Alonso reigns in the wet but Perez steals the show

Unfancied Mexican holds off Hamilton to finish second in a sodden Malaysian Grand Prix

Sepang International Circuit

Fernando Alonso won a dramatic Malaysian GP yesterday, but while he and fellow podium finisher Lewis Hamilton were matter-of-fact about their performances, the star was the 22-year-old Mexican Sergio Perez, who drove the race of his life to bring his unfancied Sauber home a valiant second.

A downpour before the start created the drama that allowed Perez to challenge. Hamilton led his McLaren team-mate Jenson Button off the line and Lotus's Romain Grosjean spun himself into Michael Schumacher after bursting momentarily into third place. One team kept cool in the rain, Sauber astutely calling in Perez at the end of that eventful opening lap for full wet tyres instead of the intermediates on which everyone started. By the time the rest had followed suit – and the race had been suspended on lap nine for almost an hour as conditions worsened – Perez was up to third.

When it resumed behind the safety car, Hamilton led Button, Perez, Webber, Alonso and Vettel. Button's race fell apart after he collided with Narain Karthikeyan's HRT and damaged his front wing, Webber was swallowed up by the Ferrari of Alonso, and Hamilton fell back with a tyre change.

Perez's chances, however, were just opening up. From the 17th lap until the finish, it was Perez against Alonso, youngster against old stager.

Alonso was 7.7 seconds ahead on the 28th lap, which was half the distance. But Perez slashed that to just 1.3secs by lap 39. The atmosphere, so sodden earlier, was now electric as everyone willed him on.

Alonso dived for the pits on the 40th lap and took on medium slick tyres, Perez came a lap later and took the harder tyres, as Sauber crucially added more frontal downforce. By lap 42 the gap was 7.1secs again, and the fairytale seemed to be over, but nobody told Perez that. Lap by lap he ate into the Ferrari's advantage; by lap 49 he was only half a second behind and it seemed only a matter of time. But then he slid wide in Turn 14 leading on to the back straight, and this time the dream really was over. He managed to recover, and by the chequered flag on lap 56 the gap was down from 5.3secs to 2.2secs, but Alonso had made it.

The Spaniard was in impressive form but though he thoroughly deserved credit for grabbing the chance when he saw it, Perez was the man of the match after a truly wonderful race. And he happily savoured the greatest day of his life and the best performance by a Mexican since the great Pedro Rodriguez in Holland back in 1971, even if he was ruing a chance missed.

"I think it could have been my win," Perez said, "because I was catching Fernando and knew that I had to get him soon because in all the high-speed sectors my front tyres were losing performance. Then I ran wide, and touched a kerb which was completely wet.

"The team did an incredible job, and always called me in at the right time. Our pace was fantastic, really quick. I'm very happy for them."

Hamilton had an untroubled run to third, as Webber came through to fourth after Vettel had also hit the innocent Karthikeyan on the 48th lap and torn up his left rear tyre. The world champion eventually finished 11th and had choice words for the Indian backmarker. "To lose the race how I did is very frustrating," Vettel said. "Some people need to look more where they are going."

Alonso, world champion in 2005 and 2006, spoke with admirable understatement. "It was a big surprise today, the win. We were not competitive in Australia or here, but we scored 25 points. It's an unbelievable result, all about keeping calm in some extreme conditions when there was a lot of water initially. This is a Sunday we will remember."

But, he added, the result changed little even though it put him into the lead of the world championship from Hamilton and Button. "We are in a situation we don't want, fighting just to get into the final session in qualifying. They will be happy for the next few days in the factory, but that doesn't change the fact that we have to keep improving."

Hamilton was less downbeat post-race than in Melbourne a week ago, when he also failed to win despite starting on pole. "I think I have to be satisfied," he said. "Congratulations to Fernando and Sergio, they did a better job and were just very quick, equally as quick as me, if not quicker.

