2009 Malaysian Grand Prix – Click above for high-res image gallery
After last weekend's Australian Grand Prix resulting in a brand new team claiming a devastating 1-2 victory and the incumbent world champion retroactively disqualified from the race, we knew right off the bat that 2009 would be a stormy season in Formula One. But nobody could predict what would happen next.
The track was dry earlier this morning as the green flag waved over the starting grid at the Sepang circuit on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, but dark clouds loomed ominously in the Malaysian skies as spectators, commentators and teams alike wondered if the notoriously temperate Southeast Asian weather would hold back long enough to complete the race distance. Follow the jump to find out.
Even before the skies turned cloudy in Malaysia, the big question on everyone's mind was whether the erstwhile backmarkers could repeat their impressive performances from the season opener in Australia while the former frontrunners would be left out once again to dry. After varied results in Friday and Saturday test sessions at Sepang, it was Brawn GP and Toyota that outshone Ferrari and McLaren once again in qualifying for the starting grid: After winning last weekend's race from pole, Brawn's Jenson Button took pole position once again, with his team-mate Rubens Barrichello one row back in fourth, while Toyota's Jarno Trulli qualified second, with wingman Timo Glock in fifth.
Meanwhile Ferrari's former champion Kimi Raikkonen qualified best out of the former frontrunners in 9th, ahead of McLaren's Lewis Hamilton way back in 13th and Heikki Kovalainen in 14th as Ferrari's Felipe Massa suffered from poor strategy and qualified an embarrassing 16th. With the underdogs proving their mettle, the stage was set, but by the time the cars rounded the first corner on race day, all bets were off.
Once the starting lights flashed green, Williams' Nico Rosberg jumped up the grid to first place, pushing Button wide and into fourth place behind Trulli and two-time former champion Fernando Alonso's Renault, which surged up the field from the 10th spot on the starting grid. Button, running on a light fuel load, managed to pass Alonso again, whose car in turn held back the rest of the field around the opening laps. Ross Brawn's strategic expertise helped Button recapture the lead during the first round of pit stops, but with those storm clouds growing darker, tire strategy became the make-it-or-break-it for several key players in the race.
By lap 18, Ferrari took a gamble and put Raikkonen on extreme wet tires earlier than everyone else. That turned out to be premature, as Kimi lost as much as 20 seconds per dry lap against his competitors. A few laps later, Raikkonen was already hopelessly behind when the heavens opened up with a torrential downpour, leading the rest of the field to head into the pits for the extreme wet tires, too, with one exception: Toyota's Timo Glock opted for the intermediate rain tires, helping him gain ten seconds per lap on the rest of the field before they, too, switched to intermediates. By then Glock was already in the lead.
The rain proved to be an unpredictable element, prompting the field to switch back again to the extreme wet tires, but even though those rain tires can move as much as 61 liters of water per second at speed, they still weren't enough to cope with the rapidly flooding track. Cars spun out on the wet tarmac one after the other until, on lap 31, race officials had no choice but to wave the red flag and put the race on hold. The cars lined up on the grid in the order which they held by the last complete race lap, and there they waited for a full hour for conditions to clear up enough to resume racing. But they never did, and the race was called as it stood.
Jenson Button, who was in the lead when the race was stopped, was declared to have won, joined on the drenched podium by BMW's Nick Heidfeld and Toyota's Timo Glock, rounding out a proud day for German racing fans: Button powered by Mercedes, Heidfeld (himself a German) by BMW and Glock (also German) racing for Cologne-based Toyota.
Jarno Trulli (Toyota), Rubens Barrichello (Brawn), Mark Webber (Red Bull), Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) and Nico Rosberg (Williams) rounded out the points. However because the race was stopped halfway through, each was awarded only half the points. Neither Ferrari finished in the points and Hamilton's team-mate Kovalainen was knocked out before the end of the first lap, meaning that, after two races down, the Finn has yet to complete a single race lap this season.
Rain or shine, the race was a triumphant reaffirmation of the astonishing pace and competence of the Brawn GP outfit, which now holds a commanding lead of 25 points in the constructors' championship (ahead of Toyota's 16.5), and whose drivers hold first and second places (Button with 15 points and Barrichello with 10) in the drivers' standings. Tune in again in two weeks' time for the Chinese Grand Prix from Shanghai to see if Brawn GP can make it a hat trick and slay the giants once again.