Unusually, Bridgestone and Ferrari
also appeared to have made a poor judgement call, as Barrichello's first pit-stop was followed by a rapid couple of laps.... then no further progress. Opting for the softer of the two Japanese compounds, the Brazilian paid the penalty when his progress was halted by a drop off in lap times that allowed Raikkonen to make his decisive break.
By the time of his second stop, the Finn was comfortably in control, and had enough time to get in and out of the pits ahead of the Ferrari. He then underlined the progress McLaren
has made between the original and 'D'-spec MP4-17s by eking out a few more seconds over Barrichello, even though the team was hanging out the 'easy' board along with his other information.
Once he had taken on his final load of fuel and rubber, Barrichello was able to hold onto second, Alonso now half a minute in arrears, leaving the focus of attention to fall, once again, on the battle for the minor placings.
Although Ralf Schumacher appeared to have fourth sewn up while he stayed ahead of Button and Trulli, a similarly monikered Ferrari
pilot was making ground on all three. The world champion, despite now having made three stops - including his penalty - was right on Trulli's tale by lap 41 and, heading into the scene of their earlier brush, outfumbled the Italian after making it three abreast down the main straight. With the Ferrari
again on the outside, Trulli attempted to hold a tighter line, only to run wide and allow Schumacher down the inside.
then set off after Button, and scythed inside the Briton at the final corner of the same lap. The BAR driver at least made a better effort at defending his place than he had twelve months previously, but still had no answer to the champion. It later transpired, however, that Schumacher was running far lighter than his two rivals, and his final stop, on lap 44, left him with it all to do again.
Fastest lap on his first full tour out of the pits showed that he meant business, despite the fight being - by Schumacher standards - for slim pickings, and battle was rejoined with Trulli by lap 51. The Italian almost made things easy this time around, spinning in his close pursuit of Button as they rounded the final hairpin and letting Schumacher get to within momentary touching distance before easing out a gap again.
Button now appeared safe in fifth place but, incredibly, suffered the same fate as in 2002 - when he was Trulli's team-mate at Renault. Going into the last lap, his BAR slowed, allowing both his long-time combatants to gain a place before the chequered flag. While he was still able to score points, seventh was not what his drive had deserved.
Nick Heidfeld rounded out the point scorers after a largely unobtrusive race that saw him run briefly in third place after the first lap melee, while Sauber team-mate Frentzen snatched ninth from Firman after a run strewn with mishaps. Firman finished ahead of Cristiano da Matta, who continued his F1 learning process in a fine scrap with the Jordan and Sauber ahead of him, the luckless Montoya and Verstappen, who again brought his Minardi to the line.
Pizzonia, having helped ruin Montoya's afternoon, spun himself out of the race at the final turn with 14 laps to go, and joined team-mate Webber on the sidelines after the Jaguar team leader pulled into the garage with a sick engine. It was not a good day for the latest bunch of F3000 graduates, as Justin Wilson - having again been in the top ten in the opening laps - retired in pain after a trapped nerve added itself to the usual Sepang ailments. As the chequered flag fell, the lanky Briton was in the medical centre, attached to a drip.
Outside, without the aid of air conditioning, a breath of fresh air swept across Formula One. New rules or not, the sport has received something of a shake-up in recent weeks and, despite Ron Dennis' objections to the regulation changes, it is his men that have benefited most.