The Malaysian Grand Prix was win number 72 of Michael Schumacher's career, and the German led from pole to flag, but Ferrari was not as dominant as it had been in Melbourne. Williams' Juan Pablo Montoya kept the champion in touch but couldn't find...
The Malaysian Grand Prix was win number 72 of Michael Schumacher's career, and the German led from pole to flag, but Ferrari was not as dominant as it had been in Melbourne. Williams' Juan Pablo Montoya kept the champion in touch but couldn't find enough to really challenge. He came home second and Jenson Button finally claimed his first, and well deserved, podium finish in third for BAR.
The temperature was lower for race day than it had been during qualifying and rain came down about five minutes before the formation lap. Kimi Raikkonen spun his McLaren but made it back into position and for the start the rain had stopped. Michael got away cleanly at the front but second on the grid Mark Webber had a really slow start, dropping down to ninth in the first of a few incidents for the Jaguar.
Montoya moved up to second, Raikkonen to fourth and Renault's Jarno Trulli to fifth. By far the best start was Trulli's teammate Fernando Alonso. Relegated to the back of the grid after spinning off in qualifying, then having an engine change, Alonso scythed through the pack along the start straight and was up to tenth by the end of the first lap.
All the action happened early on; Rubens Barrichello put his Ferrari on the grass but recovered and Jordan's Giorgio Pantano spun as it briefly rained again. Trulli overtook Button but the Brit promptly took the place back again. Alonso barreled past Webber for eighth and closed in on the McLaren of David Coulthard. From the back to a points position within four laps was an outstanding performance from Alonso but it was the best he got all race.
Webber managed to get past Ralf but the Williams retaliated and got ahead again, puncturing the Jaguar's rear right tyre on his way. Takuma Sato spun into the gravel but recovered the BAR smartly and Webber had to pit for a tyre change. To add insult to injury he got a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit lane and finally compounded his misery by spinning out of the race a few laps later.
"It was very difficult to get the car away," said Webber of his poor start. "Then Ralf drove into the back of me and gave me a puncture because he was pissed off that I passed him. And then I spun. But we'll be back, we'll keep learning."
A string of cars in the midfield were jostling for position, starting with Nick Heidfeld's Jordan in 11th, then Cristiano da Matta's Toyota, the second Jaguar of Christian Klien, Sauber's Giancarlo Fisichella and da Matta's teammate Panis. In the first round of pit stops Heidfeld's fuel rig failed and he had to go out and back in again. He eventually pulled into the pits to retire with a gearbox problem.
Trulli got ahead of Coulthard in the first stops and running order at the front, where not much was happening, was Michael, Montoya, Raikkonen. Montoya was falling away from the Ferrari in the second stint of the race but not letting him get too far ahead. Alonso took Coulthard for sixth but then the pair pitted for the second time and the McLaren got out ahead.
Alonso swapped to a two-stop strategy but it gave him no advantage and he seemed resigned to staying behind Coulthard, while Trulli, who had been on quite an early charge, also seemed to lose momentum. Ralf's engine unexpectedly gave up midway through the race, the first failure for BMW for 17 races.
"The weekend had been going well, even in qualifying," Ralf said. "The start was reasonable but then I touched Webber. Mark was aggressive and I tried to avoid a collision but he didn't give me any space. Then I had really bad understeer that I couldn't do anything about."
Felipe Massa, who was having a pretty good race, got held up by a Minardi and did a bit of agitated hand waving as he went by. The gap between Michael and Montoya was holding at around four seconds and Button moved up to third, jumping Raikkonen in the second pit stops. Both of the Finn's stops seemed quite long and eventually he pulled off to the side of the track with a transmission failure. Disappointing for Raikkonen and McLaren as Kimi was showing good pace until then.
Panis ducked into the pits only to find no crew ready for him and had to go straight back out. Then next lap he was back in again to serve a drive-through for speeding on his previous effort. Not a good day for Panis, or Toyota in general. Da Matta finished ninth after a fairly anonymous race.
In the final laps the BAR crew froze as one of the cars pulled off with an engine failure but it was Sato rather than third placed Button. Bad luck for Sato but the relief that it wasn't his teammate was palpable. Barrichello was gaining ground on Button but with only a few laps to go, he wasn't in a position to challenge.
Michael took the win with Montoya five seconds behind -- not a huge strain on the Ferrari man but the Colombian gave him enough pressure to keep him on his toes throughout the race. "I had a good first few laps and I managed to get in front of Rubens. Then I had quite a smooth race. Towards the end I was trying to catch Michael because I felt my car was just getting better and better," said Montoya.
BAR and Button were by far the happiest of the lot and the Englishman got the biggest cheer from the crowd as he lifted his first trophy on the third step of the podium.
"There are no words to describe the feeling of your first podium and this one has been a long time coming," said Button. "It's a fantastic result for the team in only our second race of the season and I'm delighted for everyone - the team, Honda and all our partners - because they have worked so hard for this.
BAR boss David Richards added: "Jenson and the team have worked very hard for this result, and to get his first podium in a straight fight with the best in F1 is real proof of how far we have come."
Barrichello suffered from opting for a harder tyre compound than Michael and the Renaults appeared to give up trying after half way. Coulthard did a solid job in between them and Massa put in a commendable effort to pick up the final point in eighth, after struggling with a clutch problem since the start -- although he did benefit from Sato's untimely retirement.
Sepang was more entertaining than Melbourne but the second half of the race turned into a similar procession. Montoya was never close enough to Michael to think about taking the lead but the Williams had good pace and kept within a handful of seconds. A big improvement in competition after Ferrari's half a minute advantage in Australia.
Bridgestone held its own in the heat and Michelin had no particular advantage, which is good news for the former and not great for the latter, as the next race in Bahrain will probably bring similar conditions. However, the field was much closer together in Malaysia than in the first race and Bahrain should bring the competition another step nearer. Final top eight classification: M. Schumacher, Montoya, Button, Barrichello, Trulli, Coulthard, Alonso, Massa.