Carte blanche at the Malaysian GP

By Erica Southey - It was a mixed menu of fortunes for teams who came to Malaysia hopeful to improve on their performance and get their cars into the points. Such a team was BAR-Honda who had both cars out early in the...

By Erica Southey -

It was a mixed menu of fortunes for teams who came to Malaysia hopeful to improve on their performance and get their cars into the points. Such a team was BAR-Honda who had both cars out early in the race.

Chaos and confusion was the order of the start of the Malaysian GP. At the end of the warm-up lap there was an empty space where Frentzen's Jordan Honda was supposed to be which was a result of the Jordan Honda misfiring. At the end of the lap with cars all lined up, Giancarlo Fisichella in his Benetton stood way out of place with its nose pointing like an arrow to where it was supposed to be.

Fisichella had to wait patiently behind a marshal waving a yellow flag, while the cars took off for the second formation lap. Meanwhile, Juan Pablo Montoya's Williams stalled on the grid. It was panic for the Williams mechanics, who were trying frantically to jumpstart the Williams.

Eventually they pulled the silent Williams-BMW into the pitlane, as Montoya jumped out and sprinted off in the direction of the Williams garage to get into the spare car before the rest of the field arrived on the grid for the second start attempt.

Initially dry but overcast, the race got off to a clean start. Seconds later, though, the first corner saw a fierce battle between Rubens Barrichello and Ralf Schumacher who touched, sending Ralf into a spin, losing his place to end up last, and dropping Mika Hakkinen down to eighth place.

We were treated to some exciting off-road racing with Formula 1 cars preferring the lawn and kitty litter to the track while rain was coming down in bucket loads. The first scrap was between Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello and David Coulthard, seeing them going off onto the grass and through some gravel trap, seemingly not eager to rejoin the track. This scenic route appeared to be far more interesting than the track, judging from the time it took the three front runners to get back on.

On another part of the track, it was a scrap between a ball of fire, which turned out to be the BAR-Honda of Olivier Panis sliding off into the gravel trap, followed by Enrique Bernoldi in the Arrows and Nick Heidfeld in the Sauber. Cars disappeared from the scene unnoticed leaving only 15 competitors after 8 laps. Makinen, Gronholm and Sainz watch out -- these drivers are building up gravel experience fast!

The Safety Car soon came out leading the race while the pitcrew of teams got ready to bring in the cars for a tyre change. The Ferrari part of the pitlane looked like McDonald's drive-thru with Michael Schumacher waiting for Rubens Barrichello to finish so he can 'place his order'. What took the mechanics so long? At this point the race looked lost for the Ferrari team while other teams had their act together bringing in their drivers and sending them out on wets

As ever, though, the Ferrari strategy was brilliant, putting their drivers on intermediate tyres instead of full wets. The intermediates responded well to the track, rapidly making up the time lost in the long pit stops. Other teams, which had chosen to go with full wets, struggled through the dry sections of the track, losing precious seconds on every lap to the two Ferraris.

The highlight of the race was Jos Verstappen who shined keeping the McLaren of Mika Hakkinen at bay, while the Jordan of Heinz Herald Frentzen closed up on them. Ralf Schumacher previously involved in the battle with Jos Verstappen managed to get past and continued with a brilliant drive. He was fast catching up with the McLaren of David Coulthard heading for podium, but a pitstop put an end to this.

At the front of the field, though, his brother Michael made it six wins in a row, joining Alberto Ascari to be only the second F1 driver to succeed in this endeavour.

Unlike the Australia, today's Malaysian GP was without serious incident or controversy. It was what fans wanted to see: fights for the lead, strategies to outfox the competition and a bit of less gentlemanly behaviour like that of Mazzacane who let Verstappen through, but made Mika Hakkinen work hard to get past.

We are off to Interlagos in two weeks time -- provided that the track is ready and gets the stamp of approval from the FIA.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Giancarlo Fisichella , Ralf Schumacher , Jos Verstappen , Enrique Bernoldi , Michael Schumacher , Rubens Barrichello , David Coulthard , Mika Hakkinen , Olivier Panis , Nick Heidfeld , Alberto Ascari
Teams Ferrari , Sauber , McLaren , Williams , Benetton , Jordan