20 March 2005
Malaysia 2005: Alonso turns up the heat.
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.
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.
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