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Flashback: Malaysia 2003 - a race of firsts 20 Mar 2013

The podium (L to R): Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari) 2nd, Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren) 1st and Fernando Alonso (Renault) 3rd. Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race Day, Sepang, Malaysia, 23 March 2003. The start of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race Day, Sepang, Malaysia, 23 March 2003 Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari F2002 hits Jarno Trulli (ITA) Renault R23 into a spin at turn two.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race Day, Sepang, Malaysia, 23 March 2003 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R23.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race Day, Sepang, Malaysia, 23 March 2003 Race winner Kimi Raikkonen (FIN), McLaren Mercedes MP4/17D, makes his pit stop.
Malaysian Grand Prix, Rd2, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia., 23 March 2003 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN), McLaren Mercedes MP4/17D, crosses the finishing line to take his debut F1 win to the delight of his team on the pit wall.
Malaysian Grand Prix, Rd2, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia., 23 March 2003 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren scored a very popular first win.
Malaysian Grand Prix, Sepang, Malaysia, 23 March 2003 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault finished 3rd.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race Day, Sepang, Malaysia, 23 March 2003

Ahead of the 2013 Formula 1 Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix we remember the 2003 race, an event that holds a special place in the hearts of two of the sport’s current stars…

They may both be world champions now, but back in 2003 Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen were in an altogether different situation. Both were hotly-tipped and hugely-talented, but neither of them had very much of note on their Formula One CVs. However, all that would change at round two of the 2003 FIA Formula One World Championship in Malaysia, where the duo more than lived up to their growing reputations.

Alonso, in his second full Formula One season with Renault after a promising debut with Minardi in 2001, was the first to grab the headlines. After finishing tenth in the first part of qualifying, the 21-year-old blitzed his single flying lap in the second stage to snatch a remarkable pole position. In doing so he not only became the first Spaniard to start a Grand Prix from P1, he also dislodged Rubens Barrichello as the youngest pole position holder in Formula One history. It was a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that he’d been to see F1 doctor Professor Sid Watkins earlier in the day with a fever…

"It is a very special day for me," Alonso said. "It feels like a dream. I was aiming for a good place on the grid but expected to see my name slipping down the list at the end of the session. But it didn't happen and I got a great surprise when Michael (Schumacher) finished his lap."

But if Alonso was the star on Saturday, it was Raikkonen, in his third year in the sport and second at McLaren, who stole the limelight on Sunday. After qualifying in an unspectacular seventh place it seemed unlikely that the Finn would be able to add to his tally of four podium finishes, let alone claim a maiden win. But in an eventful race the 23-year-old did just that.

Things were looking up for Raikkonen just two corners into the race when one of his biggest rivals for victory - Michael Schumacher - made an uncharacteristic error and rammed his Ferrari into the back of Jarno Trulli’s Renault. The Italian was spun around and dropped down the field, whilst Schumacher not only had to pit for repairs, but was later given a race-wrecking stop-go penalty for causing the collision.

Alonso led, but amid the first-lap furore Raikkonen had climbed up to fourth place, and he soon grabbed third by calmly sweeping around the outside of Nick Heidfeld’s Sauber into Turn 1. When McLaren team mate David Coulthard pulled off with electrical problems on lap 3, Raikkonen moved up another place and began to reel Alonso in.

The Finn wouldn’t have to wait long before getting his nose in front. On lap 14 Alonso confirmed what many had suspected - he was fuelled lighter than those around him and had to make an earlier than ideal pit stop. Raikkonen seized the opportunity, delivering five blistering laps that gave him more than enough time to pit and re-join the track ahead of the Spaniard.

Once at the head of the field, the McLaren driver never looked like being denied, the ‘Iceman’ well and truly keeping his cool in the sweltering Malaysian heat.

“It's a great name which he strongly deserves,” said McLaren team principal Ron Dennis of his driver’s moniker. “He was cool and calm after the race and that's a pleasure to see because he's able to focus in a pressured situation. A driver's first Grand Prix win is his most significant and Kimi will be even better for it."

Further back, Alonso, who had struggled on his second set of tyres, lost another place at the second round of pit stops, this time to Ferrari’s Rubens Barrichello. The two would cross the line in second and third, with Williams’ Ralf Schumacher fourth and Trulli pipping the recovering Michael Schumacher to fifth.

He may have missed out on victory but Alonso followed up his maiden pole position with his first podium finish, becoming the then youngest man ever to climb onto a Formula One rostrum.

But the day belonged to Raikkonen, who reached the chequered flag with a comfortable 39-second lead. Not only had he scored his first victory, rather appropriately he’d also become the youngest Formula One race winner since his team’s founder - Bruce McLaren - won the United States Grand Prix in 1959.

"I'm very pleased with my first ever Formula One victory, but I'm not sure it's really going to sink in until tomorrow,” said Raikkonen. “I was taking it easy for the last 20 laps to ensure that I brought the car home and was not pushing. I'm going to fly home to Switzerland tonight so I don't think we will have a big party, but I'm sure we will celebrate a bit…"

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