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3/20/2005

[English Post]Alonso victorious in Malaysia

Alonso victorious in Malaysia
By Richard Rae of The Sunday Times

Fernando Alonso led from start to finish to win an exciting Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang this morning, Renault’s second consecutive victory of the season.

Jarno Trulli was second for Toyota and Nick Heidfeld third for Williams, after Alonso’s teammate Giancarlo Fisichella controversially collided with Mark Webber’s Williams ten laps before the end of the race. Juan Montoya finished fourth, ahead of Ralf Schumacher in the second Toyota. The Red Bulls of David Coulthard were sixth and eighth, sandwiching the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher, the world champion once again struggling to be competitive on his Bridgestone tyres.

"There was no pushing really hard during the race, the car was fine," said Alonso, who was more concerned about dehydration after problems with his water bottle in the latter stages of the race.

Second qualifying had seen no changes in the top three positions from Saturday’s first session, Alonso taking pole for the fourth time in his career, ahead of Trulli and Fisichella. Behind them Mark Webber moved up two places, and the Red Bull pairing of David Coulthard and Christian Klien also improved their grid positions, to start eighth and seventh, respectively. Once again the Ferraris struggled over one lap, Schumacher visibly fighting for grip from his rear tyres, and able to manage only 13th fastest over all. Anthony Davidson, standing in for Takuma Sato, held on to 15th spot behind BAR teammate Jenson Button in ninth.

Managing tyre wear was always going to be the key, the combination of sweltering heat and abrasive track surface promising to reward the drivers who conserved their rubber in the early stages of the race. There was also the possibility of engine attrition, with most cars using the same power plants for the second consecutive race weekend.

Forest fires around the track added to the uncertain atmosphere; the track temperature was more than 50 degrees centigrade.

The first four made a clean start, what action there was coming in midfield where Nick Heidfeld picked up two places. Button, quietly confident before the start, looked in good shape and effortlessly passed McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen on the start-finish straight at the end of the first lap, but soon afterwards his Honda engine began to smoke. As Button began to lose ground, his car spewing oil on to the track, Davidson’s engine burst into flame, and both BARs were forced to pull over before the start of the third lap. Given the team had controversially chosen not to finish the Australian Grand Prix in order to change the engines, it was a horrible moment for the two young Britons, especially for Davidson.

"A shame for the team, but that’s what the new engine regualtions are for, to make it tough. Not exactly what I wanted, but while I was out there it was fun," said Davidson, gritting his teeth in the pits.

"Compared to last year we’ve made a huge step back. I’m very angry, and it’s got to change but the problem is I don’t think it’s going to change soon. It’s frustrating because the pace is good," said a furious Button.

Up front Alonso was beginning to pull out a gap, aware Fisichella was going to find it hard to pass Trulli, the Toyota holding its pace as effectively as he had in Australia until the first pit stop. Webber was holding on to Fisichella, with Ralf Schumacher also going well in the second Toyota. By lap nine Alonso had eked out a six-second lead over the Toyota, Heidfeld was putting Kimi Raikkonen under pressure for sixth, Coulthard was holding eighth, and the Ferraris were nowhere in 11th and 13th, some 30 seconds off the lead by lap ten.

The Renault team were urging Fisichella to maintain his pace, as after 16 laps he was 11 seconds behind his teammate, but all weekend the Italian had seemed nervous about the durability of his engine. Alonso was complaining about a lack of traction from his rear tyres, but it didn’t seem to be affecting his pace as the Spaniard set a series of fastest laps.

Klien was the first in the top ten to pit, on lap 19, and up ahead Trulli began to nibble at Alonso’s lead. Ralf Schumacher, Heidfeld and Coulthard came in for fuel on the following lap, and Alonso came in on lap 21. His tyres looked in good condition. With Fisichella and Webber coming in next, it left Raikonnen in the lead and Juan Montoya in fifth, the McLarens had clearly chosen to start heavy on fuel. The Finn immediately put in the fastest lap of the race by a distance before coming in on lap 24. His strategy saw him jump Webber, but on his outlap his rear right tyre punctured, forcing him to drive an almost entire lap on what amounted to his wheel rim. By the time he rejoined he was in 13th, and his aim was simply to snatch a point.

The net result of the first round of stops left the top five as before, Alonso now 12 seconds clear of Trulli, with Barrichello having moved up to sixth. Down the field Jacques Villeneuve spun and left his Sauber in the gravel; "I’m having a hard time with this car," said the former world champion.

The Red Bulls of Coulthard and Klien were in ninth and tenth, hunting down points positions for the second consecutive race. Ahead, the battle for third was hotting up because Fisichella’s lap times were not impressive; he was reporting massive oversteer in the high speed corners 12, 13 and 14. His problems were an opportunity for Webber and Ralf Schumacher, who came together when the Toyota locked up looking down the inside and drifted into the Australian. With Heidfeld joining the dog fight, there was a superb three car battle for half a lap which resulted in the two Williams cars coming out on top, but crucially also gave Fisichella breathing space.


Behind them Coulthard passed Barrichello on the outside of turn four, and Klien got him at the end of the lap. The Williams cars were back on the tail of Fisichella, and Webber slipped past, was retaken, lined him up again on the outside of the final turn of lap 37, but Fisichella locked his brakes, slid into the Australian and the two cars went off, the Renault bouncing over the Williams. Webber was furious, gesticulating as he got out of the car, and the stewards immediately announced the incident would be investigated after the race. "Not my fault," insisted the Renault driver, but it looked as though he was at least partially to blame.

"I passed him fair and square in 14, and he was on the dirty side when he slid into me. The podium was there for the taking," said the disappointed Australian.


With 16 laps remaining Alonso pitted for the final time with the race totally under control. Trulli, in second, lapped Michael Schumacher, and Heidfeld found himself promoted to third. Ralf Schumacher looked solid in fourth, and Montoya was in fifth, with Coulthard in sixth. McLaren used Montoya’s second stop to jump the Colombian into fourth, ahead of his old teammate in the Toyota.

Behind them, Michael Schumacher had ground his way into seventh and Klien was in eighth. Renault were getting nervous, fearing the tyre wear which had affected Fisichella might be starting to slow Alonso, but Trulli’s tyres looked in equally poor shape. With seven laps remaining Barrichello pulled into the garage, citing no grip at all, though the car was healthy enough.

The final few laps were uneventful, the drivers nursing their cars home and Klien fending off a late charge from Raikkonen. Alonso was untroubled, his win, coupled with his third place finish in Australia, putting him into the lead in the world championship. The young Spaniard looked understandably exhausted on the podium, the champagne spraying distinctly low key.

It was also a great result for Toyota with the Japanese team claiming its first podium. "We delivered," said technical director Mike Gascoyne. "Now we need to go on and win some races."

Final order:
1. Alonso (Renault)
2. Trulli (Toyota)
3. Heidfeld (Williams)
4. Montoya (McLaren)
5. R Schumacher (Toyota)
6. Coulthard (Red Bull)
7. M Schumacher (Ferrari)
8. C Klien (Red Bull)

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