fifth race. Tombazis, swore by Maranello, is working 24 hours a day to send to the production department as many effective news as possible. Some of these - certainly not the most relevant - should arrive on single-seaters already for the Chinese Grand Prix, whereas, according to Fernando Alonso, we could be satisfied with an improvement in chronometric terms of only 0.3 seconds: As shown by the Malaysian Grand Prix qualifying rankings, the distance between the top McLaren drivers and the top competitors (Red Bull Racing, Mercedes, Lotus) does not go beyond 0.5 seconds. While the Ferrari is about 0.8 seconds. This would mean that with those 0.3 seconds you could be in the leading group to fight if not for the podium, at least for the points. That, after the victory won at Sepang, would mean increasing an already huge capital. The other news in the study in these hours should arrive for the next races, with the most important step planned for Spain. And that will be the real exam for F2012 and for Nick Tombazis. For Alonso no, his exam has already passed him. Stefano Domenicali keeps repeating:
"We think we have identified the type of work that it takes to be competitive again - We just have to speed up the processing time and try to resist in the ranking".
A literally triumphant return, in Maranello, he didn’t really expect it either. Fernando Alonso, probably, has yet to fully metabolize the weight of success in the Malaysian Grand Prix, which has however given great charge to all Ferrari after a start to 2012 anything but brilliant.
"It was nice to come back to Maranello after the victory on Sunday evening. By plane I was thinking about the race and I was hard to believe. Then, upon arriving here, I saw that there was a smile on the faces of our people and I was very pleased to see how much I wanted to work to improve the car in the shortest possible time".
The Spaniard tells what he felt during the race.
"During the race I started thinking that I could only make it after the last pit-stop. With the intermediates I was trying to earn as much as possible but I knew that, with the track drying out and with the increasingly concrete possibility of switching to dry tyres everything could change. Then after the belay I saw that Perez was going very fast and put a lot of pressure on us, but I knew that there was only one dry trajectory, not more than two meters wide: even if I got in the wake overtaking would not be easy and I hoped that I could defend myself until the end. Too bad that no friend bet on the victory at Sepang or on the record in the championship after the first two races: I think they would have gained some good figures".
Beaten aside, the victory in Malaysia and the consequent record in the World Championship do not push the Spanish driver to change his opinions.
"The real friends are all very happy and happy for this success, but no one, like the whole team, has any illusions. This beginning of the championship was not as we wanted and there is so much to do. But we don’t give up and it’s one of the features I’ve always admired about Ferrari. The next two races we will run again in defense, there is no doubt. Until we prove that we are competitive and that we can constantly fight for the podium or for victory, we must try to limit the damage, we cannot do otherwise. If there will be normal conditions, we must try not to miss too many points compared to the best: we hope to do so as in Australia and Malaysia".
In short, the fans of the Maranello team must be ready to see their car suffer in China and Bahrain, where the circus will stop before landing in Europe.
"Now I am here in Italy for a few days to do some routine medical checks at the Fisiology Center in Forlì, where my trainer Fabrizio Borra reigns unchallenged. Two or three times a year we do medical and physical checks to see the state of shape and keep the whole body under control. Then I will return home to Spain to see the family and spend a few days with them. It takes a bit of relaxation after such a demanding race as that of Sepang, then I will refine the preparation for another double, that of China-Bahrain, characterized by long trips and changes in time. Of course, I left that it was still winter and, after three weeks, we are already in the middle of spring: a nice change".
Those who want to stay updated on the activities of the Spanish pilot, has a new vehicle available.
"These were my first weeks on Twitter and I have to say it’s a very enjoyable experience. It was something that I wanted to do for a while and I dedicated myself with commitment, personally. In the past few months I’ve seen a lot of talk about me on the internet and social media, so I thought maybe it would be better to be there, right? So I can tell from my point of view what my life is, what I do when I’m running around the world, trying to make people understand what my feelings really are".
"Nothing technical, because basically Formula 1 remains a sport where confidentiality on certain topics remains important, but more a way to describe what surrounds the activity of one who does my job. For now it is very nice, especially to read all the messages that my followers write to me, the suggestions that they send me: I do not answer because I would spend all day doing it but I read them all and I will try to improve in the next tweets".
So, a simile anectode that confirms how great is the passion for the Maranello team and for the Spanish driver.
"I must say that I was very surprised first of all for the number of followers that I had immediately. When I posted the first video I was making a stop in Doha before I went to Australia and in the lounge we had bet with my manager and with Edoardo, my physiotherapist, how many would join my account before departure : I said a thousand, Luis eight hundred and Edward six hundred. Well, after four hours at take off for Melbourne, it was 39.000. Then there is the enthusiasm: there are many messages and all positive and I must say that they give me a great charge".