McLaren responded to Ferrari's dominance of Australia and this Malaysian Grand Prix weekend with a triumphant one-two race finish, Fernando Alonso leading Lewis Hamilton over the line. McLaren got everything right while Ferrari just couldn't get...
McLaren responded to Ferrari's dominance of Australia and this Malaysian Grand Prix weekend with a triumphant one-two race finish, Fernando Alonso leading Lewis Hamilton over the line. McLaren got everything right while Ferrari just couldn't get it together: Kimi Raikkonen was a decent but less-than-expected third and Felipe Massa a disappointing fifth. The victory was McLaren's first since the 2005 Japanese Grand Prix.
Polesitter Massa was quickly overthrown by the McLarens at the start, Alonso leaping into the lead and Hamilton just as quickly dispatching both Ferraris to gain second. Massa was third and Raikkonen fourth, while BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld held fifth. Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella made a jump up to eighth and teammate Heikki Kovalainen was not far behind, gaining 10th.
The second BMW Sauber of Robert Kubica improved one place to sixth and Williams' Nico Rosberg lost one to seventh. The Spykers had a dismal race day, Adrian Sutil spinning off into the gravel after possible contact with the Honda of Jenson Button at the start and Christijan Albers later retired with a jammed gearbox and a copious amount of fire extinguishers in the pits later on.
"Adrian had a problem at the rear of the car, which caused him to have contact with a Honda through the fourth corner, while Christijan's car got stuck in first gear," said Spyker technical chief Mike Gascoyne. "We're yet to ascertain the reason for the failure, but as he ran at very high revs for a long time to get back to the pits, the exhaust got hot and the bodywork caught fire."
Toro Rosso's Tonio Liuzzi also had an early problem after contact with the Super Aguri of Takuma Sato and took an unscheduled pit stop. The Red Bull of David Coulthard was up to 12th, Super Aguri's Anthony Davidson to 15th and Button was in 16th. At the front it was Alonso leading from Hamilton, Massa, Raikkonen and Heidfeld.
Massa was desperately having a go at Hamilton and they went side by side down the pit straight but Hamilton held the Ferrari off. Meanwhile, Raikkonen was equally attacking Massa but not getting past. Massa got the better of Hamilton at turn four then the McLaren man took the position back and Raikkonen had a go at Massa but his teammate held strong.
Massa was all over Hamilton's car but time and again the young Brit drove defensively enough to keep the Ferrari behind. Finally Massa outdid Hamilton but was too over-enthusiastic about it and spun into the braking zone. Off on the grass, he lost two places and regained the track fifth behind Heidfeld.
There was an awful lot going on at the front but further down the field Rosberg was harassing Kubica and the second Williams of Alex Wurz was up to 14th after passing Scott Speed's Toro Rosso. Raikkonen was closing on Hamilton but not enough to do anything and Massa was likewise homing in on Heidfeld but equally stuck.
The first 10 laps seemed to last a lifetime with all the action but eventually it quieted a bit. Kubica started dropping down the field rapidly with his gearbox giving him problems and at the front Alonso was already belting out fastest laps, 13 seconds ahead of Hamilton by lap 15.
Fisichella and Toyota's Jarno Trulli were scrapping over seventh and as the first round of pit stops approached McLaren boss Ron Dennis was flapping about in the pits with a great deal of vigour. Apparently Alonso's radio link had been lost and the team was not sure if the Spaniard had seen the pit board indicating him to come in.
Dennis was hanging out pit boards, wrestling with his headphones, jumping about the place as if he'd been plugged into the national grid. It was quite entertaining to watch. Massa was the first of the front-runners to pit, followed by Alonso and Raikkonen. The Ferraris appeared to be fuelled for quite a long middle stint.
That left Hamilton in the lead and Heidfeld second until they also took their first stops and Alonso returned to the front. Hamilton was flying when he got back on track, over half a second a lap quicker than Alonso but the champion responded and their lap times became more or less the same. Raikkonen was still third, followed by Heidfeld, Massa, Rosberg, Fisichella and Trulli.
The second round of pit stops started in the midfield and Coulthard was the next retiree with some kind of brake problem. Hamilton was the first of the front runners to stop after being the last in the first round of visits to the pits. He went out on the harder tyre compound and Alonso, Massa and Raikkonen were next to go in.
Sadly, Rosberg pulled off onto the grass with a currently unknown gremlin, suspected hydraulics. A big shame as he did a really good job this weekend. With the harder tyres Hamilton was not on his previous pace and Raikkonen was closing him down lap after lap. Kubica spun into the gravel then struggled out, his BMW not working at all for him.
In the final laps Raikkonen was gaining and gaining on Hamilton but just ran out of time. Alonso led his teammate by 17 and a half seconds for the win; McLaren really has responded well to Ferrari's seeming dominance and it was good to see something other than a red car charging off into the distance. And yes, okay, okay, Hamilton is good!
"To win today after coming second in Australia with my new team is like a dream come true," said Alonso. "I'm so happy and pleased with the progress we as a team have made since we unveiled the MP4-22 in mid-January. We knew the key to victory today was to make a good start and get in front to control the race which we achieved. To have Lewis in second place makes today's result even better."
Hamilton did an excellent job but it was not easy. "That was the toughest race of my career," he remarked. "I was defending my position for a lot of the time, and I'm so pleased that I managed to keep both Felipe and Kimi behind me. However it was hard work and it was just so hot inside the cockpit. A big thank you to the team who have worked so hard both with the car but also preparing me for the past months."
It just didn't work out for Ferrari on race day, outdone by the McLarens at the start and never able to gain ground afterwards. Given a few more laps Raikkonen might well have got past Hamilton but we'll never know. Massa has improved greatly from his Sauber days but evidently that little bit of impetuousness is still there.
"A day of mixed feelings," a grumpy-looking Raikkonen said. "On the one hand I am happy to have picked up six points, on the other, I am disappointed that the race did not live up to my expectations. This weekend we had to make some compromises on the car and that meant we were unable to exploit its full potential."
After not even making the top 10 in qualifying Renault redeemed itself slightly with a double-points finish, Fisichella sixth and Kovalainen picking up his first ever point in eighth. In between them was Trulli, Toyota again just scraping through to pick up a couple of points. Wurz did a good job but just missed out in ninth and Red Bull's Mark Webber had a rather anonymous afternoon to round off the top 10.
The Hondas trailed home 11th and 12th with Barrichello and Button respectively and Speed led the Toro Rossos in 14th. Teammate Liuzzi was 17th and the Toyota of Ralf Schumacher 15th. Kubica and his woes eventually crossed the line as the final classified finisher in 18th -- we simply didn't get to see a lot of the midfield and backmarkers to say much about them.
Once again the focus was on McLaren and Ferrari, with the story reversed from Melbourne. There's only a week until Bahrain and it will be very interesting to see if McLaren can confirm that it has so quickly matched Ferrari's pace. Final top eight classification: Alonso, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Heidfeld, Massa, Fisichella, Trulli, Kovalainen.