Williams sets the stage at Malaysian GP

Williams sets the stage at Malaysian GP

The Malaysian Grand Prix is the longest on the F1 calendar, 194 miles, and tyre wear is a big consideration. The temperature at the start of the race was a humid 34C and went up -- as much on track as in the air as incidents abounded. As in ...

The Malaysian Grand Prix is the longest on the F1 calendar, 194 miles, and tyre wear is a big consideration. The temperature at the start of the race was a humid 34C and went up -- as much on track as in the air as incidents abounded. As in Australia, a first corner dust up knocked all expectations aside.

The start: Michael Schumacher battling with Juan Pablo Montoya.
Photo by Ferrari Media Center.

Pole position man Michael Schumacher, Juan Pablo Montoya and Rubens Barrichello headed for the first corner three abreast, Michael doing one of his infamous 'chops' across Montoya's nose; then he and Montoya came into contact, Montoya going very wide and Michael ending up losing his front wing. Apart from that it was a clean start, Barrichello leading from Ralf and Kimi Raikkonen as Michael had to pit for a new nose cone and Montoya lost a few places.

The first dozen laps saw a lot of unscheduled pit activity. As Michael pitted the Arrows of Heinz-Harald Frentzen also came in, followed by both Jordans after Takuma Sato went into the back of Giancarlo Fisichella: bad enough to hit anyone but to punt your own team mate is seriously frowned upon. Both Renaults were in the top ten as Montoya was under investigation after the first corner incident -- resulting in an unusual penalty in the form of a 'drive-through', where he had to take to the pit lane for a no-stop pass.

Jaguar's Pedro de la Rosa stopped for a new nose cone and Jarno Trulli also came into the pits in an unscheduled stop. Both Toyotas were in the top ten as the leaders were Barrichello, Ralf Schumacher, Raikkonen. Sauber's Felipe Massa and Arrows' Enrique Bernoldi were squabbling in the midfield as Montoya came down the pit lane for his drive-through penalty, followed by Trulli who pulled into the garage to retire. The BAR of Olivier Panis ground to a halt on track with clutch failure and all this in the first dozen laps!

With the early frantic pit activity, stop schedules were all thrown into confusion. Sato and Fisichella both managed to rejoin the race, although a couple of laps down, then McLaren's David Coulthard started slowing on track, being passed by Nick Heidfeld. Michael Schumacher was carving his way through the field after being relegated to the back by the first corner incident.

Renault's Jarno Trulli explained his retirement as due to the ever vague 'technical problems': "I had a problem by the end of the first couple of laps. It was a shame as the car was good, I was overtaking people, but the temperature was too much and the car failed with a technical problem."

The ailing McLaren of Coulthard finally retired to the pits and then possibly the most bizarre spectacle of the race happened. Michael Schumacher, still making his way through the midfield, over took Bernoldi -- only to have the plucky Brazilian in a far inferior car re-take the position straight back off him! Inevitably it wasn't to last, the Ferrari going ahead at the next corner, but it was a worthy effort by Bernoldi. Both Williams were lapping faster than the rest of the field, Montoya closing in the Toyota of Allan McNish in eighth and Ralf still second.

Pitstop for Rubens Barrichello.
Photo by Ferrari Media Center.

The first round of scheduled pit stops saw Montoya up into fifth behind a determined Button who was doing Renault proud, the top three now Ralf, Raikkonen and Barrichello and both Saubers in the top six. Barrichello had a very quick stop, little fuel going in as Ferrari altered tactics, then Raikkonen's engine went off in spectacular style leaving the Finn to retire. Not a good weekend for McLaren. Salo pitted and retired, only to rejoin the race half a dozen laps later;Eddie Irvine had a clash with Minardi's Alex Yoong, the Malaysian appearing to cut across the Jaguar, which resulted in both of them ending up retiring.

"I don't know if he takes that line normally," Irvine said afterwards, "Or if he made a mistake. He chopped across in front of me and I ended up on the grass. I lost hydraulic pressure and couldn't disengage the clutch."

McLaren Technical Director Adrian Newey was typically cagey about the reason for both of the car's failures: "On David's car we lost power, we're not sure why, it was safer to pull him in. Kimi had an engine failure, it was disappointing as we had good reliability in pre-season testing."

Coulthard was equally disappointed: "It's been a terrible weekend," he said. "We didn't get off on a good footing, the race was disappointing because we benefited from Michael (Schumacher) and Juan (Montoya, in the first corner incident.) It's frustrating because winter testing was very good, we certainly had reliability, so we're a bit confused."

Race positions were Barrichello, Ralf, Montoya as another round of pit stops got under way, Michael still climbing the field and taking Heidfeld for fifth. Minardi's Mark Webber took to the gravel and ended his race, Montoya pitted and Button was up into third. Unexpectedly, after their usually good reliability record, Barrichello's Ferrari blew its engine and took him out of contention, leaving the top three: Ralf, Button, Montoya.

"It's very unfortunate," a weary looking Barrichello said shortly afterwards. "It was hard work out there, I was keeping up with the Williams' pace so it was very unfortunate to drop out."

Button and Montoya had a scrap for a few corners, fine driving from both of them as they battled for second but Montoya prevailed in the end. McNish was in the top six until wheel confusion in his pit stop resulted him being dropped to seventh, putting Massa in sixth behind team mate Heidfeld. Heading into the closing stages it was Ralf, Montoya, Button, Michael managing to claw his way back to fourth, Heidfeld and Massa. Then disaster struck for Button on the penultimate lap -- heading for his first podium, the Englishman's car suddenly began to slow and he lost third to Michael, managing to stay in front of the Saubers to drag the ailing Renault home fourth. Scant appeasement in three points when he was robbed of his first podium by car failure.

Ralf Schumacher congratulated by Juan Pablo Montoya.
Photo by BMW PressClub.

Williams' Technical director Patrick Head was pleased for their 1-2 finish: "I'm very pleased," he said. "The team did a fantastic job over the winter, they all worked bloody hard. Juan's penalty we will be discussing with people behind the scenes," he added, clearly not happy about the situation. He went on to say Ralf's one stop strategy had worked very well. "Ralf was very quick and one stop was all that was needed."

Top six final classification: R. Schumacher, Montoya, M. Schumacher, Button, Heidfeld, Massa.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Ferrari , Sauber , McLaren , Williams , Minardi , Jordan