Ferrari victorious, but biggest celebrations at BAR
After an unexpectedly dominant one-two for Ferrari and Bridgestone in Australia, the searing heat at Sepang was expected to hand the advantage back to the world champions Michelin shod rivals, whose rubber was thought better suited to the high temperatures.
That was the theory at least. In reality, while Ferraris lead was dramatically cut they did miss out on top spot in Fridays second practice in the end Michael Schumacher, at least, remained unbeatable.
A sublime lap from the German in qualifying saw him take pole by almost 0.7 seconds from Jaguars Mark Webber, whose superb performance gave the Ford-owned team its first (and only) front-row slot and demoted Rubens Barrichello to third on the grid. Juan Pablo Montoya took fourth and Kimi Raikkonen fifth, both comfortably eclipsing their respective Williams and McLaren team mates. Jenson Button put BAR up there again in sixth, while Renault, who had locked out the front row at Sepang the previous year, unexpectedly slipped up. Jarno Trulli could manage only eighth, while Fernando Alonso threw away an excellent chance of pole by spinning off late in his lap.
He almost made up for it with what must go down as one of the greatest starts in Grand Prix history. With paddock talk focussing on Renaults interpretation of the ban on launch control, the Spaniard rocketed off the line and went from 19th to tenth by the end of lap one, eventually finishing seventh. Meanwhile at the front Michael Schumacher won an intense battle of wits with Montoya. The Colombian never actually got within striking distance, but at least his Williams was still visible in the champions mirrors at the chequered flag.
Biggest celebration of the day was at BAR after Jenson Buttons excellent third place finally brought the young British driver his first Formula One podium. He successfully fought off a late charge from Barrichello, who was handicapped by choosing the wrong, harder Bridgestone compound. There was disappointment again at McLaren, with Raikkonen retiring for the second race in succession, while at Jaguar, Webbers excellent qualifying performance came to nothing after his R5 bogged down big time off the line, instantly dropping him out of the points.
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