There can be no doubt that the biggest winners of the 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix were Ferrari. If you had told an F1 pundit at the end of the Australian GP—no, even at the end of qualifying in Malaysia, that a Ferrari driver would win, you would have been laughed out of the paddock!
In my opinion, Fernando Alonso is the greatest driver on the grid at the moment, and his victory in a subpar car in changeable conditions only strengthens my opinion. But it wasn’t just Alonso who brought about the victory.
Ferrari have raised the bar significantly in the winter testing by practising their stops to perfection. The team was head and shoulders above the rest of the field in Melbourne, and their professionalism shone brightly today as well.
Alonso was on the best tyres at the right times, he drove to his full potential 100 percent of the time and when his team described the victory as simply beautiful, they were not wrong.
It wasn’t all good for Ferrari, though, as their second driver floundered for a second race in a row. While Alonso was able to battle his way to a P9 in qualifying, Felipe Massa could only finish P12, and with the Italian press now firmly against him, Massa’s time at Ferrari is marked.
It didn’t get much better for Massa on race day, either, as small mistakes and a degree of bad luck all contributed to a frankly poor P15 finish.
Massa was arguably the biggest loser of the day, as his expected replacement could not have impressed more! Sergio Perez qualified phenomenally in P10 and drove a stellar race, becoming the first Mexican to finish on the podium for 41 years.
Perez is a Ferrari young driver and is hotly tipped to replace Massa before the season even finishes! I don’t think Perez could have done anything better for a potential Maranlello (Ferrari may want him to do well, but they certainly didn’t want him upsetting a huge Scuderia coup).
If Massa takes the crown for biggest loser, then McLaren won't be far behind. The team was dominant in Australia and strong throughout the practice sessions and early rounds of qualifying.
Lewis Hamilton seems to have the edge over Jenson Button when it comes to Saturday's performance, but Button has definitely worked on his qualifying and put in a great last-minute lap to close out the front row. (Hamilton had set the fastest time on his first run, and nobody had been able to top it).
I think you can gauge how comfortable McLaren are by listening to Hamilton’s new tactic for Saturday. Traditionally in this format of qualifying, the drivers would set a sighter lap on their first run in Q3 before putting their foot down for a last-gasp lap as the session draws to a close.
In the last couple of races, Hamilton has been able to set a safe fast lap in his first attempt, giving him the luxury of pushing himself "over the limit" for the rest of the session. Hamilton admitted that in Australia and Malaysia, he had to bin his second lap because he just pushed too hard.
While Button doesn’t do this, he feels comfortable enough to leave his final time to the dying seconds of the session. The confidence the McLaren men have in this car speaks volumes.
And yet, where did the front-row sitters finish? P3 and P14.
Lewis Hamilton did well to hold onto his lead in the early dramatic laps, but after the race was stopped due to heavy rain, Hamilton never really got restarted.
He was dogged by bad luck in pit stops, first when he was held up to prevent an unsafe release and then again when his mechanics couldn’t get tape off of his break ducts. (The tape is used in wet conditions to get the brakes hotter—when the track dries, the tape comes off).
Still, Hamilton has at least been consistent, and both McLaren drivers are in the top three of the driver’s standings.
Jenson Button too was hugely unlucky. After a great start, he held on to Hamilton, but after contact with the disgustingly slow HRT of Narian Karthikeyan, Button came away with a damaged front wing and never really recovered despite some great driving.
Karthikeyan caused troubles later on when his car made contact with Sebastian Vettel’s rear-left tyre. Vettel managed to limp back to the pits, but his race was finished.
I think it’s getting stupid now—these new teams have to be kicked out. I know a lot of fans love the plucky spirit of the likes of Caterham, but there has been no significant improvement in any of the new cars in three years of racing, and they only serve to get in the way of the real racecars in front.
They always drop out in Q1, making it a farce, and they rarely finish higher than P16.
I looked at the times at the end of Q1. Mark Webber finished that session in P1 with a 1:37.172. The fastest of the new teams was Heikki Kovalainen with a 1:39.306, but the HRTs were slower still setting a 1:42 and a 1:43.
Karthikeyan made it past the 107-percent rule by 319 split seconds. Enough is enough—it’s sad, but they’ve had their chance.
Like McLaren, I think Mercedes will come away pretty disappointed with their final positions. Sure, Michael Schumacher put in his best performance since his return, finishing an impressive P3, but Nico Rosberg could only manage P8 in qualifying.
Mercedes GP had been very quick in the early practice sessions, and it looked as if they were going to cause a big upset as the early laps unfolded in Q1 and Q2. Everyone up and down the paddock agrees that the Merc looks much better in qualifying trim than race spec, and so Rosberg can only have been disappointed that the full potential of his car wasn’t realized.
On race day, Scumacher’s strong start was wiped out by contact with Roman Grosjean, and Rosberg never really got going, finishing down in P13!
It seems really odd only just mentioning the World Champions. Red Bull went with a split strategy in Q3. Mark Webber did well to finish in P4 on the softer tyre, while Sebastian Vettel went for a long-game strategy by finishing P6 on the harder compound.
This was actually pretty great for Vettel, as Kimi Raikkonen (in P5) was going to have a five-place penalty for a gear box change. This strategy was cancelled out by the start on inters, but it was another largely uneventful race for the team who stole so many headlines in 2011.
Mark Webber did a great job to battle to P4, and Vettel was unlucky to have made contact with a slow HRT. Red Bull are consistent, but they are consistently behind McLaren.
It was a good weekend for the other point-scorers. Bruno Senna, Jean-Eric Vergne, Kimi Raikkonen and the Force Indias will be pleased with their results. Other losers include Roman Grosjean, who crashed out for the second race in a row, and Pastor Maldonado, who made early mistakes and could only finish P19.
The Malaysian Grand Prix was one of the best that I have seen in a very long time, and Ferrari are certainly the biggest winners. They needed a win desperately, and I’m sure men in red will be looking much more closely at the Sauber garage in the future.
McLaren lead the Constructors Championship, but when you consider how much better their car is than the rest of the pack, their result today arguably wins the biggest loser category.
Another great show from the BBC—can’t wait for their full coverage in China.
Drivers Top Three
Fernando Alonso 35
Lewis Hamilton 30
Jenson Button 25
Constructors Top Three
Red Bull 42
Driver, Qualifying, Race
Fernando Alonso Q9-R1
Sergio Perez Q10-R2
Lewis Hamilton Q1-R3
Mark Webber Q4-R4
Kimi Raikkenen Q5 (Started P10 after a penalty)-R5
Bruno Senna Q13-R6
Paul Di Resta Q14-R7
Jean-Eric Vergne Q18-R8
Nico Hulkenburg Q16-R9
Michael Schumacher Q3-R10
Sebastian Vettel Q6-R11
Daniel Ricciardo Q15-R12
Nico Rosberg Q8-R13
Jenson Button Q2-R13
Felipe Massa Q12-R15
Vitaly Petrov Q20-R16
Timo Glock Q21-R17
Heikki Kovalainen Q19-R18
Pastor Maldinado Q11-R19
Charles Pic Q22-R20
Pedro de la Rosa Q23-R21
Narain Karthikeyan Q24-R22
Kamui Kobayashi Q17-RET
Roman Grosjean Q7-RET