The unlikely combination of heavy rain, a red flag, problematic pit-stops and uncharacteristic errors came together to provide an early band-aid to Ferrari's problems, but it was a future Maranello man who stole the show at Sepang.
The conditions always hinted at a possible surprise result, but it would have been Michael Schumacher, one of the Red Bulls or Kimi Raikkonen that attracted the most money. Instead, just as he did at Silverstone last July, it was Fernando Alonso who came through the wet-dry conditions, using his experience rather than any recently-unlocked Ferrari performance to see off the Sauber of Sergio Perez, the Ferrari Academy driver already being linked to the second seat at the Scuderia.
The build-up to the race focused as much on the skies as on the track, as a menacing black cloud loomed from the end of the preceding GP2 race before finally beginning to deposit its contents as the cars formed up on the grid. Despite the track being wet, however, it wasn't seemed wet enough for a safety car start, and the two McLarens, having come out on top in qualifying, duly led away as the lights went out.
Perhaps determined not to get too close on the long run to turn one, poleman Lewis Hamilton and team-mate Jenson Button picked opposite sides of the circuit before entering the corner neck-and-neck. Ironically, they then nearly came together as Hamilton drifted away from the apex, but the pair emerged unscathed and slowly established a cushion over the rest.
Leading the pursuit, meanwhile, was Romain Grosjean, the Frenchman having fired his Lotus between the two Red Bulls and past Schumacher, but the returnee's luck was, once again, not to hold, this time spinning at turn four - where it was suddenly a lot wetter - and collecting the hapless seven-time champion, promoting Mark Webber into third. Further back, Bruno Senna also spun, damaging his front wing on the kerbs and leading to an unscheduled pit-stop.
Already heading for the pits were Nico Rosberg and Perez, who had both decided that it was too tricky for the intermediate Pirellis they had started on, beginning a surge for full wets as their rivals decided to follow suit. Grosjean was among those poised to change when he spun again, this time beaching himself in the gravel and becoming the race's first retirement. The Lotus driver's pain only increased when, just two laps later, the stewards decided to send out the safety car as lightning began to flash around the Sepang venue.
The order of the snake behind the Mercedes SLS AMG was already a little unfamiliar, although Hamilton and Button continued to lead. Perez's early stop allowed him to pop up into third, ahead of Webber, Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Jean-Eric Vergne, who was the only man still running on inters. Behind the Toro Rosso, Felipe Massa and Rosberg ran ahead of HRT's Narain Karthikeyan, who had started on full wets and picked off the later stoppers to reach the heady heights of the top ten.
After three laps of paddling around the 17 turns, the conditions had worsened, prompting the first red flag of the season. As a tented village assembled on the grid, in a vain bid to keep cars and personnel dry, few would have guessed that fully 50 minutes would be lost before engines could be fired in anger. Again, the safety car assumed the role of pacesetter for another couple of laps, before Hamilton backed up the pack and then bolted. All cars were now on the required wets, but it wasn't long before some were heading for the pits again.
Hamilton was a lap later than most in taking new tyres, and then overshot his marks, leading to a delay in getting the rear of the car jacked up. To compound the lost time, the Briton was then held to allow Massa to make his stop, all of which resulted in him dropping down the order. Perez led briefly as the order shook itself out, but was forced to concede as Alonso came through on lap 16.