Alonso supreme as Hamilton plays decisive supporting role
McLaren went into the Malaysian Grand Prix in confident frame of mind, but even Fernando Alonso said it was a surprise as he and Lewis Hamilton turned on a crushing demonstration in which they left Ferrari for dead in the opening stages and swept to the teams first one-two result since Brazil 2005.
At the start Alonso sprinted alongside polesitter Felipe Massa and was able to take the lead, but in another brilliant display Hamilton dived inside Raikkonen to snatch third place before going round the outside of Massa in Turn Two to move up to second.
The Englishman then contained the Ferrari challenge, earning his spurs with a faultless drive, as his team leader went for the win. Ferrari suddenly faced an afternoon of trying to salvage something from what was beginning to look like a disaster, for Massa failed on both occasions when he tried to oust Hamilton. Each time he was repassed easily by the British driver, and on the second occasion the Brazilian slid into the gravel on the exit to Turn Four and lost a crucial place to Nick Heidfelds BMW Sauber.
As Alonso pulled out a 15.6s lead before stopping for fuel on lap 18, Hamilton built an advantage over Raikkonen, who stopped the same lap as Alonso. Hamilton thus led a Grand Prix for the second time in succession, until refuelling on lap 20.
The story was the same in the second stint, both McLaren and Ferrari still running Bridgestones soft tyres. But this time Hamilton had the gap down to less than eight seconds before the stops, as he set the races fastest lap. He refuelled first, on lap 38, followed by Alonso on 40 and Raikkonen on 41. Now, however, all three were on the harder tyre, and while that seemed to suit Alonso and really suited Raikkonen, Hamilton was struggling for grip. Alonsos 21+s lead was never going to be threatened, but lap by lap the Finn was carving chunks out of the Englishmans second place advantage. Going into the closing laps the race was really coming alive again, but Hamilton kept his head and yet again never put a wheel wrong. Alonso took the flag 17.5s ahead, to score a crucial first victory for McLaren, and Hamilton hung on ahead of Raikkonen by just 0.7s.
Heidfelds great day earned BMW Sauber an excellent fourth place in front of an appreciative audience of Petronas representatives, as he held off former team mate Massa all the way to the flag.
Nico Rosberg was headed for an excellent sixth for Williams when his FW29 stopped on the 43rd lap with a suspected Toyota engine failure, promoting a grateful Giancarlo Fisichella who thus salvaged three points for Renault. The final points went to Jarno Trulli after a strong run for Toyota, and Renault rookie Heikki Kovalainen. Alex Wurz was ninth for Williams after an up and down run from 19th on the grid, fending off Mark Webber who challenged him hard on soft tyres in his final stint in the Red Bull RB3. They were the final unlapped runners.
Rubens Barrichello, who started from the pit lane, headed Honda team mate Jenson Button home in 11th and 12th places, chased by Takuma Sato and Scott Speed who battled all the way through, once Sato had survived an early tangle with Speeds Toro Rosso team mate Vitantonio Liuzzi - who described the Japanese drivers move as crazy. It was an eventful afternoon for Liuzzi, who also ran into the rear of Speed at one point, prompting an early stop for a fresh nosecone.
Ralf Schumacher was 16th after a slow puncture stymied his progress, while 17th placed Anthony Davidson had the delayed Liuzzi thirsting after him all through the second half but held off the Toro Rosso to the flag.
Robert Kubica was the final finisher, having run in the top six until his BMW Sauber developed a suspected transmission problem and needed to make a pit stop for attention. It was a miserable afternoon all round for the Pole, who, after briefly making contact with team mate Heidfeld at the start, also suffered a puncture, braking stability problems and a failed radio.
Besides Rosberg, the other non-finishers were the Spykers and David Coulthard in the Red Bull. Adrian Sutil went off on the outside of Turn 4 on the opening lap after a suspected rear suspension failure, making contact with Buttons Honda in the process, and then Christijan Alberss car lost its engine shortly afterwards after gearbox problems sent its temperature rocketing. The Dutchman made it back to the pits and hopped from the car, just in time for his mechanics to dowse the rear with fire extinguishers. Coulthards demise was bizarrely down to his brake pedal rubbing against the steering column.
Bridgestone's new tyre marking system proved a great success, with the white grooves making it easy to spot who was on what compound. Almost everyone ran soft-soft-hard through their three stints, the only exceptions being Trulli, Webber, Coulthard and Button.
A great race thus puts Fernando Alonso into the lead of the world championship, with Kimi Raikkonen second from Lewis Hamilton. Roll on Bahrain.