Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso blamed “extremely bad luck” for his second lap retirement in the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang.
The double world champion, who was competing in his 200th race, moved up a place to second at the start but broke his front wing when he tapped leader Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull at turn two.
With conditions still a few laps away from being suitable for dry weather tyres, the team decided to keep Alonso, 31, out on track to avoid having to make two stops in four laps. It was a mistake; the loads on the wing were too much for the damaged pillar.
The wing collapsed on the start-finish straight on the second lap and became lodged underneath the Ferrari. Alonso no longer had control of the car and went straight on at turn one and into the gravel, ending his race.
Given everything that he and the team had said in the build up to the season about the importance of consistency, it was a very rash gamble, when he could still have scored perhaps 10 or more points on a chaotic, pit-stop laden race.
Alonso said: “It was a very, very small touch, but enough to damage the front wing a lot. It was extremely bad luck in my opinion. We were constantly talking on the radio on the first lap. The car was behaving more or less well in the first two sectors and from the television the team saw damage.
“But we knew on lap three or four we would switch to dry tyres and if we could make it to then we could save 20-30 seconds in the race. To stop on lap one and lap three for the tyres is a little bit too much of a penalty.
“They said I didn’t have the front wing performance I should expect, but to see how the problem was going to develop on the next lap. Unfortunately on the back straight the front wing dropped. At that point we were five seconds before the pit entry and we didn’t make it.
“Looking now, after the incident, it was the wrong decision, but I think it was extremely unlucky – a combination of things that happened today.”
Alonso, who finished second in Australia last weekend, said that if he hadn’t retired, his Ferrari had the pace to challenge the Red Bulls for victory.
“I think we had a good car and I don’t think we were too far from the Red Bull pace, especially in the race,” he said. “They didn’t have the easiest weekend here in Malaysia. No one was especially quick, so I think we could really fight for the win with the Red Bulls.”
Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali said it was the team’s decision to stay out with damage rather than pitting.
“We took a risk that didn’t pay off,” he said. “The decision was from the pit wall. Obviously Fernando can feel it in the car, but he could not see the damage.
“We take the responsibility as the team. The ‘kiss’ [on Vettel’s car] was unfortunate because we could have taken good points from this race. Fernando’s not happy to come away with zero points, but he’s positive and looking forward because he knows we have something to play with.”
Felipe Massa, 31, who started second but finished fifth, said that graining on his front tyres in wet conditions ended his hopes of challenging for a podium.
“I lost a lot of positions because of graining and a lot of time compared to the guys in front,” said Massa. “In the dry it was fine and the pace was good so if it was not for this problem at the start of the race maybe I would have had a chance to fight for the podium.
“When you start second and you finish fifth you cannot say you are happy. But if you see what happened at the beginning of the race then it could have been worse as well. It is important to bring points home and fifth after the first stint was not so bad.”