SEPANG, Malaysia (AP) — With Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso qualifying at the front of the grid, the Malaysian Grand Prix seemed the perfect chance for Ferrari to show it could challenge for the championship.
But that all fell apart almost from the start.
Qualifying second and third, the two Ferraris almost collided as they left the starting grid and then Alonso damaged his front wing when he bumped into Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel. A lap later, he crashed out when his wing shattered.
Alonso said he was surprised to have run into the back of Vettel, calling his mishap "very unlucky." Alonso, a two-time champion, defended the team's decision to keep his car out on the track rather than pitting immediately, because the extra stop would have put him out of contention.
"It's easy to criticize this decision, but at the time it seemed like the right one," Alonso said. "It was certainly a shame, because here we could have fought with the Red Bulls, but circumstances didn't help and apart from the wisdom of the decisions we took, bad luck really played its part, when you think how many off-track excursions there were in Australia without any consequence and even here when the cars first went out on track."
Massa, meanwhile, was outmaneuvered from the start by the Mercedes cars of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg as well as Red Bull's Mark Webber. He fell as far back as ninth before recovering to finish fifth, but that result leaves him fifth in the championship, with Alonso sixth.
The Brazilian also said the team's pit strategy backfired on him, as he fell far behind the leaders early on because "starting with a new set of intermediates on a track that was very damp at some points and completely dry at others prevented me from having a good pace."
"Maybe bringing forward the first stop to fit dry tires was a slightly risky choice, because the track was still damp and this cost me time," he said. "Then on the dry track, the car improved, the tire degradation wasn't excessive and I managed to settle into a good pace. But at that point, any hope of finishing on the podium had vanished."
Team Principal Stefano Domenicali acknowledged the team's strategy hurt both drivers but he said the team had to shift its focus to the next race in China where it expects to get back into the title race.
"Clearly today's result leaves a somewhat bitter taste in the mouth given the start positions we had secured in qualifying," he said. "Given the competitive performance level of our rivals, now the important thing is to turn the page: we must put this Sunday behind us and calmly analyze the positive and negative aspects, as we immediately turn our attention to the next race in China."