Anything Giancarlo Fisichella can do, Fernando Alonso can do too, the Spaniard controlling the Malaysian Grand Prix from the front to record his second career grand prix win in commanding fashion.

Alonso led from lights to flag, pulling away from the chasing pack at will and leaving the incident and controversy to continue in his wake. His was just about the only untroubled passage, however, as engines, tyres and the occasional spot of automotive fisticuffs all played their part in maintaining Formula One's unexpected start to the season.

In typical Sepang heat and humidity, the race got off to a clean start, with no contact at the notoriously tight second turn, despite some three-abreast racing as the shuffled-up grid attempted to right itself. Jenson Button, Nick Heidfeld and Rubens Barrichello all made quick getaways, forcing themselves into the mix over the first couple of laps, while 'debutant' Anthony Davidson went in the opposite direction.

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Despite falling behind Jacques Villeneuve's under-gunned Sauber, the BAR driver needn't have worried too greatly about his prospects, as both he and Button were back in the garage by the end of lap three. The double retirement provided an ironic counterpoint to the controversy that surrounded BAR's decision to 'retire' both Button and Takuma Sato in exchange for fresh engines at the end of the Australian GP, and left its number one driver fuming. Patrick Friesacher, an innocent victim of the first signs of Button's demise preceded the formation retirement by spinning into the gravel trap.

While Alonso eased away out on the back of successive fastest laps, Jarno Trulli made the most of his own good start to secure second place. Having seen off the second Renault of Melbourne winner Fisichella into turn one, the Italian established a comfort zone back to his compatriot that left the front three strung out and the action taking place in the scrap for minor places.

Fourth was being held by Mark Webber, the Australian having held on to the place he earned with a blistering second qualifying lap, with Ralf Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen next up, the Finn recovering after being blitzed by Button on lap two. Heidfeld had David Coulthard for company, despite both Red Bull drivers having lost positions off the line.

Notably absent from the front for the field were both Ferraris and, while Barrichello tried to make a fist of the task ahead of him, his world championship team-mate again appeared to be making little headway. Michael Schumacher has often been susceptible to pressure, but his demeanour in the opening laps was that of a child waiting churlishly for a new toy to play with.

The usual question of fuel strategies began to arise around lap 15. Was Alonso pressing on because his second qualifying lap had been the result of a light fuel load? How long could Trulli keep up his pursuit without stopping - and would his tyres last the distance this time? Were McLaren and Ferrari using one-stop strategies to make up for their poor grid slots?

Red Bull was the first to blink, bringing Christian Klien in for a refill on lap 18, but the leaders stretched their payloads for three more tours, before Alonso and Trulli pitted in unison, Fisichella taking over at the front. When the Italian stopped next time around, Raikkonen inherited the advantage, and it began to appear that the Finn may have an ace up his sleeve as he pushed his McLaren's fuel for another couple of laps, rejoining in fourth place, ahead of both Webber and Ralf Schumacher, who stopped before him.

Almost as soon as he had rejoined, however, Raikkonen's race went awry, a puncture sending the McLaren man skittering across the dry and dusty infield. Somehow, he maintained control of the car, regaining the track but with almost two-thirds of the lap to run before he could make it back to the pits. Determined not to lose all of the time he had patiently gained in the first stint, the Finn continued to press on, Gilles Villeneuve-style, shedding great globs of rubber as the flat began to disintegrate. The carcass had come fully off the rim by the time he reached the final corner, but the McLaren mechanics were able to fit a replacement and send him on his way, albeit down in 13th place.

If Raikkonen had narrowly avoided joining the retirement list, Villeneuve was not so fortunate, a spin catching the Canadian out shortly after the McLaren had rejoined for the second time. Villeneuve had complained all weekend about locking his front wheels, but claimed that, in attempting to find a cure for the problem, had had the rears lock up too, sending him deep into the turn one gravel trap.

