SEPANG, March 25 — Ferrari's Fernando Alonso scored a dramatic victory in the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday when the Spaniard denied Sauber's Sergio Perez a first Formula One triumph in a race turned on its head by the weather.
The race started in torrential rain and was stopped for 51 minutes after eight laps but Alonso took charge on its resumption to register a shock 28th career victory in a car that had been outpaced in qualifying in the opening two rounds.
"A big surprise today the win," Alonso told reporters. "Our goal was to score as many points as possible. An unbelievable result, a great job from the team."
The victory took the double world champion past Jackie Stewart into fifth in the all-time win standings but Alonso will enjoy the moment while he can, aware that his Ferrari remains well off the pace in dry conditions.
"We maximised the potential in our hands," added Alonso, who climbed to the top of the drivers' standings on 35 points.
"The team deserve this win. It's a tough time for us at the moment but this is a Sunday we will remember."
Pole sitter Lewis Hamilton repeated his third place finish from the opening race of the season in Melbourne last weekend, with Red Bull's Mark Webber in fourth and 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen fifth in his Lotus.
Australia race winner Jenson Button and current world champion Sebastian Vettel, who was running fourth at the time, both suffered mid-race collisions with the HRT of Narain Karthikeyan and finished outside the points.
Alonso started the race in eighth place but worked his way up to fifth by the red flag, passed Webber soon after the resumption and capitalised on a well-timed pit stop to get past Hamilton.
He overtook Mexico's Perez on the 17th of the 56-lap race and after initially dropping back, the Sauber closed to within a second of the Ferrari in the late stages and was on course to secure an unlikely victory.
His dreams of becoming the first Mexican to record a Formula One win since 1970 were shattered with five laps remaining, however, when he ran wide on turn 13 and slipped too far behind Alonso to catch him before the chequered flag.
"I knew I had to get him soon because in all the high speed corners I was losing my front tyres running behind him," said the 22-year-old Perez, who was ordered by Ferrari-powered Sauber to "be careful" just before the error.
"Then I ran wide in the quick left hander. I touched the kerb and I went onto the dirty side of the track. It was completely wet and I lost the win."
Nevertheless it was Sauber's best result as an independent team as Perez scored more points in one race than he did all of last season, adding fuel to paddock rumours that he could replace Felipe Massa (15th) at Ferrari before the end of the season.
Hamilton had looked dejected after he slipped from pole to third in Australia but after repeating the trick for a second Sunday in a row, the 2008 world champion was delighted to just finish in the points.
"I can't complain as I'm on the podium for the second weekend in a row. I was able to stay out of trouble with the conditions. We did a great job," he said.
"We were a little unfortunate losing a lot of time at a couple of pit stops. Otherwise, I was just trying to hunt the leaders down but they were both massively quick."
The Mercedes duo of Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg flattered to deceive for a second race in a row, struggling all day in the conditions to finish 10th and 13th respectively after looking quick in qualification.
The unpredictable nature of the race gave the rest of the top 10 an unfamiliar look with the Williams of Bruno Senna crossing the line in sixth, while Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne finished eighth between the Force Indias of Paul Di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg.
The third grand prix of the 20-race season takes place in China on April 15. — Reuters