Michael Schumacher said he though that the Malaysian Grand Prix would provide a truer test of the competitiveness of this year's Ferrari challenge. Now that verdict is in it's clear that this year will be tough for Ferrari rivals no matter what the weather conditions as the multiple world champion came home to take his second race win this season.

For Schumacher it was a race unchallenged, the number 1 Ferrari leading the F1 field for all but a handful of laps during the pitstop period in the heat of the Malayisan Grand Prix. With the heat at Kuala Kumpur around the 37? C range last year's wisdom would say a Michelin day, and the Ferrari's certainly didn't enjoy the dominance they did two weeks ago, but the Bridgestone tyre boffins have certainly worked on their area of weakness to great effect.

Despite the heat it was grey skies that greeted the start of the Malaysian GP and soon into the race rain began to fall and offer that other window of opportunity to the Michelin runners. When the track initially dampens the French tyre concern runners suddenly find themselves with a substantial advantage.

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By this time Michael Schumacher had already built up quite an advantage, but this was quickly eroded by the hard-charging Juan Pablo Montoya. It was to prove to be just a brief shower as soon the precipitation passed and Herr Schumacher was back on his way.

The start of the race had seen Australia's hopes dashed as the getaway difficulties of the Mark Webber's car undid all his good qualifying work from yesterday. The Jaguar R5 is clearly not a car to use for bank jobs and Webber found himself at the back of the field with all to do.

Already at the back for the race start was Renault's young star Fernando Alonso, the Spaniard getting off to a trademark superb Renault start to pass some seven cars as the field barrelled down to turn one, which remarkably everyone got through without incident.

Webber's failure to leave the grid appropriately meant that the field was mixed up some as they all successfully avoided the Jaguar. Rubens Barrichello gratefully accepted the gift of second place whilst Juan Pablo Montoya slotted into third ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Jarno Trulli.

Barrichello wasn't to put the pressure on his team-mate quite as much as he managed in Australia, as not only did the Brazilian struggle to match the German's speed as he had in the Melbourne race, but he outbraked himself allowing Montoya through to chase down Schumacher. This coincided with the wet weather meaning that Montoya gave Schumacher his greatest threat. The German out front was taking things cautiously, uncertain of the grip levels, but the rain was not to last and once the track dried the Bridgestones found their grip and the Williams threat lessened.

Jenson Button meanwhile found himself a willing and able sparring partner in the form of Renault's Jarno Trulli and their battle was one of the better ones of the race as both displayed able and well-tempered racecraft. Positions were swapped and there was a small amount of contact - for which the Italian apologised afterwards - but ultimately it was the Brit who won through.

Another battle that wasn't being waged in such good terms was that between the recovering Mark Webber and Ralf Schumacher in the Williams. Webber had made his way past the Williams man in true Aussie gritty style, pushing the Williams-BMW on to the grass as Ralf tried to resist the green car.

This was at least accomplished with the Jaguar alongside the Williams. Ralf's later retort wasn't quite so convincing. Having a sniff along the inside from too far back, Ralf's overtake attempt was never going to happen. Webber closed the door and Ralf's front wing endplates - no doubt sharpened in anticipation of dicing with his team-mate - made contact with Webber's right rear rendering an instant puncture.

Webber limped to the pits as his tyre deflated and began to work its way off the rim. Ralf's efforts meanwhile were all in vain as the Williams was parked up with smoke billowing come lap 27. "I was trying to overtake Mark but then I realised there was not enough room and I backed off, trying to avoid the collision, however Mark didn't give me enough space," said the younger Schumacher brother of the incident.

Webber, re-tyred and refuelled, took back to the circuit but this clearly wasn't his day. As well as having to have a pitlane drive-through, this year's Jaguar appears to be as hard on its rear tyres as last year's R4 and a massive lock-up into turn 15 and the gravel saw Webber exit the race with a mere 23 laps completed. Despite this, with his qualifying excellence and gritty drive, the Australian's employment prospects have been increased yet further by his visit to Malaysia.