Whether tyre wear was a factor in the Sauber driver's demise remains to be seen, but it was certainly beginning to play on the minds of others, as F1's new rules took their toll for the first time. Both Fisichella's Renault and the two Toyotas were showing signs of blistering, although Trulli, still running a lonely second, was able to manage his rubber better than team-mate Schumacher.

The German, already bottled up behind Fisi and Webber in the battle for third, quickly found Heidfeld closing rapidly. The two Williams-BMWs looked faster than the increasingly gripless Renault and Toyota, and the TF105 in better shape than the Renault ahead, but no-one was about to make things easy. Webber took a look at passing Fisichella exiting turn 13, but that only allowed Schumacher to get a run on the Aussie into 14. While Fisi cleared out, Ralf made a lunge to the inside of the Williams, only to slide wide and collect his former ride. In true family style, the German then continued to push Webber wide, effectively blocking off Heidfeld's run around the outside, before all three continued onto the home straight.

It was the second Williams that had the better run now, and Heidfeld almost succeeded in passing both cars ahead of him. Webber, still ahead of Schumacher, defended stoutly, the two blue-and-white cars almost touching, into turn one. The hesitation needed to avoid contact with his team-mate saw Heidfeld lose momentum, Schumacher slipping inside, but Webber proved a stiffer opponent, resolutely hanging on around the outside. The scrap continued to turn four, where the lead Williams, compromised by its off-line exit from turn three, again found Schumacher sniffing for a gap. This time, though, the Toyota ran wide, allowing Heidfeld through into fifth. It would prove to be a significant move...

Despite making an escape while the fighting was going on, it didn't take long for Fisichella to be reeled in by the two Williams drivers, and a similar battle appeared to be brewing over the final podium spot. This time, Webber's exit from 13 allowed him to get alongside the Renault, but Fisi wasn't going to go quietly, braking deep into the final hairpin.

In eerily similar fashion to the Schumacher-Webber clash, the Renault drifted wide from the apex, its entry speed to high, only to find its progress arrested by the Williams, which Webber again used to pinch his opponent into the corner. This time, however, the contact was heavier, with Fisichella riding up and over the front of the Williams, both cars spinning to a halt, and immediate retirement, at the pit entry. As usual, the words 'racing incident' did not feature heavily in either driver's explanation...

Heidfeld now found himself in a comfortable third spot, too far from Trulli to really contemplate a challenge for second, but untroubled behind, as Schumacher dropped away. The Toyota driver then became less of a threat, as Juan Montoya, quietly going about his business, assumed fourth spot during their respective pit-stops. Ten seconds separated the McLaren man from both Heidfeld and Schumacher Jr, effectively settling the run to the flag unless Sepang's prevailing conditions had a say.

With the front two also running their own races, Trulli only inheriting the lead when Alonso pitted for his final tank of fuel, attention switched to the battle for the final few points on offer. Barrichello's rapid loss of grip had ruled him out of the fight, leaving the two Red Bull cars to duke it out with none other than the reigning world champion, whose mere participation and reliability had elevated him into the top eight.

Still exhibiting an alarming tendency to slide through corners, the Ferrari nevertheless gave Schumacher enough to pace to emerge from his final stop between the two RB1s, albeit not quite close enough to old adversary Coulthard to challenge for sixth. Indeed, the world champion had more cause to look in his mirrors for Klien, surely the most improved driver over the opening two races, was homing in rapidly, pushed along by a fired-up Raikkonen, still in with the chance of a single point to show for his recovery. With just a handful of laps to go, the trio were running nose-to-tail, but seemingly unable to find the gap they needed to gain a place.

Out front, Alonso had things well in hand, as his team-mate had in Melbourne. Some 24 seconds to the good over Trulli, the Spaniard was able to enjoy his last lap, crossing the line to shouts of 'next world champion' from an excited pit-wall. With two top three finishes under his belt already, the Renault driver has established a handy cushion at the top of the standings, turning up the early season heat on his rivals.