It has been over a season since a McLaren driver last stood on the top step of the podium, but Fernando Alonso secured just that position today, comprehensively beating Ferrari and taking control of the World Championship. In a thrilling race that saw Felipe Massa drive his Ferrari off the road in an attempt to pass Lewis Hamilton, that also saw the young British driver finish in his first second on the back of his first third place, and a race that saw Kimi Raikkonen put on a closing-stages Schumacher-esque charge, that unfortunately wasn’t enough to propel his car into second.
From the the very start, McLaren looked all powerful, and although Massa was on the pole, when the red lights went out, Alonso got the jump on his Brazilian rival, and Hamilton managed to pass both Ferrari’s in the first sequence of corners. This allowed Alonso to run and hide, as Hamilton had considerably more fuel on board and couldn’t keep his team mates pace. Massa easily kept up with Hamilton, but just couldn’t pass. After a few laps, the diminutive Brazilian started to get frustrated and this became apparent in his attempts at overtaking. On lap five Massa made a move on Lewis. He was, however, resisted like a professional and forced to run wide and allow Lewis to retake the place. The following lap, Felipe again tried, but his second attempt saw him stretching his brakes too far and Massa ended up on the grass, allowing team mate Raikkonen and rival Heidfeld to pass.
Felipe Massa was to spend the remainder of the Grand Prix behind Nick Heidfeld. Felipe could not make any attempt on the German driver, and in what is being described by commentators as impetuous and immature, Massa’s strong end to 2006 is a mere memory as he appears to have returned to his erratic ways of throwing the car around. A great shame, as Ferrari could have ended the race in a stronger position than they are currently.
So the McLaren’s controlled the rest of the race, and while Lewis didn’t enjoy his final set of hard compund Bridgestone tyres, he resisted the inneviatable attack from Raikkonen to claim second place. The Finn hunted Lewis down, and was lapping between one full second and four tenths quicker than the Brit. Hamilton’s margin was slashed, but Kimi just couldn’t get there in enough time.
Elsewhere in the field, the Malaysian Grand Prix saw the loss of both Spykers early on, David Coulthard retired his Red Bull with braking and/or steering issues, Alonso’s radio played up, causing Ron Dennis to present himself on the pitwall with Fernando’s board, and Honda finally eneded a race/practice/qualifying session ahead of their junior team, beating Super Aguri on the track.
Nico Rosberg retired his much improved Williams just twelve laps from the end with some sort of hydraulics failure. This was particularly disappointing for the German as he had ran a strong and superb race. Williams team mate Alex Wurz finished ahead of Mark Webber in ninth, something that would have probably riled the Australian, who left the British team last year to drive for Red Bull, bemoaning the Grove-based teams performance.
The Renault’s showed improvement over their qualifying effort as well, with Heikki Kovalainen just running off the track a couple of times and in a less serious manner than his excursions were in Melbourne. The Finnish driver has also redeemed himself by collecting his first points from eighth place. Giancarlo Fisichella also improved from his twelfth grid slot by finishing sixth, rewarding the Anglo-French squad their second points of the year, despite the team only picking up four from their pair of drivers today. The Renault’s were still woefully off the pace though, and the team will have a lot of hard work to do before they can even think about coming on terms with the leaders. Renault have denied reports suggesting they are building a new car for the latter half of the season, but instead insist that they can improve the current R27.
The Malaysian Grand Prix was a great race, and it is good to see the circuit looking fine, despite Bernie Ecclestone complaining early on Sunday morning that it needs “redecorating”. The track provided us viewers with some overtaking – some good, some desperate – and a thrilling start and finish. It was wonderful to see McLaren take their first win in over a year, and of course Hamilton provided a bit of extra edgyness as he defended his position from Ferrari for 56 laps in the oppressive heat.
2007 is certainly shaping up to be blinder of a year, with McLaren and Ferrari so closely matched. It is a shame that Renault are not in the hunt at the moment, but BMW look good, and Toyota have improved.
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