Raikkonen Bounces Back – Reigning world champion Kimi Raikkonen capitalized on a weekend his Ferrari team had far superior pace in relation to the competition to post his first 2008 win, putting the Finn in the thick of the title charge after a disappointing season opener in Australia one week ago.
It was all meant to be a one-two for the Scuderia, but a spin by Felipe Massa helped BMW’s Robert Kubica to clinch a career-best result in second, while McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen completed the podium, clinching his first top-three result with the silver team. His teammate Lewis Hamilton finished fifth and retained the ’08 championship lead.
Massa’s race started well, however, with the polesitting Brazilian squeezing Raikkonen to the inside after the red flights went off, holding on to P1 in an eventful first lap that saw Williams’ Nico Rosberg tangle with Toyota’s Timo Glock, causing a lost nose cone for the former and a retirement for the latter, and Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Bourdais, who had a brilliant race in Melbourne, spin off and also retire.
At the end of the first lap, Massa led Raikkonen and Kubica, with Red Bull’s Mark Webber making a good start to take fourth. Hamilton also started strongly, jumping to fifth from ninth on the grid – himself and Kovalainen were docked five grid spots for blocking rivals in qualifying – while Toyota’s Jarno Trulli, Kovalainen and David Coulthard in the second Red Bull completed the top-eight.
The Scot’s joy was short-lived, however. On lap four, BMW’s Nick Heidfeld and Renault’s Fernando Alonso moved simultaneously on DC, who lost two spots in a spread of three turns. One lap later, Force India’s Adrian Sutil was the race’s first retirement.
The Sepang’s circuits wide turns usually provide plenty of overtaking, and Kazuki Nakajima’s bold move on the outside of Toro Rosso’s Sebastian Vettel was a good example. The Japanese, who had started dead last after being punished in 20 grid spots for crashing with Kubica in Australia, took the 13th spot from the German on lap seven.
Meanwhile further ahead Hamilton was turning up the heat on Webber, but was unable to pressure the Aussie into a mistake. He didn’t have to, however, as the Red Bull man kicked off the first round of pit stops for the frontrunners after coming in on lap 16.
Leader Massa came in one lap later, nurturing a 1.6sec lead over Raikkonen. It proved not to be enough, as the Finn emerged ahead following his own stop one lap later.
Another lap went by and Hamilton came in. A problem with the Brit’s right-front wheel mean the stop dragged for almost 20 seconds, keeping the silver car behind Webber on its return. The aftermath of the first round of stops saw Raikkonen leading Massa and Kubica, then Kovalainen, Trulli, Webber, Hamilton and Heidfeld.
The order was shuffled again on lap 30, when Massa, desperately trying to catch up with Raikkonen – the Brazilan lagged some four seconds behind the Finn by then – spun off and managed to get stuck in one of the few gravel traps of the Sepang circuit.
From then on, action was scarce. Leader by a country mile, Raikkonen came in for his second stop on the 38th of the 56 laps scheduled. Webber was in one lap later, while down the order Vettel retired with a blown engine.
Hamilton was able to stretch his second stop all the way to lap 48, and thus get the jump on Webber, a feat also accomplished by Heidfeld. Once all the frontrunners were done with their second stops, Kimi led Kubica and Kovalainen, followed by Trulli, Hamilton, Heidfeld, Webber and Alonso.
That was the way things stayed until the checkered flag. With the win – at the same spot he posted his maiden F1 triumph back in 2003 – Raikkonen jumped to second in the standings with 11 points, just three behind opening round winner Hamilton. Heidfeld is also has 11 and is third, with Kovalainen fourth with 10.
“For sure we had quite a difficult weekend in Australia but I didn’t really expect to have such difficulties,” Raikkonen said afterwards. “We were not 100 percent sure things would be different here. We knew speed-wise we would be fine, even in Australia the speed should have been fine. [But] everything worked perfectly here and we took it easy to make sure nothing went wrong. We saved the engine. It was a perfect job by the team to come back. I would have been happier with Felipe in second but things go wrong.”
Kubica added, referring to Heidfeld’s runner-up result in Melbourne: “I think it is a fantastic result for the team, second place in a grand prix in a row. To finally get [myself] a podium after Monza 2006… I’m so happy for myself and the team.”
The 2008 F1 season resumes in Bahrain in two weeks’ time.
Malaysian Grand Prix results:
1) Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1h31:18.555
2) Kubica, BMW Sauber, +19.570
3) Kovalainen, McLaren-Mercedes, +38.450
4) Trulli, Toyota, +45.832
5) Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes, +46.548
6) Heidfeld, BMW Sauber, +49.833
7) Webber, Red Bull-Renault, +1:08.130
8) Alonso, Renault, +1:10.041
9) Coulthard, Red Bull-Renault, +1:16.220
10) Button, Honda, +1:26.214
11) Piquet, Renault, +1:32.202
12) Fisichella, Force India-Ferrari, +1 lap
13) Barrichello, Honda, + 1 lap
14) Rosberg, Williams-Toyota, +1 lap
15) Davidson, Super Aguri-Honda, +1 lap
16) Sato, Super Aguri-Honda, +2 laps
17) Nakajima, Williams-Toyota, +2 laps
Vettel, Toro Rosso-Ferrari, 41 laps
Massa, Ferrari, 31
Sutil, Force India-Ferrari, 7
Glock, Toyota, 2
Bourdais, Toro Rosso-Ferrari, 1
[Source: Speed TV and Racer.com]
Healthy Grid – The official entry list for the IndyCar Series 2008 season opener was released today. A total of twenty-six cars are entered and expected to take the green flag for the GAINSCO Auto Insurance Indy 300, at Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 29. This will be the first time since 2001 that the season will start with a field that large as well as the first time since 2003 that a race other than the Indianapolis 500 has featured that many starters.
The increase in car count is a result of the IndyCar Series TEAM program that was introduced last October in combination with the recent unification of American open wheel. The current entry list does not list any rookies as eligibility for the Bombardier Learjet Rookie of the Year award will not be determined until the drivers transitioning to the IndyCar Series complete a test on the oval at Homestead-Miami March 24-25.
Lola in Helicopter Business – Lola has been a fixture in the international racing scene, building cars for almost every top road-racing series. The company has faced a number of financial challenges over the last decade. To help bolster the company, Lola has used their technological prowess to begin supplying parts to the defense industry, specifically for the Sikorsky S92 helicopter.
In the US, the Lola made the biggest splash by winning the Indy 500 three times, and being the spec chassis for the Champ Car World Series for several years. Nigel Mansell and Mario Andretti drove a pair of Lola’s in the 1993 CART season with Nigel Mansell winning the series championship.
This move to diversify is a great move by the company, and hopefully will ensure that Lola race cars will be racing on tracks around the world for many years to come.