Malaysian GP - Sunday - Race Report
McLaren's 1-2 knockout
Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro went to Malaysia with a collective spring in its step. The Melbourne win had been dominant and Ferrari was confident that it had a car that was well clear of the opposition. And thus the Italian team got a hell of a shock as Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton blitzed the red cars in the race, scoring a solid 1-2 result. The first for McLaren for many a moon.
In the days ahead they will be analysing all the data and the bad news is that when the boffins have done all of that, the truth will emerge. Ferrari had a faster car and the victory was thrown away. Perhaps that is a little harsh because Kimi Raikkonen went into the weekend with worries about his engine. The team looked at the best strategy and concluded that it was best to make a few compromises and not take a grid penalty. This meant that Raikkonen did not have the same straightline speed as Felipe Massa. And so the onus was on the Brazilian and in qualifying he delivered the goods. He was on the pole and the point man for the race.
But then it all went horribly wrong.
The key to this victory was the run down to the first corner. The two McLarens were second and fourth on the grid. The Ferraris were first and third. Massa did not make a particularly good start and had Alonso on his inside as they went into the first corner. Behind them Raikkonen had got away well and seemed to be well clear of Hamilton but as they went down into the first corner. Kimi decided to go out wide. It was a move which left the inside line open for Hamilton and Lewis took it. As Alonso grabbed the lead Massa went a little wider than he would have liked and Hamilton went in behind Alonso, emerging with the momentum to be alongside Felipe and there he stayed, holding on until he had won the position.
As Alonso went away up the road, Hamilton was left to hold back the red cars. And hold them back he did. It was clear that Massa had a faster car but Lewis was not going to give it away. In the laps that followed Felipe three times looked to be set to go ahead. Perhaps he thought that dealing with an F1 novice would be easy, but three times he failed to complete the move. On the first two occasions Hamilton was able to nip ahead again. And then on lap six Hamilton changed his position on the track and suckered Felipe into braking just a fraction too late. Lewis was right on the edge but he had the space to make the turn. Felipe did not.
That dropped him out of contention, behind the BMW of Nick Heidfeld and that meant that Hamilton was left with only Kimi Raikkonen to worry about. Attack he did, but the Finn did not have the speed in the car to challenge as Massa had done.
"Felipe wanted to get past and when he had the opportunity he took it. Sometimes when you try to gain you lose. It is unfortunate for him, but it happens and it will happen again. It is not ideal for the team."
Indeed not. Ferrari left Malaysia nine points behind McLaren in the Constructors' Championship and while Alonso leads the Drivers' Championship by only two points, Hamilton is only two points behind Raikkonen. When all is said and done it was another truly astonishing performance for an F1 newcomer. Lewis set the fastest lap of the race. He has been on the podium in both races thus far. He has led both races.
We knew he was good but it is doubtful that anyone dared to imagine that he would be this good.
Afterwards Lewis looked a little tired. Mentally rather than physically. And he admitted that this had been the hardest race of his life.
"To see two Ferraris behind you, two red blobs in the mirror, knowing that they had started lighter than you and were quicker than you," he explained. "Felipe had a couple of moves but then I tricked him into outbraking himself but I managed to get my car stopped and was very fortunate to cut across and get back ahead of him. I apologise for that! Then I had Kimi hunting me down for most of the race".
Hamilton may be a rookie. He is an old head on broad shoulders. And a cool head too. Rather cooler than the one in Ferrari number five.
These were, let us not forget, extreme conditions. It was incredibly hot and humid and yet Lewis made no mistakes. In the closing laps he admitted that it had been tough.
"It would have been easier to have been further ahead," he said, "but I had to keep pushing all the way to the last lap and not make any mistakes. I had to bite my tongue and dig as deep as I could and yet preserve the energy I had and pull the car to the end. Defending is 10 times harder than trying to overtake someone when you have two guys lighter on fuel and perhaps slightly faster."
Did he think that he would have been able to achieve such an amazing start to an F1 career.
Lewis stopped to think about that one.
"It is difficult to predict and know what to expect," he said. "Testing is one thing but racing is another. I know I am strong at racing. I really didn't know what to expect. I didn't think I would be on the podium twice in the first two races. The team has done a fantastic job to prepare me and the car so that we could win. I am sitting next to the two best drivers in the world and to go into my second race and have a second place is fantastic. I have to take it step by step. This is another stepping stone for me. The next one has to be a win. I really hope that at some point I can get a win."
That time will no doubt come and probably sooner rather than later.
But it is not going to be easy. Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen are no slouches.
Fernando admitted that he was not confident of victory until he saw that Raikkonen had gone into the pitlane for his second stop. It was only then that he knew for certain that victory was within his grasp. It was not an easy race. He had a radio failure early on and the conditions were extreme.
"It was extremely hot in the cockpit," he said. "You keep drinking but after 10 laps it is like drinking tea. It's no longer fun to drink. I was lucky today that I did not have a big battle with anyone. It is a wonderful surprise to see what we have achieved in such a short time. We never expected to be this competitive this quickly. We still need to work a bit on race pace. We should not confuse ourselves on that. We have some improvements coming so we should be right with them very shortly and I think it will be a very close fight."
There speaks a double World Champion.
Elsewhere it was a good day again for BMW with Nick Heidfeld fourth for the second race in a row. Williams was quick too but again there were reliability problems that left Alexander Wurz starting too far down the grid and Nico Rosberg having to park while running sixth. The pace is there but the team still needs better reliability. That left Renault to pick up the pieces with Giancarlo Fisichella sixth and Heikki Kovalainen eighth, the pair sandwiching Jarno Trulli's Toyota.
They are the best of the rest but there is much ground still to be made up.