Mark Webber's take on the tyre puncture incident was slightly different and a bit more down to earth than Ralf's. "He was p***ed off I passed him," Webber said after his retirement. As for his own later off? "It was the rear tyre wear catching me out, it was my fault."

Another driver having not the best of races was F1 rookie Giorgio Pantano. Not only did the Italian opt to start from the pitlane after yesterday's car issues, but the Jordan was seen more than once not facing the correct direction of travel.

In Melbourne the driver who opted for the sideways and spinning approach was Felipe Massa, and whilst there was some evidence of this enthusiasm today everything was coming together pretty nicely at Sepang for the Sauber man. Not only did the young gun outqualify his experienced and highly rated team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella once more, but he was putting down a very strong advertisement for his driving skills on track in the race too.

Felipe was eventually to come home in the points, just as he did two years ago in Malaysia. Though it wasn't an incident run through to the chequered flag, it was a good performance from the young Brazilian. "It was very difficult to try and catch the drivers in front, but in the end this was a really good result for us," he said after the race. "I scored my first point here in 2002, so it's good to come back and do the same two years later."

For team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella it wasn't the best of days, the Italian having a pretty lackluster race to come home in eleventh place. "I had some moments in the first two corners after the start and lost a lot of places, so after that we decided to change our refuelling strategy slightly," he said afterwards. "Then unfortunately the engine stalled in the second stop and again in the third, so I lost even more time. The car wasn't too bad in between all that."

McLaren were looking better this weekend, but Kimi Raikkonen was to end his race exactly as he did in Melbourne, with retirement. Underlying the fact that the Finn may have been allocated the inappropriate misnomer with the title 'Ice Man', Kimi was once again venting his anger, though this time a marshal was the recipient of Raikkonen's displeasure at the state of this year's McLaren.

That said, Kimi's race was almost a lot worse as the Finn was caught out and had a half-spin on the formation lap. Luckily he didn't let the rest of the field pass he so he was able to regain his grid position for the race start. "It's never nice not to finish a race, not only for me but also for the team," said the Finnish driver afterwards before explaining the cause of his demise. "We were close to getting on the podium today, but in my second pitstop we struggled to get the fuel nozzle to come off, so we lost important time to BAR and Jenson could take third. A few laps later something broke in my transmission."

Team-mate David Coulthard was driving hard through the race and came home in an eventual sixth place. "Sixth place is not brilliant, but at least we have improved," the Scot summed up later.

Meanwhile as the race neared its conclusion it appeared that fate had dealt a cruel blow with the appearance of a smoking BAR-Honda at the side of the race circuit. A closer inspection revealed that it was a BAR of Takuma Sato, who had been having a solid race apart from an early visit to the gravel, and not the potential podium getting Jenson Button.

After his early battle with Button and to a lesser extent Rubens Barrichello, Jarno Trulli brought is car home in a solid fifth, ahead of the McLaren and underlying the strength of the Renault package for 2004. "It's a satisfying result, given that I started eighth and all our competitors were very strong today," said Jarno after the race. For team-mate Fernando Alonso it was a busy race, with a swap to a two stop strategy not having the results team or driver hoped for. "Our strategy didn't really work out and I think I could have finished even higher up," said the Melbourne podium attendee. "The car was competitive, but quite tricky to drive: the balance wasn't particularly good during the race."

Coming home in tenth was rookie Chrstian Klien who had another solid run through to the finish and displayed better pace in the race than his debut. But, echoing Webber at the head of the field, Klien also made a poor start. "My start was not good and I am certainly frustrated with this. I did however, actually enjoy the race and it was good for me," he said afterwards.

Whilst team-mate Pantano was coming to terms with reality in F1 Nick Heidfeld was in the thick of the early race action in the Jordan EJ14 until 34 laps were completed when the transmission gave up. Heidfeld's race had already started to go wrong with a fuel rig malfunction meaning the German had to return to track without refuelling. "I had to retire because I was getting stuck in gears for short periods and although at first I was able to shift again, it got worse until I was stuck in fifth gear for more than a lap and after that there was no point carrying on," Heidfeld explained afterwards. "Realistically the race was over for me after my first pit stop because no fuel went into the car and I had to come in to stop again, very slowly as well so as not to run out of fuel on the circuit. I was trying to move up the field when the gears went."

