• Malaysian Grand Prix

Alonso holds off Perez in enthralling race

Chris Medland March 25, 2012
Sergio Perez ran wide with six laps to go and dropped off the back of Fernando Alonso © Getty Images

Fernando Alonso won an enthralling Malaysian Grand Prix holding off the challenge of the relentless Sergio Perez.

Ferrari called the perfect strategy in the rain-affected race, and Alonso didn't put a wheel wrong as he held off Perez by just 2.2 seconds. Perez could and probably should have won his first grand prix but ran wide when pressuring Alonso with six laps remaining and couldn't close the gap in the remaining laps.

Pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton was third after a slow pit stop mid-way through the race, while Mark Webber came home fourth ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and the impressive Bruno Senna. It was a bad day for Jenson Button as contact with Narain Karthikeyan dropped him to the back of the grid, while Sebastian Vettel suffered a late puncture after contact with the same HRT and finished 11th.

Rain caused problems from the very start as it began to fall 10 minutes before the lights went out. As a result all the drivers started on intermediate tyres except the HRT pair, and Hamilton held of Button off the line as the drivers found sector two very wet. Romain Grosjean made a good start but tapped Michael Schumacher in to a spin at turn four and both were forced to pit.

Conditions were treacherous in certain areas but much dryer in others, making tyre choice a difficult call. Eventually all drivers pitted for full wets, and Perez benefitted to rise to third behind the McLarens by being one of the first in. As the rain intensified the safety car was deployed and after two laps behind it the race was red flagged on lap nine, with Webber fourth, Alonso fifth ahead of Vettel and Karthikeyan up in tenth place.

The race restarted behind the safety car and after a few laps the cars were released, with Button pitting immediately, but the rest of the leaders staying out. Hamilton had a slow stop in the busy pit lane and when the pit stops all shook out Alonso led Perez, while Button soon ran in to Karthikeyan - who was yet to pit - and had to pit for a new front wing, dropping to the back of the field.

Alonso initially eased away at the front while Perez put a good gap between himself and Hamilton. Nico Rosberg was fifth but his tyres went off and he dropped back behind Vettel, Raikkonen and Webber before pitting. Felipe Massa also had trouble as he slipped backwards and pitted, dropping back to 18th.

As rain threatened and drivers stayed out on intermediate tyres, Perez started reeling in Alonso at the front on the drying track. Eventually everyone pitted for slicks but Perez and Hamilton stayed out a lap longer and lost a lot of time. Perez again quickly closed a gap of over seven seconds but after being warned by the team not to throw away second place he ran wide at turn 13 and couldn't recover the gap.

Hamilton appeared to be coming under pressure from Vettel but the reigning champion moved over too early when lapping Karthikeyan and punctured his left rear tyre on the HRT's front wing. That promoted Webber to fourth ahead of Raikkonen and Senna - the Williams particularly impressive as he climbed through the field after an early pit stop with a series of strong overtaking moves.

Paul di Resta came home seventh after a strong drive, ahead of what was a close battle between Jean-Eric Vergne - who stayed out on intermediates until the red flag to promote himself to seventh when the race was suspended - Nico Hulkenberg and Pastor Maldonado. Maldonado's engine gave up with two laps remaining, however, elevating Schumacher in to the final points-paying position.