Kimi RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen maintained McLaren's 100 per cent record at the start of the 2003 grand prix season with a comfortable victory the first of his young Formula One career in the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang. It was also a second straight success...
Kimi Räikkönen maintained McLaren's 100 per cent record at the start of the 2003 grand prix season with a comfortable victory the first of his young Formula One career in the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang. It was also a second straight success for Michelin, the first time Bibendum has scored back-to-back victories since it returned to F1 two years ago.
Räikkönen, 23, emerged unscathed from a chaotic opening lap and chased down early leader and pole position qualifier Fernando Alonso (Renault/Michelin). The Finn took the lead after the first scheduled pit stops and was never seriously challenged thereafter. He finished 39.2 seconds clear of Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari) while Alonso went on to finish third the first podium result for a Spanish driver since the 1956 British GP at Silverstone, when Alfonso de Portago finished second. The result was especially satisfying for Alonso, who has been trying to stave off a feverish illness for most of the weekend. I felt very unwell by the end of the race, he said.
Ralf Schumacher (BMW WilliamsF1 Team) and Jarno Trulli (Mild Seven RenaultF1) also scored points for Michelin, in fourth and fifth places respectively. Trulli, in particular, had to fight hard for his result. Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) punted the Italian off the track on the opening lap an incident that caused a pile-up at the second turn and led to Schumacher being given a time penalty. Trulli subsequently fought back through the field to take fifth, despite spinning in the race's closing stages.
Cristiano da Matta (Panasonic Toyota Racing, 10th) scored his first F1 finish while Juan Pablo Montoya (BMW WilliamsF1 Team, 11th) was the only other Michelin driver to reach the chequered flag, albeit three laps on arrears. The Colombian one of the pre-race favourites was hit from behind in the opening-lap skirmish and lost time in the pits having a new rear wing fitted.
For the other Michelin runners there was little joy. Antonio Pizzonia (Jaguar) spun irretrievably into the gravel while his team-mate Mark Webber peeled into the pits with technical trouble. Olivier Panis (Toyota) ran fifth prior to his first scheduled stop, but his car stopped unexpectedly soon after he rejoined the track. David Coulthard, who led the world championship prior to this race, made a terrific start and was running second when an electrical fault caused his retirement on lap three. Räikkönen has consequently succeeded him at the head of the points table.
MICHELIN AND McLAREN AT THE DOUBLE
Kimi Räikkönen (West McLaren Mercedes) won today's Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang. It was the young Finn's first Formula One success and Michelin's 67th. McLaren and Michelin have won the opening two rounds of this season's world championship and, for the first time in his career, Räikkönen leads the F1 points table. Michelin motorsport director Pierre Dupasquier said: "It is always a pleasure to see a young driver score his first victory and I offer Kimi my warm congratulations. He has come close to winning on several occasions in the past and he deserves this success."
WELCOME TO THE NEW GENERATION
Räikkönen's victory wasn't the only career first in Malaysia. Pole position winner Fernando Alonso (Renault/Michelin) overcame a fierce fever and late-race gearbox problems to take third the first time a Spaniard has recorded an F1 world championship podium finish since the 1956 British GP at Silverstone, when Alfonso de Portago came home second. Pierre Dupasquier said: "Kimi and Fernando did a fantastic job today and drove with great maturity in difficult conditions. It has been an extremely satisfying race for us especially as some of our front-running partners might also have recorded strong points finishes if they hadn't been afflicted by various problems beyond their control. Our chances were slightly compromised today, so it was very satisfying to have two cars on the podium and two more in the top five."
HOME ON THE RANGE
The latest Michelin F1 tyres first appeared in the second half of last season and have been developed constantly ever since. Pierre Dupasquier said: "With the current F1 regulations it is difficult to know how competitive you are until the race starts, but I think our performances during the past two grands prix have proved beyond doubt that we have an extremely competitive product. Our partner teams made two scheduled stops and, despite the fierce heat, our tyres proved to be consistent and durable."
NEXT STOP, BRAZIL
The F1 world championship continues two weeks from now in Interlagos, Brazil. Pierre Dupasquier said: "We have performed strongly at Interlagos in the past but face a slight trip into the unknown this time because large parts of the track are due to be resurfaced. We have a little bit of time to think about which tyres we'll be taking and will make a final selection after the next scheduled test sessions, which take place this week in Barcelona."