23 March 2008
Malaysia 2008: Unstoppable Kimi sends out warning.
It would prove to be a case of 'he who dares wins', as Heidfeld kept the inside line for the corner and snatched two places in one go, with the combative Alonso and Coulthard – who will celebrate his 37th birthday this week – continuing to go at it hammer-and-tongs side-by-side along the start-finish straight and through turns one and two – almost touching wheels at one point – before the Spaniard finally made the move stick.
With the McLarens showing no real speed – Hamilton lapping a full two seconds slower than the pace-setting Ferraris – fans witnessed the unexpected sight of Trulli's Toyota piling the pressure on the Melbourne winner, though once the Briton had got into his groove he began to inch clear again and take a look at Webber's Red Bull.
Hamilton's cause was aided as Webber became the first man to blink – entering the pit-lane absolutely on the ragged edge and almost on the grass – and as Massa came in next time around, Raikkonen was handed his chance.
In a scene not unlike that witnessed in Magny-Cours last year, the Finn immediately got the hammer down, setting a new fastest lap on Massa's in-lap before blitzing the first two sectors of his own. With the Brazilian – who had rejoined the fray behind Kovalainen – suffering a tardy out-lap, almost seven tenths of a second slower than Raikkonen's, the reigning world champion's efforts would just prove enough as he exited the pit-lane narrowly ahead of his team-mate. Job done.
That promoted Kubica into the lead with the McLarens second and third, but when Hamilton made his own stop disaster struck as there was a problem removing the right front wheel, and more than ten additional seconds were lost in the process. The 23-year-old rejoined the action sandwiched between Webber – another big loser in the first round of stops – and Heidfeld on the outer fringes of the points-scoring positions.
Ahead of the trio, Kovalainen was one of the main beneficiaries of the stops, jumping not only his team-mate but also Trulli and Webber to move into fourth, whilst Alonso failed to run as long as many had expected him to, the Renault slipping back outside of the top ten following his first pit visit.
Trulli's surprise form continued as the Italian homed in on Kovalainen, whilst up at the front, Raikkonen was now moving away from Massa at a considerable rate. Even more unnervingly for Maranello's competitors, the only man remotely close to the scarlet machines' pace was Rosberg – all the way down in 17th spot.
The race's next major drama came as Massa dropped his Ferrari between turns seven and eight – as, in the words of Martin Brundle, 'ambition got ahead of adhesion' in the absence of traction control this year – beaching his F2008 firmly in the gravel trap and promoting the impressive Kubica up into second and Kovalainen into a potential podium position, though with the persistent Trulli still crawling all over the back of him. Worse still for Massa, the retirement made it two races in 2008, and nul points. All of a sudden, Ferrari's demonstration run was beginning to look just a little shaky.
Race leader Raikkonen's advantage over Kubica coming into the pits for the second time, though, was an eminently comfortable 24 seconds, with further back Kovalainen continuing to fend off Trulli's advances and Webber continuing to impede Hamilton's charge. Behind the pair Heidfeld's threat was beginning to recede, the BMWs seemingly undergoing a role reversal of their Melbourne fortunes, when it was Kubica who had faded away as the race wore on and his German team-mate making all the headlines up on the second step of the rostrum.
Webber's second stop finally released a relieved Hamilton into clear air, and with Trulli coming in shortly afterwards, the Melbourne race-winner knew he had to get his head down in an effort to close down the 13-second gap separating him from the Italian.
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