"In one of the stops I lost time with a problem with the front right, and I also had to look after the tyres. Of course I would have liked more points but I can't really complain. I feel very fortunate the way the track was today that I managed to finish, let alone be on the podium with good points."

If Hamilton, one of the six world champions on the grid this season, feels fortunate to be on such a rain-soaked podium, what is the true value of Perez's achievement? This will be remembered as a day when a young driver upstaged the stars and earned his spurs.

Sauber boss denies 'conspiracy'

Sauber team principal Peter Sauber has refuted claims that a conspiracy kept Sergio Perez behind Ferrari's Fernando Alonso yesterday.

At one stage on lap 40 Perez had closed to within 1.3secs, only for the team to not follow Ferrari's lead and bring him in when the conditions demanded a change from intermediate to dry tyres.

The theory was, as Sauber are powered by Ferrari engines and Perez remains a product of the Maranello marque's young-driver academy, that the 22-year-old was called to file in behind Alonso.

Sauber was quizzed on whether there had been any discussion with Ferrari, but he said: "No. 100 per cent no. 100 per cent nothing."

Race details

FIA Formula 1 Malaysian Grand Prix, Kuala Lumpur

Final Positions (56 Laps):

1 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 2hrs 44mins 51.812secs

2 S Perez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari 2:44:54.075

3 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 2:45:06.403

4 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 2:45:09.500

5 K Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus F1 Team 2:45:21.268

6 B Senna (Br) Williams 2:45:29.479

7 P di Resta (GB) Force India 2:45:36.224

8 J-E Vergne (Fr) Scuderia Toro Rosso 2:45:38.797

9 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Force India 2:45:39.704

10 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 2:45:41.808

11 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 2:46:07.339, 12 D Ricciardo (Aus) Scuderia Toro Rosso 2:46:08.640, 13 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 2:46:10.405, 14 J Button (GB) McLaren 2:46:11.531, 15 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 2:46:29.131, 16 V Petrov (Rus) Caterham at 1 Lap, 17 T Glock (Ger) Marussia at 1 Lap, 18 H Kovalainen (Fin) Caterham at 1 Lap, 19 P Maldonado (Ven) Williams at 2 Laps, 20 C Pic (Fr) Marussia at 2 Laps, 21 N Karthikeyan (India) HRT-F1 at 2 Laps, 22 P de la Rosa (Sp) HRT-F1 at 2 Laps. Not Classified: 23 K Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber-Ferrari 46 Laps completed, 24 R Grosjean (Swit) Lotus F1 Team 3 Laps completed.

Championship Standings:

1 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 35pts

2 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 30

3 J Button (GB) McLaren 25

4 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 24

5 S Perez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari 22

6 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 18

7 K Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus F1 Team 16

8 B Senna (Br) Williams 8

9 K Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber-Ferrari 8

10 P di Resta (GB) Force India 7

11 J-E Vergne (Fr) Scuderia Toro Rosso 4, 12 D Ricciardo (Aus) Scuderia Toro Rosso 2, 13 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Force India 2, 14 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 1, 15 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 0, 16 T Glock (Ger) Marussia 0, 17 C Pic (Fr) Marussia 0, 18 Felipe Massa (Br) Ferrari 0, 19 V Petrov (Rus) Caterham 0, 20 H Kovalainen (Fin) Caterham 0, 21 N Karthikeyan (India) HRT-F1 0, 22 P de la Rosa (Sp) HRT-F1 0, 23 P Maldonado (Ven) Williams 0, 24 R Grosjean (Swit) Lotus F1 Team 0.

Manufacturers:

1 McLaren 55pts; 2 Red Bull 42; 3 Ferrari 35; 4 Sauber-Ferrari 30; 5 Lotus F1 Team 16; 6 Force India 9; 7 Williams 8; 8 Scuderia Toro Rosso 6; 9 Mercedes GP 1; 10 Marussia 0; 11 Caterham 0, 12 HRT-F1 0

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore