Renault’s Fernando Alonso grabbed the lead of the F1 world championship by dominating the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday. The feisty Spaniard romped to the chequered flag while many of his rivals squabbled over minor placings or wilted in Sepang’s oppressive heat.
Renault’s Fernando Alonso grabbed the lead of the F1 world championship by dominating the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday. The feisty Spaniard romped to the chequered flag while his rivals squabbled over minor placings or wilted in Sepang’s oppressive heat.
Italian Jarno Trulli made good on Toyota’s promise of an improved performance in Malaysia and gave the Japanese manufacturer its first podium result by finishing second. Nick Heidfeld survived fierce duels with team-mate Mark Webber, Toyota’s Ralf Schumacher and Australian Grand Prix winner Giancarlo Fisichella to finish third.
Alonso started from pole position and held Trulli and Fisichella at bay at the first corner. Webber maintained fourth ahead of Ralf Schumacher and Heidfeld executed a brave overtaking move to pass Red Bull Racing’s David Coulthard in turns four and five.
At the end of the first lap, BAR Honda driver Jenson Button nipped past Kimi Räikkönen’s McLaren-Mercedes under braking for the first corner. The Briton’s effort was in vain, however, as his engine expired soon afterwards. BAR Honda’s nightmare season continued when Anthony Davidson’s engine failed almost simultaneously.
By Lap 6, Alonso had built a four-second lead over Trulli, who was a further second ahead of Fisichella. Webber was fourth, Ralf Schumacher fifth and Kimi Raikkonen back up to sixth.
The order remained static until the first round of pit stops. Alonso refuelled on lap twenty-one and while the leading pack made their first pit stops, Räikkönen stayed out on track and led the race temporarily, setting the fastest lap before pitting on Lap 24.
The Spaniard continued to lead Trulli and Fisichella while Räikkönen was up to fourth (having passed Ralf Schumacher and Webber in the pit stops). However, disaster struck when his McLaren suffered a rear right tyre failure. The Finn wrestled his machine back to the pit lane and later rejoined the race in fourteenth place.
Meanwhile, Webber and Ralf Schumacher closed in on Fisichella on Lap 32. As Webber struggled to find a way past Fisichella, Ralf Schumacher dived down the inside on the final corner. The two drivers collided and Webber managed to pass his German rival. Heidfeld also passed the Toyota soon afterwards.
Ralf retook the position from Heidfeld in turn one, but the Williams-BMW driver barged back past the Toyota a couple of corners later. Ahead of Webber and Heidfeld, Alonso continued to lead Trulli.
Webber tried an ambitious move to take Fisichella’s third place around the outside of the final corner. Fisichella could not find enough room on the inside and the two cars crashed - the Renault flipping over the front of the Williams as both drivers retired from the race.
"I saw Webber when it was too late and slid to the outside when I couldn't correct my car any more," Fisichella said. "There wasn't anything I could do. He overtook me on the corner before the incident and I thought I could win my position back."
"After my pit stop the car became very difficult to steer," the Italian added.
Webber, in turn, complained that Fisichella should have just yielded to him knowing that his Renault was slower and struggling on worn tyres.
After the event, race stewards at Sepang reviewed video footage of the incident and heard statements from both drivers. The stewards decided to warn Fisichella, but took no further action.
Alonso, who cruised to his second career victory and his second podium finish of the 2005 season, said: "If we (Renault) can keep going, keep working and keep making progress, we can do it (win the world championship). This is a really good team, very motivated and very talented. For me, personally, it is fantastic to be the first Spanish driver ever to lead the championship, but it is more fantastic simply to be the leader."
As to which win gave him more satisfaction, Alonso said that "today was a really great moment - but nothing like crossing the line in Hungary (in 2003). That was a fantastic sensation, a dream come true. This time I really went through the mill."
Montoya was fourth ahead of the second Toyota of Ralf Schumacher. Coulthard continued Red Bull's great start to the season with sixth place ahead of Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher. Coulthard’s team-mate, Christian Klien, claimed the final point, fending off a late charge from a recovering Räikkönen.
Renault's two victories have given the team a clear lead in the constructor’s title race with a total of 26 points. Toyota's strong race in Sepang propelled the Cologne-based team into second place with 12 points, and Red Bull Racing is third. Ferrari and Williams have ten points and McLaren, the only other team to score, has nine points.