Malaysia flashback 2007 - McLaren depose Ferrari 20 Mar 2008
With Kimi Raikkonens easy victory at the 2007 Australian Grand Prix fresh in their minds, many expected an equally dominant result for Ferrari in Malaysia. The Italian team, however, were not nearly as confident, with technical issues looming large on the horizon.
Not only had the Finns F2007 suffered a worrying water leak in Melbourne, but during the three-week gap between races, Ferraris controversial moveable floor had been banned. And during the build-up to the Sepang race, there was a distinct sense of unease in the Ferrari garage.
During both Friday practice sessions, those nerves were quickly brushed aside, with Raikkonen and team mate Felipe Massa getting down to business as normal and dominating the timesheets. Indeed, the revitalised Ferrari even went so far as to publically announce they did not feel it necessary to replace the Finns engine despite its Melbourne issues. By the days close the only real surprises came from the quick-looking Williams of Nico Rosberg and Alexander Wurz and BMW Saubers apparent balance problems.
Come Saturday morning, however, the paddock was all of a fluster again, following reports that the Malaysian race stewards had refused to accept the Spyker teams protest against Toro Rosso concerning the alleged use of customer cars. Only the cars returning to the track for final practice provided sufficient diversion to distract from the controversy.
In the end it was the pace of Lewis Hamiltons McLaren that caused the most commotion. Hamilton not only outran world champion team mate Fernando Alonso by half a second, he also bettered both Ferrari drivers. It was a dominant performance and one which suggested the British team had pulled up their socks since Australia and were very much back in the hunt alongside Ferrari around Sepang.
Nevertheless, it was Massa, who clinched the all-important pole during the afternoons qualifying session, with the Brazilian just snatching P1 from Raikkonen, while simultaneously holding off the two McLarens. Other important news stories were found further down the grid, with reigning world champions Renault powerless to make it into the top ten and Hondas Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello dropping out in Q3. In a more positive mood were BMW Sauber, Williams, Toyota and Red Bull, with all four teams enjoying top-ten grid slots.
With temperatures as high as 49 degrees Celsius on Saturday, it was clear that Sepangs hot and humid weather would play an important role in Sundays race. But, as ever, the start was equally crucial and it was Massa who fell foul of that hurdle in Malaysia. While second-placed Alonso took the lead from the Brazilian off the line, Hamilton immediately stole third from Raikkonen and then overtook Massa to quickly seize second.
From that point on, the young British driver drove a mature race, creating a rock-hard buffer which protected team mate Alonsos lead right up to the chequered flag. Massa tried on several occasions to get back ahead of the rookie driver, but on each occasion he failed, and in the end it was Raikkonen who finished behind the McLarens to take third on the podium, just 0.7 seconds behind Hamilton.
The result was McLarens first one-two since Brazil 2005, but celebrations further down the order were equally jubilant. Nick Heidfeld impressed BMW Saubers local sponsors Petronas with his fourth place, while Jarno Trulli clinched seventh for Toyota, and Heikki Kovalainen scored the first points of his Formula One career for Renault. Veteran driver Alexander Wurz also impressed for Williams after a determined run from 18th to ninth.
As well as Ferraris disappointments, commiserations flowed in Sepang for BMW Saubers Robert Kubica, who suffered a transmission problem, a broken radio and a puncture on his way to 18th, and Williams Nico Rosberg, who had run as high as sixth before his Toyota engine gave out.