Schumacher left stunned by the new generation
The youngest driver ever to achieve a pole position, a new race winner and a nightmare weekend for the world champion the 2003 Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang had it all.
The first all-Renault front row in almost 20 years heralded the dawning of a new age with Fernando Alonso just edging out team mate Jarno Trulli to get P1. Michael Schumacher made an uncharacteristic error in his haste to get after the rampant French cars, and through all the commotion sailed the ever-cool Kimi Raikkonen to take his first Formula One victory.
The Finn gave the Mercedes-powered team their second win in as many races, again highlighting cracks in Ferraris hitherto impenetrable armour. McLaren were starting to look like real contenders, not to mention Renault.
When the French squad put both their cars on the front row Ferrari knew they had their work cut out. At just 21, Alonso was the youngest ever driver to take pole, as well as the first Spaniard. After qualifying Ferrari and Bridgestone put a brave face on things, but knew they were going to have to be mighty lucky to win.
Formula One had become a forensic science with its new rules and Renaults performance had everyone trying to predict their strategy. It turned out to be a short first stint and a long middle stint in a two-stop race. Some like this cloak and dagger stuff, others didnt.
Alonso made a great getaway, but David Coulthards even better momentum was hurt when he came up behind the Spaniard and got boxed in by Schumacher who was trying to go the long way round the outside of Trulli. In the left-handed Turn Two the Italian turned in and Schumacher rashly went for a gap that wasnt there. Trulli spun and Schumacher had to pit for a new nose, later receiving a pit-lane drive-through penalty for causing an avoidable accident. Montoya was also involved, an innocent victim for the second year in succession.
So Coulthard was second, ahead of Nick Heidfeld, who had qualified with low fuel, followed by Raikkonen. McLaren were Renaults biggest threat. But only tow laps later electrical failure stopped Coulthard, in a foretaste of the season that lay ahead of him.
Once Raikkonen had disposed of former team mate Heidfeld on lap three, he had only to wait for Alonsos early stop on lap 14 to take the lead. From that point on the race belonged to the Finn. The only time he lost the lead was between laps 20 and 22 as he made his own first refuelling stop and Rubens Barrichello, who had taken over second spot by lap 15, went ahead.
The Brazilian was struggling to make his tyres last and, while he could beat Alonso, Raikkonen remained so far ahead that the McLaren driver could make his own second stop on lap 40 and resume his race before the red car even appeared.
Alonso was happy to become the only Spaniard apart from the Marquis Fon de Portago to score a podium finish (British Grand Prix, 1956), surviving some gear selection problems along the way and shifting manually by the finish. Before the race, then Renault technical director Mike Gascoyne had expressed the view that a win was asking too much, but that hed be angry to miss a podium, so Renault were happy. However, Ralf Schumacher wasnt after finishing a lacklustre fourth for Williams after starting 17th following another driving error in qualifying, and Jenson Button was disappointed to lose out on fifth place on the final lap when his worn Bridgestone tyres simply didnt have enough grip to keep the recovering Trulli and Michael Schumacher behind.
Two races in a row with the world champion not winning had certainly given 2003 a dramatically different complexion to the previous season and it was clear that there would be some interesting racing ahead.