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.

Raikkonen, however, was not destined to go much further, the McLaren apparently taking a punt up the rear at turn four sufficient to weaken the rear suspension. That then gave way under braking for the next corner, pitching Raikkonen into his second hairy spin in as many events. Contact with the retaining wall made sure that there was no repeat of the Finn's recovery to the pits, however.

Raikkonen's exit allowed Jarno Trulli into an early point-scoring position, but of greater interest was the progress of those drivers penalised for engine changes prior to qualifying. Michael Schumacher, starting from 14th after much confusion, had gained four spots and was running just ahead of David Coulthard, while brother Ralf, Massa and Rubens Barrichello lay 13th, 14th and 15th respectively. All had benefited two-fold from the Raikkonen incident, as Christian Klien limped back to the Red Bull garage with his right-front corner askew. The team managed to fix the damage inside eight laps, but the Austrian only completed 16 laps of his own before having to call it a day.

Unlike Bahrain, Sepang generated less excitement on track thereafter, with only Schumacher Sr making moves of note, forcing his way past both Villeneuve and Trulli to move himself into the points positions, while the Canadian also found a way past the Italian to keep tabs on the Ferrari.

Red Bull Racing's day got worse when Coulthard's hydraulics quit on lap ten, but not before Williams had seen the first of its Cosworths go bang in big style - just as Rosberg was given the hurry up to catch Montoya. Webber lasted just nine laps more before his V8 began showing ominous signs of smoke, and the Aussie pulled off to avoid a repeat of Rosberg's smokescreen.

Five cars down by lap 26 suggested that Malaysia may turn into a race of attrition, particularly as engines had been a bone of contention all weekend, but only three further drivers joined the retirement list, and only Heidfeld from a points position. Having been lost in the cloud that emanated from Rosberg's disintegrating unit, the German created one of his own eight laps from home, to join Yuji Ide and Scott Speed on the sidelines.

The lead had changed hands twice by the time that Klien called it a day, with Fisichella pitting from the lead on lap 17 and Button doing likewise two tours later. That promoted Alonso to the front of the field and threw the spotlight on the Spaniard's race strategy, given that Renault had admitted the refuelling him twice in qualifying and leaving him with a heavier-than-expected payload to take to the grid. Stopping around half-distance, the world champion could easily have taken on a repeat cargo and headed for the finish, but Renault opted to short-fill him in an attempt to get him out ahead of the chasing pack. While Alonso rejoined behind Button this time, the gain allowed him to be close enough to make a difference during their second stops.

Fisichella and Button pitted in tandem on lap 38, and this time Alonso went just five laps further before completing his cycle, emerging ahead of the Honda and immediately running faster than his team-mate out front, posing the question of which Renault driver would be able to assert his authority in the closing stages.

Further back, Massa made his only stop on lap 29, rejoining at the tail of the top eight having climbed as high as fourth in his opening stint. The Brazilian was now back behind Montoya, Heidfeld and team-mate Schumacher, but knew that all three had to stop again. Massa's pace then began to tell, as he managed to restrict the gap to his team-mate enough to push Schumacher back behind him as the German rejoined on lap 45, both Ferraris catching the luckless Heidfeld when his engine blew.

Heidfeld was, in turn, beginning to put pressure on Montoya, who again appeared to be struggling with a less than healthy McLaren. Speculation initially fell on tyres but, when the problem persisted after the Colombian's second stop, switched elsewhere. Montoya eventually conceded that the Mercedes engine was proving marginal on cooling in the tropical conditions and he was having to nurse it home.

Having duelled with Button after the Briton twice emerged behind the McLaren after his pit-stops, Montoya slowly fell away from the Honda, which went on to close on the leading pair, but never quite fell into the clutches of the two Ferraris. After they had moved up to fifth and sixth, Villeneuve assumed seventh, with Ralf Schumacher gaining a single point for his efforts. The German closed right on to tail of the BMW ahead of him in the final five laps, but time ran out on his efforts to double his tally.

Trulli and Barrichello could both have been contenders for points, but the Italian lost out to his team-mate after being lapped and Barrichello succumbed to a drive-thru' penalty after speeding on his one and only stop. They rounded out the top ten, ahead of Tonio Liuzzi, Christijan Albers, Tiago Monteiro and Takuma Sato, who completed the list of finishers.

Back at the front, Alonso continued to home in on Fisichella, in turn bring Button closer to the leader, but eventually recognised that his efforts would be in vain without misfortune for or compliance from the Italian. Confident that they could handle Button should the Honda put in a late threat, Renault ordered both drivers to turn down the wick and not stress their engines in the closing stages, with the order remaining unchanged as a result.



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