23 March 2003
Malaysian GP 2003 - Iceman keeps cool in meltdown.
Kimi Raikkonen elevated himself to the ranks of grand prix winner - and wiped away the tag of Formula One nearly-man - by winning the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang in oppressive conditions.
Although the expected rain and thunderstorms did not materialise during the 56-lap encounter, the usual heat and humidity played their part as drivers climbed from cars dripping with perspiration, but Raikkonen, dubbed 'Iceman' by his McLaren colleagues, kept his cool to win by almost 40 seconds.
Starting from seventh on the grid, the Finn was able to escape the melee that ensued at the first corner as the first few rows squeezed together and Michael Schumacher made an optimistic lunge inside Jarno Trulli. The German, trying to avoid a fast starting David Coulthard through the first right-hander was left with little room by the time he homed in on the left turn that followed and, with Trulli already heading across his bows, caught the Renault's rear quarter, spinning it across the pack to rest on the outside verge.
Although the Italian escaped without too much damage, and Schumacher continued for a couple of laps before succumbing to the need for a front wing change, those in their wake did not get off so lightly. The concertina effect saw Jos Verstappen make contact with one of the Jaguars - most likely Antonio Pizzonia, as the Brazilian then found himself cannoned into the back of Juan Montoya's Williams-BMW, breaking its rear wing clean off. All three repaired to the pits, losing at least a lap in the process, while Trulli picked the remains of the R4's front wing out of his cockpit and rejoined, red mist fully descended.
For the second year in a row, Montoya and Schumacher found themselves pit-bound after the first lap, although this time they had not been brought together in the incident. While the German was in and out in just over ten seconds, however, his Colombian adversary was stationery for more than two laps, dropping him to the rear of the field.
There had already been two casualties by this point, with Jacques Villeneuve not taking the warm-up lap when his BAR-Honda refused to move off the line, and Giancarlo Fisichella's Jordan doing likewise three minutes later. Villeneuve made a valiant attempt to join the race, sprinting up pit-lane to find the spare car as the rest of the field set off on its parade, but, when he got there, the Canadian was left sitting in the pits as the replacement's gearbox refused to select anything.
Fisichella, meanwhile, had successfully joined the rest of the grid on its warm-up, but became confused when returning to his starting place and - not for the first time in Malaysia - lined up in the wrong slot. He attempted to make a late switch of position, including a spot of reversing, but it was all in vain as the car decided it had had enough and shut down.
Heinz-Harald Frentzen's Sauber was also stranded on the grid, but only for a moment, as it joined the Toyota of Cristiano da Matta - which had started from the pits - at the back of the field.
At the front of the field, surprise polesitter Fernando Alonso had not let the pressure get to him, and calmly led the field into - and out of - turn one, before streaking away at a rate of knots that confirmed suspicions that the Renaults were not exactly the heaviest cars in qualifying. Anyone expecting the Spaniard to pit inside ten laps, however, was to be proved wrong, as Alonso led for 14 laps before having to call in for fuel and tyres.
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