Ferrari's Fernando Alonso has rocketed into the lead of the world championship after an unexpected victory in a rain-affected Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday. An early-race safety car and red flag period shuffled the order, allowing Alonso to jump into the lead, before driving an error-free race to take the victory ahead of Sauber's Sergio Pérez who drove an equally impressive race to take his first F1 podium.
Rain just minutes before the start forced everyone to start on intermediate tyres, before the rain slowly intensified to the point of needing Pirelli's extreme wet weather tyre to stay on-track. Pérez was the first to take the gamble, pitting on the first lap for extremes, thereby getting a four-lap head-start on the front-runners, effectively promoting him to third place.
Polesitter Hamilton managed to keep his lead despite waiting until lap 5 to pit for extremes, with Jenson Button holding onto second place. The rain continued to intensify however, forcing the FIA to scramble the safety car and then throw a red flag to wait for conditions to improve.
After over 50 actionless minutes the race finally resumed, but the track was now ready for intermediates again, prompting another scramble to the pitlane. Leader Hamilton however struggled with a slow stop, costing him two places to Alonso and Pérez. Alonso, who pitted from fourth behind Hamilton, Pérez and Webber, emerged in the lead after a quick stop and out-lap, overtaking Pérez on-track.
Alonso then steadily built a lead over Pérez, growing it to a maximum of 7.8 seconds on lap 30, but as wear started to take hold on the Spaniard's intermediates he was soon under pressure again from the Mexican. Pérez set a sequence of seven fastest laps, closing the deficit to 1.3 seconds, but by then the track was ready for slicks and, having seen others switch to slicks and lap considerably quicker, Alonso dove for the pitlane for his own set.
Pérez stayed out an extra lap however as the threat of a quick rain shower remained. The decision cost him dear, and the extra lap allowed Alonso to re-emerge with a seven-second advantage. Pérez quickly closed that down again, but an error in running wide at turn 14 on lap 50 put paid to his chances of catching the double champion and the pair crossed the line two seconds adrift.
Polesitter Hamilton hung onto third place under increasing pressure from Webber, with the Australian having been promoted to fourth when team-mate Sebastian Vettel had his left-rear tyre punctured by Narain Karthikeyan in his lapped HRT. Vettel was forced to pit for new tyres, dropping him outside the points, while the incident cost Karthikeyan a 20-second penalty, applied after the race.
2008 world champion Kimi Räikkönen continued his points-scoring return to F1 as he notched up fifth place in the Lotus, while Williams' Bruno Senna enjoyed his best F1 finish to date with sixth place. Another to record his best F1 finish was Toro Rosso rookie Jean-Eric Vernge who came home in eighth. Others to score points were Paul di Resta, Nico Hülkenberg and Michael Schumacher.