Fernando Alonso scored Renault's second win of the season, and the second of his career, in the Malaysian Grand Prix with a superb drive, leading from pole to chequered flag. The Spaniard finished 24 seconds ahead of Jarno Trulli, who took...
Fernando Alonso scored Renault's second win of the season, and the second of his career, in the Malaysian Grand Prix with a superb drive, leading from pole to chequered flag. The Spaniard finished 24 seconds ahead of Jarno Trulli, who took Toyota's first ever podium finish. Williams' Nick Heidfeld kept his head and came home third after his teamamte Mark Webber and the second Renault of Giancarlo Fishcella crashed out.
It was slightly overcast and hazy for the start of the race but the track temperature was around 50 degrees. Everyone got away cleanly, with Alonso, Trulli and Fisichella holding position at the front. Gainers at the start were Heidfeld, up to eighth from 10th and BAR's Jenson Button from ninth to seventh. Christian Klien dropped down behind Red Bull teammate David Coulthard and there was a little bit of argy-bargy behind.
Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello and McLaren's Juan Pablo Montoya scrapped for 11th and Felipe Massa got his Sauber in front of Michael Schumacher's Ferrari. Massa's teammate Jacques Villeneuve overtook the second BAR of Anthony Davidson and further up the field Button took the McLaren of Kimi Raikkonen for sixth.
It was short lived for Button though, as within just a couple of laps his Honda engine started smoking. To compound BAR's misery, Davidson's engine also went up in flames just about at the same time and they both had to retire. Might as well not have bothered with those new engines, eh? Presumably BAR did not appreciate the irony.
Button certainly didn't: "Compared to last year we seem to have taken a step back in every area, it seems," he remarked. "It's got to change but I don't think it's going to change any time soon. I'm very angry."
Davidson was disappointed but philosophical. "Obviously it's a shame for the team but the new engine regulations make it tough," he observed somewhat strangely, seeing as his was a new engine this weekend. "It was not what I wanted for my first race with BAR, obviously."
Minardi's Patrick Friesacher was a victim of oil from Button's engine and spun off into the gravel to end his race. At the front, Alonso was leading Trulli and Fisichella while Webber and the second Toyota of Ralf Schumacher held station in fourth and fifth. Raikkonen was running sixth, followed by Heidfeld and Coulthard, with Montoya and Klien completing the top ten at that stage.
Heidfeld challenged Raikkonen but the Finn held him off and meanwhile, defending champion Michael was already half a minute behind leader Alonso. Fernando was belting out fastest lap after fastest lap, evidently not concerned about his engine going the distance. Webber was hampered by one of the Jordans, allowing Ralf to close in, with Heidfeld doing likewise behind Raikkonen when they caught the Jordan.
Klien was the first to stop on lap 18, and Ralf, Heidfeld, Coulthard and Tiago Monteiro's Jordan followed suit on lap 20. Alonso and Trulli did likewise next time around, which left Fisichella in the lead until he too took his first stop, along with Webber. Raikkonen inherited the lead and Barrichello was harassing Webber when the Australian rejoined in front of the Ferrari.
Raikkonen pitted and returned ahead of the battling pair but then he suffered a right rear puncture and went careering off over the grass. He managed to wrestle the car back onto the track and make it back to the pits for a tyre change, but all his and the team's hard work in gaining an advantage was lost. A valve failure caused the puncture and there was a fair bit of debris on the track from his wrecked tyre.
Barrichello took his first stop and rejoined in eighth and Montoya made his first visit to the pits work when he returned ahead of the Red Bulls in seventh. Alonso was back in the lead after the shakeout of pit stops, 12 seconds ahead of Trulli, with the rest of the top five still in the same places as previously, and Heidfeld up to sixth.
Villeneuve was the next retiree when he spun off at turn one and beached the Sauber in the gravel. The Canadian had trouble with braking all weekend. "It's not just that corner, I lock the front wheels all the time but if I push too hard the rears lock as well," he said. "I'm having a hard time with this car."
Fisichella was suffering from oversteer and losing time and Webber was homing in. Behind him, Ralf and Heidfeld waited for an opportunity. Webber attacked the Renault and got past and Ralf also went for it; Fisichella snatched third back from Webber so Heidfeld took advantage of the fight and leapt ahead of Ralf to go side by side with Webber. Ralf was caught in the middle but stayed calm.
The Toyota got back in front of Heidfeld but Nick shot back ahead at the next corner -- it was a bit of a mad few minutes and there was contact between Ralf and Webber. The result was Fisichella still in third, Webber in fourth and Heidfeld gained fifth from Ralf. Meanwhile, Coulthard overtook Barrichello for eighth at turn four and Klien also had a go, attacking the Ferrari but Barrichello held him off.
Not to be discouraged, Klien had another try and passed the Brazilian at the last corner. Barrichello harassed the Red Bull down the main straight and tried his luck at turn one but Klien wasn't having it. Feisty stuff from young Christian, who seems much improved after his rookie year. Michael was now behind Barrichello with Massa closing in as well.