Pantano was to come home an eventual thirteenth place, the Italian still having plenty to learn about the car and fitness required in F1. "I think I drove quite a consistent race," he said afterwards, "but it was just a little bit hard at the end because my drinks bottle didn't work throughout the race and it was quite exhausting by the finish."

For Toyota it was a reliable run but one not showing any pace. Coming home in ninth place was Cristiano da Matta whilst Olivier Panis had another fraught time and came home twelfth. Panis was running strongly in tenth when a communications mixup saw the Frenchman make a visit to the pits to find his crew unready for his presence. With a wave to the crew, Panis drove through and disappeared back into the race only to have to do a rerun as he'd managed to exceed the pitlane speed limit with his unnecessary drive-through.

Minardi were running where you'd expect with Gianmaria Bruni coming home some three laps down on the leaders, Zsolt Baumgartner some 4 laps adrift.

Just missing out on a podium place was Rubens Barrichello, though the Brazilians was closing in on Jenson Button's BAR there was not enough laps made for the Brazilian to join the champagne celebrations on the podium. Rubens summed up his race pretty simply, "I pushed hard all race long, doing as much as I could. I made a different tyre choice to my team-mate and it did not pay off.

On that podium for the very first time was Jenson Button and a not especially happy looking Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya had been pushing hard all race but was not especially happy with the defensive Rubens Barrichello he found in front of him when he returned to the track from the pits. "I exited the pit lane behind Rubens," explained Montoya without a smile. "I tried to pass him but then I preferred to back off as I did not want to compromise a good second position. I realised at this point that the most important thing was taking home some valuable points for the team and for myself."

But, at the end of the race, it was a comfortable win for Michael Schumacher. Not as comfortable as his domination in hotter weather is an obvious cause for concern. "It was a tough fight all the way to the end, but I was quick enough when I needed to be at the start and end of each stint. The gap to Montoya opened and closed throughout the race and it was pressure all the way," said Schumacher after the race.

There is hope of a challenge from new quarters on the horizon however, not least from the vastly improved BAR of Jenson Button who took his first podium today. "There are no words to describe the feeling of your first podium and this one has been a long time coming," said an ecstatic Jenson Button afterwards. "It's a fantastic result for the team in only our second race of the season and I'm delighted for everyone - the team, Honda and all our partners - because they have worked so hard for this. It was a tough race but so enjoyable because we were very competitive."

Roll on Bahrain.

Race Result:

1. Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari 56 laps 1hr 31min 07.490secs
2. Juan Montoya Colombia Williams-BMW + 05.022secs
3. Jenson Button Britain BAR-Honda +11.568secs
4. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +13.616secs
5. Jarno Trulli Italy Renault-Renault +37.360secs
6. David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes +53.098secs
7. Fernando Alonso Spain Renault-Renault +1min 07.877secs
8. Felipe Massa Brazil Sauber-Petronas +1 lap

9. Cristiano da Matta Brazil Toyota-Toyota +1 laps
10. Christian Klien Austria Jaguar-Cosworth +1 laps
11. Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Sauber-Petronas +1 lap
12. Olivier Panis France Toyota-Toyota +1 laps
13. Giorgio Pantano Italy Jordan-Ford +2 laps
14. Gianmaria Bruni Italy Minardi-Cosworth +3 laps

Rtd. Takuma Sato Japan BAR-Honda 52 laps completed
Rtd. Zsolt Baumgartner Hungary Minardi-Cosworth 52 laps completed
Rtd. Kimi Raikkonen Finland McLaren-Mercedes 40 laps completed
Rtd Nick Heidfeld Italy Jordan-Ford 34 laps completed
Rtd. Ralf Schumacher Germany Williams-BMW 27 laps completed
Rtd. Mark Webber Australia Jaguar-Cosworth 23 laps completed

Fastest lap:

Juan Pablo Montoya Williams-BMW 1min 34.223secs lap 29