The word on the Ferrari pit board flashed to driver Fernando Alonso as he crossed the Malaysian Grand Prix finish line for the win said it all.
The two-time world champion had just delivered a magical result no one thought possible: he scored a victory in the Malaysian Grand Prix driving a Ferrari that barely had the speed to make it into the third and final knockout qualifying session that decides the top 10 on the grid.
Although Alonso's ability to use the heavy rain at the Sepang Circuit to create the illusion that a dog of a car was actually a legendary Ferrari prancing horse cannot fix all the troubles with the team's 2012 challenger, it may have bought his Formula One squad some time.
“A big surprise today with the win,” he said after taking the chequered flag 2.263 seconds ahead of the Sauber driven by sophomore Sergio Pérez. “It’s a tough time for us at the moment but this Sunday we will remember.”
“We were not competitive in Australia, we were not competitive here and our goal for this first race is to score as many points as possible but today we did 25 [points for the win] so it’s an unbelievable result. This is the positive news about these first two races but coming to [the next races in] China, Bahrain, Barcelona, there is a lot of stuff coming to improve the car and this is the real job we have to do.”
While qualifying was a struggle on a dry track for the Ferrari driver, Alonso got his chance to weave something “magico” when the Malaysian Grand Prix started in a downpour — the great equalizer in racing.
In the dry qualifying session, the best time the Spaniard could manage was one that clocked in at 1.347 seconds slower than pole sitter Lewis Hamilton of McLaren, who finished the race in third place. Ironically, after ending Saturday's qualifying in a disappointing ninth, Alonso joked that his goal in the race would be to stay ahead of the Ferrari-powered Sauber of Pérez.
In the end, it was prophetic, but not in the way Alonso expected.
“Obviously, yesterday ninth and 10th for me and for Sergio — neither of us probably ever thought we would fight for victory,” said Alonso, who moved into fifth place on the all-time F1 win list with his 28th career victory, one ahead of three-time world champion Jackie Stewart.
“Here the weather conditions are quite changeable, so with the rain coming, everything changed and now we’ve found good pace in the car and good pace in wet conditions and it was a good fight. I think Sauber is doing a fantastic job this year. We saw in winter testing they made very good progress. They showed good potential in Australia; they showed super potential here, today, with a very good drive from Sergio.”
The win, combined with a fifth in the season opener last weekend, sees Alonso lead the point standings with 35. Hamilton is second on 30 points, five better than his McLaren teammate Jenson Button, who won in Australia a week ago. Red Bull's Mark Webber is fourth with 24, followed by Pérez at 22.
For his part, Pérez came tantalizingly close to becoming the first Mexican driver to win an F1 race since Pedro Rodríguez took the chequered flag in the 1970 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps. Instead, Pérez became the first Mexican to finish on the podium since Rodríguez took second in the 1971 Dutch Grand Prix. A month after his final podium finish, Rodríguez died while driving a Ferrari 512M in a sports car race at the Germany's Norisring. He was 31.
While Pérez spoke a week ago in Australia about looking forward to fighting for podiums, the Sauber driver didn't expect one to come so soon.
“The victory was quite close, but I think all in all, it’s a great day for me,” said Pérez, who made a mistake after catching Alonso late in the race and ran off the track, spoiling his chance of stealing the win.
“I knew that the car had the potential to fight in these kind of conditions, because we were not so far off, so in this type of condition, maybe the driver can make a little bit more difference and if you get the right conditions, and you make the right calls then you can be up there fighting as we were today.”
Although they were rivals in Malaysia, rumours continue to put Pérez in the second Ferrari as a replacement for the underperforming Felipe Massa. The Brazilian struggled through last season and finished with less than half the points scored by Alonso, and this year he has yet to crack the top 10 and has no points.
Speculation about who will be in the second scarlet car notwithstanding, Ferrari fans feeling buoyed after Alonso pulled a win out of his helmet might want to temper any expectations of seeing more “magico” signs in the team's near future.
“I think [the win]changes nothing, to be honest,” Alonso said.
“We are in a position that we don’t want, to be fighting to go into Q3 and then fighting to score some points. We want to fight for pole positions, for victories, so definitely in the first two races of the championship we find ourselves off the pace. We have some work to do ahead, because we need to recover a couple of tenths to be more competitive and also fight for victory on a dry, sunny day.”
Time for some Hinchmania?
There's no doubt that James Hinchcliffe has a huge task ahead of him in the 2012 IndyCar season.
If fending off the sophomore jinx in his second full IndyCar campaign wasn't enough, the 25-year-old from Oakville, Ont., must also try to make people forget about the driver who he replaced in the No. 27 Andretti Autosport team: Danica Patrick.
While answering the countless questions about what it's like to follow in the footsteps of IndyCar's perennial most popular driver is likely already grating on the affable Canadian, he responded in the best way possible during Sunday's season opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Fla., where he started and finished fourth, matching his career best result.
“I feel really good. Obviously coming into my second year with a great team, it's a team that is used to performing, so you want to perform,” said Hinchcliffe, who took three fourth-place finishes in 2011 while driving for the now defunct Newman/Haas outfit.
“I think it is a good strong starting point.”
It also might silence the questions about Patrick, since his debut result with Andretti saw him better anything she could muster with the team last year. Her top finish with the Andretti team last year was a fifth in the Milwaukee 225. In St. Petersburg last year — a race Hinchcliffe sat out due to his sponsorship deal coming together late – Patrick qualified 19th and ended the day 12th.
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