As expected, the F1 pecking order has clearly been shuffled about, especially with the FIA changing many of both the Technical and Sporting Regulations for the 2012. So last time out in Australia, defending double World Champion, Sebastian Vettel was no longer the qualifying king, as he lost that to McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, who secured Pole Position, with Jenson Button helping the Woking-based squad to acheive their 150th front row lockout. And Button went on via a masterful drive, to secure the early lead in the Driver's title, with Vettel and Hamilton ending up 2nd and 3rd repsectively, meaing the "Frome Flyer" was the early leader, going into Round 2.
But once again, this weekend in Malaysia, was able to provide drama both on and off the track, with Mother Nature and electrical equipment lending a helping hand. Lotus F1 suffered most of all, as the "Iceman" Kimi Raikkonen received a five place grid penalty, due to a gearbox change, but then their hospitality unit on the circuit for the team was destroyed in a fire in the early hours of Saturday morning. This was due to a suspected faulty fridge causing the inferno, with the security guard rescuing some of the racesuits and helmets of both the "Iceman" and teammate Romain Grosjean, which meant they had to relocate next door to Marussia, sans equipment.
Qualifying provided some great entertainment, as people were still wondering how the Ferrari would perform, especially as their results in pre-testing showed a clear lack of promise, but Alonso and Massa qualified 8th and 12th respectively, improving on their grid positions in Australia. McLaren, who had made real strides over the winter with their MP4-27, once again ensure another front row lock out. The Lotus team had a better session this time, with Kimi securing 4th (demoted to 9th after his penalty) and Romain 6th, which shows that the Enstone-built E20 is proving to everyone that it is a force to be reckoned with this year. The Red Bulls of Webber and Vettel didn't really do well in qualifying, with the Australian beating his young team mate, starting 4th and 5th, with Vettel being the only driver in the top ten to start on the hard tyres.
Mercedes once again showed the pace, as the "Red Baron", Michael Schumacher, showed that he still has speed flowing through his veins, clearly out-qualifying his younger team-mate, Nico Rosberg, with the 7-time F1 champion surging ahead of both Red Bulls, and 4 places above his team mate. The Sauber duo of Perez & Kobayashi had a mixed bag of results, with the young Mexican his speed, by putting it just behind Alonso, with his Japanese team mate in 17th place. Toro Rosso's young dynamic duo also suffered mixed fortunes, with the Frenchman Vergne not even making out of Q1, ending up 18th, with his Aussie stable mate Ricciardo three places ahead. Williams duo Senna and Maldonado ended up 13th and 11th, with Petrov, Glock, Pic, de la Rosa, Karthikeyan and Kovaleinen ending the first ever complete grid of 24 cars for 2012.
The race, however, was even more dramatic, with the weather really showing its hand early in proceedings. All the drivers were on their choice of tyre ready to start, before the dark and foreboding clouds decided to change the situation. With FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting visibly unsure on the conditions, the teams took it upon themselves to put intermediate tyres on, as the heavens opened, and started covering the majority of the track with water. The race still got underway on schedule, with no delay, but what came next, clearly changed the outcome of what everyone thought might happen. Hamilton led from the start, pulling away and staying out in front, until the conditions worsened, forcing the race to be suspended on Lap, following a Safety Car period, with all bar Lotus driver Grosjean, whose race was over after ending up in the gravel after just 3 laps, as well as hitting Schumacher on turn 4 of the opening lap, meaning that the RainMeister's fortunes went from bad to worse, being spun around the other way. Not to mention that Bruno Senna also had an eventful first lap, with the front of his Williams being damaged. As the rain worsened, all the drivers were pitting for the the full wet Pirelli Cinturato tyre, until the conditions got so bad, that the drivers had to take care in case of their cars aquaplaning.
After a fifty minute suspension, the grid resumed the task at hand to complete the race, starting on full wet tyres as per regulations, with the Safety Car leading the field once again. The restart proved dramatic as well, due to the fact that the field had bunched up quite tightly, with the majority of the drivers peeling of into the pits to switch back to intermediate tyres again. Hamilton lost the lead during his pit stop, due to a rear car jack issue, putting him behind Alonso and Button. Button, however, was to suffer even more misfortune, and he collided with the left rear tyre of Karthikeyan's HRT, demolishing the right hand side of his front wing, and puncturing the Indian's tyre, forcing them both into the pits. Button would end up having 5 pit stops in total, eventually finishing 14th, his worst finish result for McLaren to date, but he acknowledged the mistake he made whilst passing the visibly slower HRT for position. And it wasn't just the Briton who ended up having an altercation with the Indian driver, as Vettel overtook him a bit too close, whilst in the latter stages of the Grand Prix, and ended up having a collision as well, puncturing his left rear tyre, and giving Narain the one-fingered salute, but not the one we saw so much of last season. Vettel was even ordered by Rocky, his engineer, who eventually realised that Sebastian had suffered a radio failure early in the Grand Prix, to stop the vehicle, due to damage suffered by the RB8 after the puncture, so the German carried on, finishing 11th.
But it was a fantastic finish for Alonso, who had been at the front for the majority of the race after it had resumed, even having to relay information about fuel and other settings on the F2012 to his engineer, due to technical problems, which meant Ferrari could not read the telemetry from the Spaniard's vehicle, picking up a hard fought 25 points, after holding off the challenge from the mighty Mexican Perez, who was closing in on the double world champion at a rate of nearly a second a lap on the harder compound tyres, when conditions started drying out for the better. Hamilton finished once again at the bottom step of the podium, after a calm and clearly, uneventful race for the Stevenage man. With Webber, Raikkonen and Senna rounding out the top six, it could be anyone's title this year, as the top ten finishers in this were comprised of nine different teams. As per the results, kindly supplied by Autosport.com, it just goes to show in the case of one Sebastian Vettel, who really did show his dark side today with his post-race comments, that these days, you don't always get it your own way.
And as the F1 adrenaline slows down after the frantic and exciting drama, both on and off the track, PopFodder will bring you coverage on the next race, being held in Shanghai in 3 weeks time. Will McLaren lock out the front row again, can Red Bull develop their car to aid their quest for three consecutive titles in a row, and has the Prancing Horse got any more surprises in store.
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