Malaysia GP - Sepang 23 March 2003
The 2003 season continues to give scrambled grids and results, so the FIA's gamble on the new qualifying and parc fermé rules is paying off. The drama started even before the word go. Villeneuve's car refused to leave the grid and the Canadian ran back to the pits, hoping to get into the spare car. His absence from the installation lap surprisingly confused the experienced Fisichella, who put his car on the wrong spot on the starting grid. The Italian performed a three-point maneuver to get his Jordan into the right spot while the stewards waited patiently to start the countdown, but Fisichella's exploit caused problems with his launch control and when the lights changed he was stuck on the grid and failed to take part in the race.
Renault's time of glory with the one-two on the starting grid was short lived, as an over impatient M. Schumacher clipped the back of Trulli's car on the second bend whilst trying to defend his position from Coulthard's advances, sending the Italian spinning and causing mayhem for several of the following cars, including his own. Fernando Alonso, thanks to his position at the front, managed to escape the fracas and went on to lead the GP unchallenged while the drivers behind him scrambled to avoid each other and gain positions. M. Schumacher's mistake cost him and Trulli dear. The Renault driver dropped down several positions and the German had to go back to the pits for a new nosecone. Later he was also handed a drive-through penalty for the accident, which damaged his race even further. M. Schumacher admitted his mistake and apologized to Trulli after the race.
Due to the general slowdown caused by M. Schumacher and Trulli's shunt, Pizzonia's Jaguar came into contact with Montoya's Williams. The Colombian had to go back to the pits for a new rear wing and restarted two laps down on the others, effectively out of contention for any points. Pizzonia too had to visit the pits for repairs. Coulthard, who had come out unscathed from the accidents at the start, suffered a bout of his usual bad luck. His car died because of electrical problems on lap three and the Scot retired, missing the chance to defend his lead in the Championship and leaving team mate Räikkönen in second place chasing Alonso with Barrichello in tow. Interviewed back in he pits, Coulthard was openly critical of McLaren's reliability. McLaren had chosen a better pit stop strategy then Renault and after a tyre and refuel round the Finn was in the lead with Alonso worrying about the red flash of Barrichello's Ferrari in his rear view mirrors. It was again the pit stops that played against Renault and Barrichello found himself in second place behind a far away and uncatchable Räikkönen.
Back down the field, Trulli and Button became engaged in a fight for fifth place, with the Briton ahead. While the two were happily battling it out amongst themselves M. Schumacher, who had taken advantage of the natural wastage of drivers in front to creep into the points, came unto them. He got to Trulli's tail and attacked to pass. This time he was to be luckier than at the start, as the maneuver went smoothly and shortly afterwards he also stormed past Button. It was all in vain though, as soon after overtaking the German had to go back to the pits for new tyres and fuels once more, coming out behind the duo. There he stayed unto the end of the race, despite a spin from Trulli who allowed the Ferrari driver to catch up with the Renault. This time, with only five laps to go, the German decided to settle for his seventh place and did not attack. Luck was on his and Trulli's side though, as Button, author of what he later defined his worst race ever, suffered severe oversteering and was forced to let the following two go past him on the very last lap, managing nonetheless to retain seventh place for himself. Button had also had to put up with his water bottle refusing to supply him after only 15 laps in the hot sticky weather.
R. Schumacher, who had had a disastrous qualifying session, just drove on in a blameless and colourless race, creeping us positions as other drivers made mistakes or took each other out. He finished in fourth place, with no blame or glory. Justin Wilson on Minardi drove bravely on for 41 laps, when serious pain forced him to retire. Paul Stoddart said that the driver had suffered from a trapped nerve and that the young Briton had stayed out as long as it had been physically possible for him to do, even well after he should have retired. Wilson was so sick from the pain that he was unable to come out of the car unaided. He was taken to the medical center where he was put on a drip. The doctors reported that his whole right arm is paralised. The trapped nerve is being blamed on the HANS system, which has been widely criticized as massively uncomfortable by several drivers. Barrichello had managed to obtain a special dispensation from using it from FIA after blaming his accident in Australia on it and raced without it.
Kimi Räikkönen enjoyed his maiden victory in Formula 1. The new Flying Finn is finally showing the results that his skills have been promising since the start of his Formula 1 career and he is being rightly hailed as one of the new breed of Champions.
Despite Räikkönen's well deserved victory, the star of the day has to be Fernando Alonso. The Renault driver collected a number of records this weekend. Not only he is the youngest driver and the first Spaniard to sit in pole position, today he also became the first Spanish driver on the podium. Due to problems with the Renault's gearbox, Alonso had to struggle with disappearing gears, finishing the race changing gear manually, like in the good old times before electronics took over. And he did it all whilst running a fever. Alonso is suffering from flu and at the start of the GP he had a temperature of 38.5 degrees C. During the drivers press conference after the GP he admitted that his temperature had probably gone up during the race and that he felt quite sick. If that is what Fernando Alonso can do in hot sticky weather when he feels poorly, we are in for some surprises from him in the next few races. This is one young driver to keep an eye on.
Next appointment is in Brazil on the 6th of April.
Malaysian GP results:
1. Raikkonen (McLaren) in 1h32'22"195 (average 201.629 Km/h)
|Images from Raisport and Il Corriere della Sera|
Last updated on by Federica Massagrande