Glorious, then victorious, Kimi Raikkonen took another run at looking like a proper world champion Sunday and came up trumps with a comprehensive victory in the Malaysian Grand Prix. The Finn finished nearly 20 seconds ahead of BMW Sauber's Robert...
Glorious, then victorious, Kimi Raikkonen took another run at looking like a proper world champion Sunday and came up trumps with a comprehensive victory in the Malaysian Grand Prix. The Finn finished nearly 20 seconds ahead of BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica, who held a similar edge over the third-placed Finn, Heikki Kovalainen of McLaren Mercedes.
The regret for Ferrari was pole sitter Felipe Massa spinning off on the 31st of the 56 laps of the 3.44-mile Sepang circuit. The Brazilian was on target for an easy second place behind Raikkonen and a Ferrari sweep.
Kovalainen came third after steady work brought him back from a five-spot grid penalty for balking qualifiers that started him eighth. He was able to leapfrog Toyota's Jarno Trulli on a pit-stop strategy that left the McLaren driver out until the 20th lap.
Kovalainen's teammate, championship leader Lewis Hamilton, was similarly penalized to down the grid, ninth, but could finish no better than fifth place after chasing Red Bull's Mark Webber for much of the race and then suffering a 19-second pit stop when the right front wheel wouldn't release. Hamilton pushed to challenge Trulli in the final stint but the Italian held off the Englishman, despite the McLaren's clearly better speed, to give the Japanese team encouragement that it has turned a corner.
Kubica's teammate, Nick Heidfeld, who grabbed the fast lap from Raikkonen on the penultimate circuit with a time of 1:35.366, finished sixth. He ran ahead of Webber and Renault's Fernando Alonso, who finished in points for a second successive week despite the R28 failing to match the leaders on straight-line speed.
"Once I was racing on my own in free air, I was able to pull away," said Raikkonen, who had taken a run at Massa into the first corner but backed off when it got dodgy. He settled for a pit-stop jostle to take the lead. "It was pretty easy racing after that."
Raikkonen said the first-corner attempt put him in a position that might have proved counterproductive. "I got alongside Felipe in a situation I knew we didn't want to risk. Maybe if I'd pushed harder I could have passed, but I decided to try at the pit stop and it worked out."
Massa made the first Ferrari stop and Raikkonen put in a flyer of an in-lap to gain enough time that a spit-and-polish stop put him out about three car lengths ahead of his teammate.
Kubica, whose top-end effort at Australia came to nought when Williams' Kazuki Nakajima punted him out near the end, congratulated his team. "This was a fantastic result for the team to have a second time a second place," he said, referring to teammate Nick Heidfeld's runner-up spot in Australia. "I didn't have a good start, I had a lot of wheel spin. I was close with Nick and Trulli. I think they touched so I managed to overtake. I thought McLaren would be stronger. When I saw Heikki was 17 seconds behind, I could slow down to save the engine."
Kubica said the F1.08's cockpit holds temperatures above last year's model, making the Sepang race, already the hottest, most humid on the calendar, less than pleasant. His drinks bottle, he said, went mostly unused because it provided hot water. He suggested he might try tea in it next time.
In a reverse from last week's attrition-hit Australian race, Malaysia's F1-specialized Sepang circuit found all but five entries still running at the end. The Red Bull of David Coulthard was first out of the points, followed by Jenson Button's Honda, Nelson A. Piquet's Renault, Giancarlo Fisichella's Force India, Rubens Barrichello's Honda, Nico Rosberg's Williams, the Super Aguris of Anthony Davidson and Takuma Sato, and Kazuki Nakajima's Williams.
Coulthard was in the middle, at one moment literally, of good dicing as he wound up chased by Alonso and Heidfeld. Button's 10th place came after an uneventful race although teammate Barrichello was assessed a pit-lane speeding penalty, a second successive pit-lane offense. Barrichello's problem let Force India's Fisichella gain 12th place as the Indian team finished its first race distance. Adrian Sutil managed only five laps in the other Force India VJM01; hydraulics problems forced him to park.
After offering hope-rising promise in Australia, the Williams met disaster when Rosberg collided with Toyota's Timo Glock on the first lap. Glock retired with a broken suspension and Rosberg's race plan was equally scuppered. He needed an unscheduled stop for a new nose and later suffered a fuel system problem. Nakajima made smart progress, leaping ahead by four places on the first lap and adding an additional three spots by the third lap. But he suffered a tire puncture and an off to spoil the good bits.
Davidson and Sato were pleased enough to finish a race distance in the Super Aguris. "There were no problems whatsoever with the car and the tires worked well," Davidson said. "I felt comfortable in the car and could push whenever I wanted to improve the lap time."
Toro Rosso rookie Sebastien Bourdais met a quick end when he went off the road on the first lap. His teammate Sebastian Vettel suffered engine failure after progressing as high as 12th.
Raikkonen's victory puts him co-second on drivers points with Heidfeld. They trail Hamilton, who leads with 14, by three points. Kovalainen has 10 and Kubica eight.
McLaren remains top in constructors markers as well with 24 points. BMW Sauber (19) and Ferrari (11) follow. The circus completes its Asian openers with its third stop, at Bahrain, in two weeks' time.