Spray it ain't so, Jenson: Sorry Button crashes in the rain – and Hamilton’s charge stalls in the pits
00:13 GMT, 26 March 2012
Jenson Button apologised to his McLaren team after an uncharacteristic lapse of concentration during a chaotic, rain-affected Malaysian Grand Prix saw him finish a lowly 14th.
Button’s team-mate Lewis Hamilton was forced to settle for third again, despite starting on pole for the second race in succession.
A slow pit-stop cost Hamilton a lead he was unable to regain as Fernando Alonso made the most of the unpredictable weather to register a shock win for Ferrari.
Damp squib: Lewis Hamilton finished only third behind Fernando Alonso and Sergio Perez despite starting at the front
Party: Fernando Alonso (right) celebrates his victory (above) after taking the chequered flag (below)
Button, who won in Australia last week, came unstuck after the race was halted for 51 minutes following a thunderstorm which made the Sepang circuit undriveable.
The race was restarted under the safety car. But, emerging from the pits after switching to intermediate tyres, Button lost control of his McLaren, slamming into the back of HRT’s Narain Karthikeyan — the backmarker having benefited from the rain to move up the order.
The collision and subsequent puncture forced Button to pit again for a new nose and replacement tyres and he slipped to 21st place.
‘I hit the brakes in turn nine and locked the rears,’ he admitted. ‘I tried to slow the car down going into the corner but I could not stop myself from hitting Karthikeyan, who is in the corner longer than most people.
‘But it was totally my fault. I found a car in my way when I totally outbraked myself and I lost the front wing and it took a long time to change it. It was my mistake. I blew what could have been some good points and I have to say sorry to the team.’
McLaren’s disappointment was tempered by the fact that Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel failed to pick up any points despite being on course for fourth place until he suffered a left-rear puncture after also clipping Karthikeyan in the closing stages.
Indeed, if there was ever a race for McLaren to get things wrong, this was surely it, as Alonso steered his way to victory through the spray in his off-the-pace Ferrari, while Sauber’s Sergio Perez provided an even greater shock by taking second.
Getting there first: Alonso of Spain takes the checkered flag to win the Malaysian F1 Grand Prix
Leading the way: Alonso held off the challenge of Sergio Perez to win in Malaysia
The absence of the usual suspects from the big points means that Hamilton and Button head into a three-week break before the Chinese Grand Prix placed second and third in the championship behind Alonso. It was not Hamilton’s fault he had to settle for third.
Pitting from the lead with Alonso at the end of lap 14, the ghost of Felipe Massa came back to haunt Hamilton as Ferrari chose to change both their drivers’ tyres on the same lap.
As Alonso blasted out of the pits, McLaren elected to halt Hamilton’s progress for fear he would collide with Massa in the congested pit-lane and that cautious decision left him with too big a gap to bridge.
‘I wouldn’t say I was happy with third,’ Hamilton said. ‘I can never be happy going backwards, but it’s really just due to the conditions.
Slipping: Lewis Hamilton led behind the safety car but had to settle for third after a poor pit stop
Party time: Sauber driver Sergio Perez celebrates after finishing second in Malaysia
‘I was just trying to keep the car on
the track and bring home some points and I did. The goal is always to
try and be on the podium and stay consistent. So far I’m doing that
but, of course, I would like to be a little bit higher up.’
Button’s recovery mission was
hampered by a lack of grip which required yet another visit to the pits.
But despite picking up his pace, an improvement from 19th to 14th was
the best he could manage.
Struggling: Sebastian Vettel suffered a puncture and finished outside the points
‘Hopefully that’s my bad luck and my bad race gone,’ he added. ‘It was a bad day but it could have been even worse when I look at people like Vettel who could have scored good points. Sometimes it doesn’t fall into place.
Here, everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. I am amazed that I’m still third in the championship. I can only smile.’
Starters orders: Hamilton led from the front with Button before the race was red flagged
Hamilton was gracious enough to concede that even on a drying track he could not make any meaningful impression on Alonso and Perez. So spare a thought for Perez who, having hauled in Alonso once, looked certain to reel his quarry in once more after slashing a seven-second gap to the Ferrari.
But, with six laps remaining and moments after his Sauber team urged him not to try any heroics, Perez ran wide after putting a wheel on the kerb. With that, his chance of a maiden victory had gone.
Alonso admitted his win ‘changes nothing’.
Star gazing: Actor Owen Wilson (above) and retired boxer David Haye (below) were in Malaysia
The Spaniard said: ‘The win is a big
surprise because we were not competitive in Australia, nor here. We want
to fight for poles, victories, because after the first two races we
find ourselves off the pace.’
In fact Ferrari came close to losing
out to a Sauber team operating on a fraction of their budget and powered
by one of their engines.
Sauber even had to deny charges that they had conspired to allow Ferrari to finish in front.
‘We had no discussion about Checo (Perez) nor the position,’ insisted team boss Peter Sauber.
Close: Jean-Eric Vergne of Toro Rosso and Felipe Massa of Ferrari push their cars to the limit
Ferrari have many long hours ahead of them back at Maranello if they are to make their car competitive in less extreme conditions, and it is quite conceivable this may be their only victory of the campaign.
Sauber are unlikely to get as close again either, despite having produced a very tidy car and possessing a driver in Perez who looks like the perfect replacement for Massa at Ferrari next season.
Line up: Grid girls pose before the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday
But the fact remains McLaren got away with it in a Malaysian downpour as their closest rivals suffered similar problems.
They retain the edge in terms of pace but there can be no more off-days if Hamilton and Button are to make hay when the sun shines.