19 March 2006
Malaysia 2006: Fisichella wins over malaise.
Giancarlo Fisichella led a Renault 1-2 in the Malaysian Grand Prix, giving the team its second win of the 2006 season after leading all the way from pole position.
Having suffered a nightmare race in Bahrain, the Italian didn't put a foot wrong after posting the quickest time in qualifying, only relinquishing the lead during his two pit-stops. Alonso took second place despite switching back to a two-stop strategy from what many expected to be a single stop plan after he was incorrectly fuelled in qualifying. That decision removed the anticipation that the two Renault drivers may go head-to-head on different strategies, allowing Fisichella to run out winner by just over four seconds once Alonso had accepted that his late race push was not going to get him close enough to the Italian.
Third place eventually fell to Jenson Button, who had started on the front row but lost out to the pace of the R26, particularly on fuller fuel loads. The Briton may even have finished further back, having been unable to pass Juan Montoya on the road as he had in Bahrain, but benefited from a mystery problem that affected the Colombian's top speed between pit-stops, allowing the Honda to claim third.
Montoya held on for fourth place, despite, first, Nick Heidfeld, and then the two Ferraris catching him in the closing stages. Heidfeld, like the two Williams-Cosworths before him, saw a points finish go begging when his BMW engine let go with eight laps remaining, releasing Felipe Massa and Michael Schumacher onto the tail of Montoya, the Brazilian leading home his illustrious team-mate after one stop proved better than two for the Scuderia.
Heidfeld's exit allowed team-mate Jacques Villeneuve into seventh place, but the Canadian had to weather late-race pressure from Ralf Schumacher who, like Massa, had driven a spirited race from the back row of the grid.
Many people had backed Kimi Raikkonen to win the race, but the Finn made a dramatic first lap exit after being tagged by the Red Bull of Christian Klien. The Austrian pitted with tell-tale damage to his right front, and frantic work by the pit crew went unrewarded when the RB2 eventually joined the sister car of David Coulthard among those on the sidelines.
The race began under a cloud of controversy with eight teams protesting the front and rear wings on the Ferrari 248 F1 which, it is alleged, contravene the 'movable aerodynamic devices' rule. The Scuderia has promised to take revised units to the next round in Australia, while the FIA has noted the objections and has said that it will investigate further. That appeared to appease the objectors, and all 22 cars took the green light.
Fisichella sprinted into an immediate lead, with Button following, second, at a distance. The two Williams drivers, however, appeared more intent on settling an internal score, with both cars edging closer to the pit-wall in their own personal battle, allowing an inspired Alonso to sweep around the outside and claim third, despite being thought to be on a higher fuel load than his immediate opposition.
Rosberg and Webber almost lost out to the McLarens as well, before the older man got the better of his upstart team-mate. Webber managed to hold fourth, but his move in front of Rosberg momentarily delayed the young German, who dropped behind both Raikkonen and Montoya, with Heidfeld also taking advantage.
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