Webber was still hanging on Fisichella's rear wing and Heidfeld was right there with them. Barrichello pitted for the second time and rejoined behind Michael and Massa but he struggled with his tyres thereafter and eventually retired. A piece of rubber had lodged in the rear wing which disturbed the balance of the car and caused excessive wear on the rear tyres.
Webber launched a charge on Fisichella down the back straight and got the third place but Giancarlo fought back. Through turn 14 the Italian went up the inside and seemed to lock up and slide into Webber. The rear of the Renault went up over the nose of the Williams and they both went off track and out of the race.
Who was to blame? It was by no means clear cut and Webber and Fisichella were not impressed with each other. Fisichella did appear to be ahead at the braking zone but was already struggling with his car. The stewards investigated the incident after the race and it seems Fisichella was given a warning but no further action was taken.
"Unfortunately the car wasn't fantastic and the grip was not good enough," said Fisichella. "Then I lost a bargeboard over the kerbs and lost downforce. Mark was catching me then he overtook. I went back ahead then saw him coming from the other side and there wasn't enough space. It wasn't my fault."
Webber thought Fisichella was pushing his luck on worn tyres. "I don't know how he was going to pass me again, his tyres were finished," the Australian remarked. "There was zero grip on the dirty side (of the track) and I went to the clean side and he came right into me. I don't know how he thought he could get through."
Alonso went in for his second stop and Trulli took the lead until he too dived into the pits. Ralf had a new nose and front wing put on when he went in and after the second shakeout it was Alonso back in the lead form Trulli and Heidfeld, who had moved up to third when Webber and Fisichella went out. Montoya rejoined ahead of Ralf for fourth.
Raikkonen, who had been demoted to 13th after his puncture, got past Massa for 9th when the Sauber went off line at the end of the back straight. The McLaren then closed on Klien but there was not enough time left. Alonso took the chequered flag well ahead of Trulli and Heidfeld and it was a very deserving top three at the end of the race.
Alonso hardly put a foot wrong and never let Trulli get any where near being a threat. "Physically, it was a very demanding race and I really felt how hard it had been on the podium afterwards," said the Spaniard. "But it's a great feeling to win here, and the way I was able to do it demonstrates that we are competitive with our rivals this season, on every type of circuit."
Trulli made sure he didn't repeat his backwards effort in Melbourne and had a very good drive to take Toyota's first podium. "I had an excellent start and was easily keeping my second position behind Fernando and extending my lead over Giancarlo," he commented. "From there, I had an absolutely trouble-free race and could control those cars behind me."
Heidfeld benefited from Webber and Fisichella's retirements but could well have been on the podium anyway with his aggressive drive. "I am very happy, this was the most exciting race I ever had in F1," he enthused. "I pushed hard from the start since I had to recover from my 10th grid position and I had a good race with some exciting overtaking. It was real fun."
Montoya had a fairly quiet time but from 11th on the grid to fourth was a good effort and salvaged five points for McLaren. After Raikkoenn's puncture there was not a lot the Finn could do. Ralf started and finished fifth but showed good competitiveness in the race to give Toyota a points haul that puts the team second to Renault in the constructors' standings.
Red Bull proved that Melbourne was no fluke with both cars again in the points, Coulthard sixth and Klien eighth -- enough to put them third overall ahead of Ferrari. "Both drivers deserve full credit, as does the team and Cosworth for their reliability," said sporting director Christian Horner. "We just have to keep looking forwards and today's performance endorsed the potential of the car."
Michael picked up two points for Ferrari in seventh and it was disappointing weekend overall for the team. "There can be no excuses after a race like this," stated Jean Todt. "After qualifying, we knew the race would be one of fighting our way up the order and so it turned out. We were beaten by opponents who proved to be stronger than us."
Outside the top eight, Raikkonen tried his best but couldn't claw his way back into the points. Massa had a difficult race to come home tenth and was never really in contention to score; it's been a tough start to the season for Sauber. Both Jordans finished again, Karthikeyan leading Monteiro, and Minardi's Christijan Albers scored his first GP finish with 13th.
At the beginning of 2004, a close fought season was predicted after the battles of 2003. It didn't happen -- Ferrari catapulted into the distance and remained virtually untouchable. At the start of this season, Ferrari was anticipated to again be the team to beat, yet two GPs down the Scuderia has only managed to get one car to the end of each race. It's far too soon to say crisis but it's an intriguing situation.
Renault, Fisichella's exit from Sepang aside, is the benchmark for 2005 so far and Toyota suddenly appears to be a different team altogether. Red Bull is much improved from the Jaguar days, while Ferrari, Williams and McLaren, despite their mixed fortunes, are very much on a par. Roll on Bahrain! Final top eight classification: Alonso, Trulli, Heidfeld, Montoya, R. Schumacher, Coulthard, M. Schumacher, Klien.