It's exceedingly difficult to classify a Ferrari victory as a bit of an underdog story, but in Malaysia, that seemed to be precisely the case. The most prestigious team in F1 history was certainly off the pace in both testing and the opening round in Australia, and many had raised concerns about the competitiveness of the F2012. Yet two races into the season, Ferrari already has extended its Formula One record of 19 straight years with a victory.
In one of the most thrilling grands prix in recent memory, Fernando Alonso emerged victorious, but the results were very much in doubt until the very end. Sergio Perez, in just his second F1 season, pushed his Sauber to the limits and very nearly won the event in the closing laps, narrowing in on Alonso before running a corner wide. The pair made for a classic event, as did the constantly changing weather. Both drivers were incredible, considering their teammates finished well out of the points -- Kamui Kobayashi struggled throughout while Felipe Massa was nearly lapped by his teammate.
Perez on the podium meant Mexico had a driver finish within the top three for the first time since 1971 (Pedro Rodriguez). In addition, Perez is just the second Mexican driver, alongside Rodriguez, to post a podium finish. In between, Hector Rebaque had come the closest, finishing fourth on several occasions in 1981.
But it was ultimately Alonso's day, which came as a shock to many, including the man himself.
"I would never have bet on this win, and I would think anyone who did so must have picked up a tidy sum!" Alonso told reporters. "As I returned to the pit lane on the cool-down lap I didn't even know where to park the car: To win with all the problems we have got is something quite extraordinary."
His 28th career victory puts him alone in fifth all time and just three shy of Nigel Mansell for fourth. He flashed his entire array of skills in Malaysia and arguably had one of his best career races. Ferrari is clearly still an underperforming car relative to the top competition, and it took sound strategy as well as good fortune to ensure that Alonso was on the podium's top step.
He spent the least amount of time on pit road in comparison to the usual contenders, and when asked by reporters what the win did for his team, he responded, "I think it changes nothing, to be honest. We are in a position that we don't want, to be fighting to go into Q3 and then fighting to score some points."
Filling out the podium was Lewis Hamilton, again finishing third after starting from the pole. Hamilton paced the first two practice sessions, which has recently been a bad omen at the track, as no driver has led either first or second practice at Malaysia and then won the event since Michael Schumacher in 2004. Drastic weather changes certainly play a factor, but the track itself also provides ample overtaking opportunities, with long straights and a wide racing surface. The two have combined to make this event rather unpredictable throughout the years.
An additional element surprised in the late going, when Sebastian Vettel slashed his tire while overtaking Narain Karthikeyan. Vettel was primed for a finish just outside the podium, but instead he finds himself trailing leader Alonso by 17 points. He has been worse off before, however. In 2010, Vettel trailed the leader (again Alonso) by 25 through two events and still managed to finish the year on top.