Michael Schumacher fought off a late challenge from Juan Pablo Montoya to take victory in the second race of the season at the Sepang circuit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Sunday.
Never seeming really troubled by the Colombian’s advances, Schumacher claimed the 72nd win of his career as he led Montoya home by a full five seconds.
Montoya and Raikkonen benefited from a mistake by Schumacher’s Brazilian team mate, Rubens Barrichello as he outbraked himself on lap two. Montoya moved into the second place and remained there until the end of the race.
Though the gap between the two top drivers varied at different periods of the race, their closeness was illustrated by the times separating the two. Montoya set the fastest lap of the race, nearly 0,6 seconds ahead of Schumacher’s fastest lap.
Schumacher said: "The beginning of the race was very tough because of the unpredictable conditions. I had to be cautious not to make a mistake but also be careful not to give Juan an opportunity."
"It was really a tough fight and it wasn't guaranteed until the end. It was pressure all the way…”
The pressure only eased on after Montoya rejoined the pack after his third and final pit stop when he slotted in behind Barrichello. The Brazilian managed to hold off Montoya’s attack on the top spot and give Schumacher some breathing space before he pitted for the final time.
By that time, the gap had grown substantially and any further attack was futile.
Speaking about the episode, Montoya said: "It was a shame to come out behind Rubens. I tried to pass him and he blocked me. I thought: 'Knowing Ferrari, I'd better back off and be sure of eight points.'"
The driver of the day was undoubtedly BAR’s Jenson Button. The Brit, who had finished fourth in five races so far, drove splendidly to finish ahead of fourth-placed Barrichello and claim his first podium finish in his 68th F1 race.
"It's amazing,” Button said after the race. “It's as much the team's moment as it is mine, they have worked so hard.”
He also added: "This is not the pinnacle of what we want to achieve but it is a step in the right direction.
Button claimed the third spot as his own after the McLaren of Kimi Raikkonen, who had been in third place for most of the race retired with clutch problems with 15 laps to go. This was the Finn’s second retirement in as many races - he retired in the Australian Grand Prix on lap nine.
BAR team boss David Richards said Button fully deserved his first top-three finish.
"He's done a superb job at one of the toughest races of the year. He's driven absolutely perfectly," Richards said.
Jarno Trulli of Renault won the battle with David Coulthard of McLaren for fifth place, while Fernando Alonso picked up two points in seventh spot.
The promising Alonso, sporting a black armband and the Spanish national flag on his helmet in honour of those who had died in the recent attacks in Spain, started from the back of the grid and fought his way into the points. Felipe Massa secured the final points position for Sauber.
The one driver in agony after the race at Sepang must be Australia’s Mark Webber. He qualified in second spot next to Michael Schumacher, but failed to capitalise on that position as he got off to a slow start, allowing Barrichello to slip into second place.
"It was one of those days when you learn and we have got to build on it," Webber said.
"It's not the best when you stall on the line. Then Ralf Schumacher gave me a puncture, I got a pit lane speed penalty and then I spun."
By the end of the first lap, Webber had been pushed back into ninth place, though it all became a lot worse after a fierce scrap with Ralf Schumacher left him with a puncture.
"Mark was pretty aggressive. Maybe it came from his slow start," Ralf said. "I tried to avoid a collision but it happened."
Webber was forced to pit to repair the puncture and then hit with a stop-go penalty for speeding in the pit lane.
Webber’s miserable race came to a halt in lap 26 when he spun on to the gravel while entering the final corner.
Ralf Schumacher was also forced to park his Williams after the BMW engine blew on the 28th lap.
Wonder-boy Button's team-mate Sato joined the list of retirements when he suffered an engine failure while in eighth spot, three laps from the finish.
After the race, winner Michael Schumacher and Ferrari technical director, Ross Brawn both expressed their delight at the results. Before the race there had been some concerns about the ability of the Bridgestone’s to perform in the Malaysian heat, but Schumacher said "I'm really happy with the way we fought our way back.”
Brawn said: "It was a great race. Being able to win here in some ways means more than Australia.
"Bridgestone have done a fantastic job when you realise how much we have struggled here in the past.
"It was a tough race. There were times when Montoya was pushing us and we couldn't respond, but luckily we were quick when we needed to be."
1. Michael Schumacher Ferrari 1:31:07.490
2. Juan Pablo Montoya Williams 1:31:12.512
3. Jenson Button BAR 1:31:19.058
4. Rubens Barrichello Ferrari 1:31:21.105
5. Jarno Trulli Renault 1:31:44.850
6. David Coulthard McLaren 1:32:00.588
7. Fernando Alonso Renault 1:32:15.367
8. Felipe Massa Sauber +1 lap
9. Cristiano da Matta Toyota + 1 lap
10. Christian Klien Jaguar + 1 lap
11. Giancarlo Fisichella Sauber + 1 lap
12. Olivier Panis Toyota + 1 lap
13. Giorgio Pantano Jordan + 2 laps
14. Gianmaria Bruni Minardi + 3 laps
15. Takuma SatoBAR + 4 laps
Zsolt Baumgartner Minardi+ 4 laps
Kimi Räikkönen McLaren+ 16 laps
Nick Heidfeld Jordan+ 22 laps
Ralf Schumacher Williams+ 29 laps
Mark Webber Jaguar+ 33 laps