Stellar racing at Sepang

Opportunism is the defined as the practice of seizing an opportunity the instant it is presented. The 14th edition of the Malaysian Gp’s offered opportunities were quickly snapped by two eager competitors.

Rain, they say, is a great leveller in motorsport. In Formula 1 it can be extended a bit further – rain is great car leveller. As is usual in wet conditions a driver with a bit more chutzpah and temerity can often create a great upset; only this time it was two of them – Fernando Alonso and Sergio Perez.

Sepang, notable for its changeable weather conditions, saw the heavens open enough for race director Charlie Whiting to hang out the red flag and stop the race. Before the race was halted Lewis Hamilton led teammate Button cleanly off the front of the grid as third placed Schumacher was bunted into a spin by Lotus’ Romain Grosjean. As the intensity of the rain increased the two McLaren’s led the way from Sauber’s Sergio Perez and Fernando Alonso. Enter the red flag.

The delay didn’t last for too long and the race was re-started behind the safety car. As conditions remained treacherously tricky Jenson Button would be the man to bank on; though this time around it wasn’t the case. The 2009 champion bizarrely lost his front wing against the rear wheel of Narain Karthikeyan’s HRT and subsequently dropped out of contention and out of the points; yet again cementing the unpredictable nature of Formula 1.

It’s never truer in F1 that you have no clue what’s going to happen than when it’s raining.  As the race settled down after the re-start it was Fernando Alonso in the lead of the race followed by the Sauber of Sergio Perez. It’s no secret that Ferrari have designed a big a toad of a car for 2012 and in dry conditions it looked utterly hopeless; even in the esteemed hands of Fernando Alonso. Nevertheless, the Ferrari proved easily the fastest car in the wet conditions. Surprisingly Lewis Hamilton, a bit of a wet-weather specialist, never featured in this race but for his brief appearance at the sharp-end during the first few laps of the race. Granted a third place finish is still a good performance but with the kind of pace that McLaren have been showing Hamilton should have been closer to the front.

There can be no question that Sergio Perez was the driver of the day. Almost audaciously he ran, comfortably, in second for the majority of the race distance. The Mexican was markedly faster than Alonso but a slight error towards the closing stages of the race cemented him in second-place. Nevertheless, it was a sensational performance from the 21 year old GP2 graduate and it won’t go unnoticed. Felipe Massa’s time at the Scuderia is running out rather quickly and rumours have been abound that Perez may be the likely replacement for the Brazilian. If you consider the fact that Alonso, at some stages, was lapping close to three seconds per lap faster than Massa then Sergio Perez could literally have driven himself into a Ferrari seat with this stunning performance. Well done Checo!

Mark Webber finished a solid fourth while teammate Vettel dropped out of the points as a late race puncture dropped the reigning champion from fifth to eleventh. Despite only two of the season’s twenty races being completed its safe to say that Red Bull are not going to dominate the way to which they have become accustomed. The prodigious qualifying speed Vettel had in 2011 has evaporated and McLaren seem able to match the RB8’s race pace on merit. Together it all makes for a cracking season of close racing.

He may not be totally worthy of being named driver of day the day but Kimi Raikkonen certainly merits a mention. Such has been the impressive nature of his return to F1 that his exploits go a little unnoticed. In Malaysia he recovered from a five place grid penalty and somehow brought his Lotus home in fifth despite never having driven Pirelli tyres in wet conditions. In only his second race back Raikkonen has shown his natural talent and underlined it with the fastest lap in the Malaysian Gp. A podium finish may be just around the corner.

To prove again how little impact pre-season testing truly has Mercedes has scored a solitary point after two grand prix; after looking like the team most likely to trouble the frontrunners. A good showing in qualifying was little help as Schumacher finished 10th to Rosberg’s 13th.

After two races of the 2012 Formula 1 season Fernando Alonso finds himself, unbelievably, in the lead of the driver’s championship. Nonetheless, the Spaniard refused to get ahead of himself in the post-race press conference and underlined that the result didn’t mean much as the team were still not where they want to be if conditions remained ‘normal’. Good on Fernando for the straight-talk; as brilliant a drive as it was it was dazzling opportunism at work.  Bravo Fernando!