2012 is a year remembered fondly by F1 fans as one of the most open and competitive seasons in the sport's history and it also produced an incredible race in Malaysia. Five years ago, the Sepang International Circuit hosted the second round of the season, instead of its current mid-season slot. At the opening round in Australia, Jenson Button took an excellent win by holding off the Red Bulls and his McLaren teammate, Lewis Hamilton. Ferrari had churned out a dog of a car for 2012, with Fernando Alonso struggling to a 5th place finish in Melbourne and Felipe Massa retiring with collision damage.
What would happen in Kuala Lumpur was anybody's guess, but McLaren were looking strong once again as they locked out the front in qualifying, Hamilton ahead of Button. Michael Schumacher was an incredible third in his Mercedes but had the Red Bulls of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel breathing down his neck.
For race day, the track was damp and most drivers opted for the intermediate tyres, but some played safe and went for the full wets. At the start, Hamilton held his first position with Button following closely behind in a McLaren one-two. Romain Grosjean got a great getaway off the line from sixth and challenged Schumacher for third. The Frenchman, though, showed exactly why he would later be labelled "a first-lap nutcase". He ran wide a Turn four, clipped Schumacher's Mercedes, turning the veteran around and would soon spin off himself.
The McLarens continued to lead in formation but the rain was intensifying and by Lap three they were tip-toeing around the circuit. Cars began to peel off into the pits for the full wets: Alonso and Button at the end of Lap four and Hamilton and the Red Bulls a tour later. Hamilton only just kept the lead from his teammate, indeed, Button almost ran into the back of Lewis through Turn 3. Sergio Perez was the first of the intermediate runners to pit for the extreme wets and his gamble paid off, as the Mexican was now inside the top three.
The rain was getting heavier and heavier, with even cars that were on the full wets aquaplaning straight off the circuit. The FIA had enough and sensibly brought out the safety car at the beginning of Lap seven. The cars circulated slowly for a few laps but the red flags were shown on Lap nine and the race stopped. Narain Karthikayen rolled the dice at the start by starting on the extreme wets and was in tenth place. Had the rain continued, he would've scored the team's first ever point but it wasn't to be.
The Second Start
After a 45 minute delay, the grand prix resumed under the safety car and the cars were unleashed once more on Lap 14. Some drivers, such as Button, chose to go into the pits straight away for intermediates, while Alonso had an amazing restart, passing both Red Bulls by Turn 1 with ease. Hamilton and Alonso both came in at the end of the first full lap. A poor pit-stop for Hamilton and a slow first lap by Button meant that Alonso now found himself in the net lead of the race, while Perez was in the actual lead, a real rarity for Sauber.
Things went from bad to worse for McLaren when Button was cut-off by Karthikayen and the 2009 World Champion lost a chunk of his front wing, forcing him to pit for repairs and ruining his race. Incredibly, when things had shaken up Perez was in second place. The Mexican was only in his second season of Formula 1 but was driving magnificently so far.
Despite their inferior cars, Hamilton and the chasing pack could not close on the top 2. Indeed, the leading pair pulled away and were firmly in a class of their own. Nico Rosberg had an excellent transition onto the inters and was running in fourth place. This wouldn't last long, though, as the German would be passed by Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Webber all within a few laps.
Alonso v Perez
Back at the front, Sergio Perez was now catching Fernando Alonso as the track neared the time for slick tyres. Sergio was catching the double world champion at almost a second a lap, his pace was mind-boggling, this shouldn't have been possible. By the time the stops came around on Lap 41 of 56, Perez was just over a second behind Alonso. When the leader came into the pits, Perez chose not to follow him in and this cost him around 5 seconds.
Perez was probably frustrated at the tardiness of his team's call but he was channelling this rage into stunning pace. The Sauber driver was lapping over a second faster than Alonso and was almost within striking distance once more by Lap 48. At the same time, Sebastian Vettel, became the latest victim of Karthikayen's carelessness. The world champion, was lapping the Indian driver and picked up a puncture while doing so. Vettel wasn't best pleased to say the least, and ended up finishing out of the points in 11th.
Sauber had never won a grand prix (if you don't count the BMW years) and nor had Perez but the chance to stand on the top step was right in front of him. He was pushing as hard as he could but Alonso held firm and then, disaster. At arguably Formula 1's hardest corner, Sepang's Turn 14, Perez broke too late, ran wide and onto the marbles and ruined what is still his best chance of an F1 win to this day. That's not taking anything away from his performance that Sunday afternoon, though, he drove magnificently that day.
Alonso would cross the line for an emotional victory, one he was later label his best yet. Perez missed out on first place but still claimed Sauber's best result in F1 and Lewis Hamilton completed the podium when it could've easily been a victory. Mark Webber was fourth and hot on the heels of Hamilton, while Kimi Raikkonen got a respectable fifth in just his second race back in the sport. Bruno Senna of Williams also achieved his best result in Formula 1 with sixth place.
In the driver's championship, Alonso led from Hamilton by five points and nobody, not even Fernando would've predicted that. This grand prix set the tone for the rest of the 2012 season as it had close battles up and down the field all race long.
So that was our pick for the best Malaysian Grand Prix ever, what's your favourite? Vote in the poll below to have your voice heard!