The Malaysian Grand Prix was hit by a storm of monsoon proportions that suspended the race and resulted in the remaining laps being impossible to run. Jenson Button had won in Australia the previous weekend but failed to take the chequered flag in Sepang. Instead, he learned of his win whilst sitting in his car on the grid waiting for a resumption that never came. Half points were awarded for only the fifth time in the sport’s history, with McLaren and Ferrari earning only one point between them. Kimi Raikkonen’s image, sitting in civvies, eating an ice-cream after the stoppage while his Ferrari team worked on his car, left a lasting impression from an unusual end to an extraordinary afternoon.
The disqualification of Lewis Hamilton from his Melbourne third place had dominated the headlines, and McLaren was under fire from all sides. Ferrari and McLaren struggled in the qualifying sessions, with Brawn upsetting the established order, its double diffuser having been passed legal in Australia. Drama came in Q1 when both Ferrari drivers stood on their times from their first runs, whereas Felipe Massa got bumped down to 16th, and out of Q2. The second session saw Hamilton take 13th, and Heikki Kovalainen 14th, neither man progressing into the vital Q3 session.
Despite struggling in practice on Friday, Jenson Button got it just right to take his second pole in two attempts. Trulli, the Toyota driver, was Jenson’s closest challenger. However, a 10-place grid penalty and a clash with BMW’s Robert Kubica in Australia saw Sebastian Vettel drop down to 13th. Rubens Barrichello was fourth in the other Brawn but moved back five places after needing to take a new gearbox.
The local start time was changed from 3pm to 5pm, for the benefit of European TV audiences. After a long wait, the race started in dry conditions, but with rain in the air. Button had a tough time from the start, being beaten away by the Williams of Nico Rosberg, as well as Trulli and the KERS-boosted Renault of Fernando Alonso. The three cars equipped with the double diffuser left everyone else trailing, with Button carrying extra fuel in qualifying. The true potential of the Brawn was evident as he recorded a best lap that was a full second quicker than those of the team’s main challengers.
The first drizzle arrived, and Button initially extended his advantage with some great driving on slicks on a gradually soaking track. As the rain became heavier, and he made a fourth stop to go back to extreme wet tyres. Ordinarily, that sort of indecision would have scuppered his chances, but just about everything else was equally confused about what tyres to take. Charlie Whiting took the decision to send out the safety car, and that was followed almost immediately by a red flag. The field stopped on the grid, and the race went into suspended mode.
Jenson Button was the leader, but there was confusion as to the exact order behind. Officials sorted out who was where when the flag came out. With the rain abating and drivers either sat in their cars or mooching nervously around the grid, Raikkonen assumed his day was done and enjoyed an ice cream. The Ferrari team continued to work on his car in the hope he could restart. There was not enough daylight left to justify restarting the race, with the decision causing questions about moving the start time so late. Nevertheless, Button alighted from his car and kicked off his celebrations.
Officially, the race had lasted just 55 minutes, with only 31 of the scheduled 56 laps run, making it the third shortest in history, after Australia 1991 and Spain 1975. The premature conclusion meant that Button and the rest of the top eight…