FISICHELLA IN CONTROL - MICHELIN WINS AGAIN
Giancarlo Fisichella maintained Renault's winning start to the season with a measured drive to victory in the Malaysian Grand Prix. After qualifying his Michelin-shod RS26 on pole position, the Italian led from the start and maintained his advantage throughout the 56 laps.
His championship-leading team-mate Fernando Alonso made a bright start from eighth place on the grid to seize third place on the opening lap, and he eventually worked his way up to second to complete a team one-two.
The Renault F1 team's executive engineering director Pat Symonds said: We had a fantastic amount of success last season, but the one-two finish eluded us throughout 2005. It is the ultimate team prize, and we are delighted to have achieved it today."
Alonso netted the race's fastest lap to complete Renault's perfect weekend. He leads the world title chase by seven points after two of the 18 races.
Jenson Button (Honda/Michelin) qualified on the front row alongside Fisichella and ran second for much of the race, but he was unable to keep Alonso at bay during the final round of scheduled pit stops. "I lost quite a bit of time behind lapped traffic," he said, "and that cost me dearly."
Even so, the Englishman finished well clear of Juan Pablo Montoya (McLaren Mercedes/Michelin). The McLaren challenge was diluted on the opening lap, when former Malaysian GP winner Kimi Räikkönen spun into retirement moments after a collision with Christian Klien (Red Bull/Michelin). The incident also ended the Austrian's chances of a strong result.
As the race entered its closing stages, Michelin was set to complete a clean sweep of the top five positions, but engine failure forced Nick Heidfeld (BMW Sauber) to retire with just seven laps remaining. His team-mate Jacques Villeneuve salvaged a couple of points for seventh, however.
Of the remaining Michelin runners, Rubens Barrichello (Honda) proved his tyres' durability by running the longest stint of the race - 31 laps - although he was subsequently penalised for speeding in the pit lane when making his only scheduled stop.
That dropped him to 10th in the final standings, ahead of Tonio Liuzzi (Toro Rosso, 11th). Liuzzi had to make an unscheduled stop for a replacement nose after clipping another car on the opening lap.
Scott Speed (Toro Rosso/Michelin) ran strongly in midfield for much of the race, but eventually stopped with a suspected clutch problem, while David Coulthard (Red Bull/Michelin) made a fantastic start from the back of the grid - the consequence of an unscheduled engine change - but dropped out with a loss of hydraulic pressure after 10 laps.
Nick Shorrock, Michelin F1 director:
"This was always going to be a challenging race in the fierce heat- but Michelin passed with flying colours. Our partner teams did an excellent job in terms of preparation and strategy - and the result speaks for itself. But for the unfortunate first-lap incident that befell Kimi Räikkönen and Nick Heidfeld's engine problem, the outcome might have been even more convincing."
"We ran three different types of tyre in the race and two of them featured inthe top three. Irrespective of strategies, all our tyres demonstrated a great blend of performance and consistency - a tribute to all the hard work that our engineers and six F1 partners carried out during the winter. This is a very pleasing result."
Pat Symonds, executive engineering director, Renault F1 Team:
"Sepang places enormous stresses on tyres, with its blend of intense heat, long corners and various traction events. Michelin worked hard in every area over the winter and the long stints we ran today were a real test. Michelin's tyres were faultless and allowed us to stick to our chosen strategies and kept the pace. There were no significant changes in balance or performance throughout the race."