Who would've expected that Fernando Alonso and Ferrari, after all the doom and gloom predicted of them pre-season, would be leading the world drivers' championship after the opening two grands prix?
Alonso is carrying the hopes of Ferrari almost single-handedly in 2012 © LAT
Ferrari has endured a very troubled start to the year, and although it's the nature of the beast that you need to keep reinventing yourself to stay competitive in the complex world of F1, there will always be unexpected twists and turns to any given season. Alonso made sure he took full advantage of the chance that came his way in Sepang. It was a fully deserved victory, and Fernando came alive when the conditions changed in his favour. He's a class act, that's no surprise - a guy who has just that right amount of energy and focus. Alonso is always a threat when the opportunity arises.
Because of its long association with Formula 1, and without wishing to be disrespectful to the other teams, you can't help but feel a certain level of affinity towards the Scuderia. It feels strange to see a Ferrari languishing outside the top 10 like in Melbourne qualifying; in fact, I don't think that's good for F1.
One swallow doesn't make a summer
How long will it take for Ferrari to fix its problems? Well, if you're further away from the peak, you can make bigger steps towards it. While McLaren and Red Bull are in the process of fine-tuning, Ferrari will be able to make large jumps towards them - presuming it can discover the necessary improvements its package requires.
The victory in Malaysia has to have taken the pressure off the Ferrari management, and unquestionably given them a bit of breathing space. It's nice to get one in the bank early on, that's very valuable to a team that is expected to win races. The team won that grand prix fair and square. In highly testing conditions, that was a phenomenal victory. The track conditions might have come to them, but Ferrari needed the right tyre strategy and Fernando had to make the correct driving decisions in the cockpit.
Talking to the drivers afterwards, it was clear it had been one of those races where it was a case of simply keeping your car on the track at some points - and that final run to the finish wasn't a five-lap scamper after a late safety car, there was some serious distance covered by Alonso with Sergio Perez nipping at his heels.
Massa has lagged behind Alonso ever since the Spaniard joined Ferrari © LAT
Massa remains under pressure
The last degree of being quick in an F1 car comes from confidence. Even if you put Alonso in a Red Bull, he wouldn't be as quick as its regular drivers in his first test; it would take him a little time to find the nuances of that particular car. Obviously, Felipe Massa has been at Ferrari for a long time, so there's no excuse in that respect, but he's suffered a dip in form like you'd see in a golfer. As we saw in the US Masters at the weekend, Tiger Woods has been the best in the world in the past, but he seems decidedly average at the moment.
In Massa's case, the team will support him for as long as they can, but there comes a certain point when they have to think about moving on. Without wishing to beat-up on Felipe, you do wonder why Ferrari has gone into this year thinking it will be any different from last year. Is it because Fernando is comfortable, and that's the best way to get the maximum out of him?
We've known for a while that Sergio Perez is a star of the future, but would Ferrari be a better team if Massa was replaced by him? At the moment, I don't think so, because it's not going to challenge for the title anyway without consistent upgrades on the car.
So perhaps looking the other way, and ignoring Massa's poor performances, is the correct strategy. After all, this team has won a lot of world championships and races down the years and knows what it's doing.
Get back on track. Join today for unlimited access to all Autosport news and features.
Are you an Autosport magazine subscriber? Activate your online account
Your Autosport Plus membership includes:
- Unlimited access to Autosport's news - no monthly cap.
- Read the best motorsport features, analysis and opinion.
- Explore Forix, our comprehensive motorsport stats database.
- Choose from monthly, yearly and two-yearly packages.