Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso held off a charge from Sauber driver Sergio Perez to take a surprise win in a rain-affected Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday, with Lewis Hamilton in third.
The result leaves Alonso leading the championship on 35 points, five ahead of Hamilton, who is in turn five ahead of his McLaren teammate Jenson Button, who won the first race of the season in Australia but finished 14th in Malaysia.
Russia’s Vitaly Petrov finished 16th after a largely quiet race in which he defended his position from Button and Ferrari’s Felipe Massa for several laps.
Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel retired on the last lap after he suffered a puncture while lapping Narain Karthikeyan’s HRT, who was earlier hit by Button.
Ferrari designed a radical car for 2012 and were far off the leaders’ pace in Australia, but Alonso benefited from the team’s tyre strategy in Malaysia when the race was stopped for half an hour due to torrential rain, before taking the lead after the restart, which he held until the end.
“A big surprise today, the win. I think we were not competitive in Australia, we were not competitive here,” he said. “An unbelievable result.”
The win did not mean the car was faster than those of the favorites, he said.
“We’re in a position that we don’t want to be in, fighting to get into Q3 [the final stage of qualifying], fighting to score points.”
Perez recorded his best-ever F1 finish and Sauber’s best as an independent constructor, but could have won when he homed in on Alonso, only to run wide and lose time six laps from the finish.
“I was catching Fernando, it was near the end of the race,” he said.
“I touched the kerb and I went onto the dirty side, it was really wet and I lost the win, probably.”
His result is the best finish for a Mexican driver since Pedro Rodriguez came second in the 1971 Dutch Grand Prix.
Perez is rumoured to be in line to take Massa’s Ferrari seat after a string of poor results from the Brazilian, who finished 15th, but Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali denied the rumors after the race.
Hamilton said that he was broadly satisfied with third place, after coming second in Australia.
“Of course we would have liked to have more points. I can’t really complain. I’m on the podium for two weeks in a row.”
The next race of the season is in China on April 15.
1: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
2: Sergio Perez (Sauber)
3: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren)
4: Mark Webber (Red Bull)
5: Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus)
6: Bruno Senna (Williams)
7: Paul di Resta (Force India)
8: Jean-Eric Vergne (Scuderia Toro Rosso)
9: Nico Hulkenberg (Force India)
10: Michael Schumacher (Mercedes-Benz)
11: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
12: Daniel Ricciardo (Scuderia Toro Rosso)
13: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes-Benz)
14: Jenson Button (McLaren)
15: Felipe Massa (Ferrari)
16: Vitaly Petrov (Caterham)
17: Timo Glock (Marussia)
18: Heikki Kovalainen (Caterham)
19: Pastor Maldonado (Williams) (Retired)
20: Charles Pic (Marussia)
21: Narain Karthikeyan (HRT)
22: Pedro de la Rosa (HRT)
23: Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber) (Retired)
24: Romain Grosjean (Lotus) (Retired)