Raikkonen takes dominant first win

Kimi Raikkonen scored his maiden grand prix victory in Malaysia after a fascinating race that seemed to confirm that the new regulations have indeed spiced up the action as well as mixed up the order. Rubens Barrichello finished a distant second for Ferrari while poleman Fernando Alonso was an excellent third for Renault - the French manufacturer's first podium since returning to Formula 1

Raikkonen takes dominant first win

It's difficult to know which of the two young drivers, Raikkonen or Alonso, had the more impressive race. Raikkonen was serene despite the pressure of an impending first win, not putting a foot wrong and bringing McLaren-Mercedes its second race victory in succession. But Alonso led the first 12 laps with ease in only his second race in a front-running car, had to contend with fifth gear missing which caused his car to misfire from about half distance - all this while a running a fever on a day when the heat was searing and the humidity extremely high.

"It's difficult to say how I feel right now," said Raikkonen in the post-race press conference. "It probably won't be until tomorrow that I notice that I have won my first race."

The Finn they call the "Ice Man" was typically laid back about his first victory: "The race was quite good. I didn't need to push so hard the last 20 laps or so. I think now that they have changed the qualifying system you never know what other teams are doing. I just pushed as hard as I could until the pit stops."

Alonso made an excellent start from pole position with team-mate Jarno Trulli slotting in behind as the field, minus Giancarlo Fisichella's Jordan (who failed to engage his launch control) and Jacques Villeneuve's BAR-Honda (gearbox), forged into Turn One. Michael Schumacher tried to defend third from David Coulthard as the two ran side-by-side but then, like in Melbourne, made a serious error. The Ferrari driver clipped the rear tyre of Trulli's Renault sending the Italian spinning and causing havoc behind.

Juan Pablo Montoya's rear-wing was destroyed by Antonio Pizzonia's Jaguar as the pair tried to avoid the carnage, while Schumacher's team-mate Barrichello lost several places in avoiding the action.

The incident would destroy any chance of victory for Schumacher, who not only pitted for a new nosecone after a couple of laps, but also found himself returning a few laps later to serve a drive-through penalty. This was little consolation for Montoya whose Malaysian race was ruined once again as the Colombian lost a lap and a half in the pits.

All this left Coulthard pursuing Alonso with the low-fuelled Nick Heidfeld third, Jenson Button fourth, Barrichello fifth and Olivier Panis sixth. But after only three laps Alonso found himself under even less pressure when Coulthard pulled off the track with a suspected electronics problem. The Australian Grand Prix winner was bitterly disappointed not to have been able to capitalise on a day when his main rivals had all suffered misfortune. "It's not good enough," he concluded.

Raikkonen made short work of Heidfeld, and once past the Sauber, showed immense speed to hold Alonso's lead to just over 4s, especially given that the French car was running a much lighter fuel load. By lap 14, Raikkonen was released into the lead when Alonso pitted and the Finn put in a series of blistering laps, acutely aware no doubt that Barrichello, now third was on a similar strategy and was also fastest on the track at the time. Raikkonen then pitted himself on lap 18, relinquishing the lead to Barrichello but remaining ahead of Alonso who was struggling a little with a very heavy car.

The Finn was back in the lead after three laps when Barrichello pitted. When the Ferrari driver returned to the track, it was behind a resolute Alonso. Barrichello could not capitalise enough on the early pace that his Bridgestone tyres provided and this probably cost him the race. Alonso pitted on lap 35, allowing the Ferrari back into second, but by this time Raikkonen was some way down the road and when the McLaren man made his second stop, his lead was enough for him to emerge from the pits still in front.

Barrichello seemed to settle for second after that, while Alonso's failing gearbox precluded him from staying in the hunt. Nevertheless the Spaniard had enough pace to finish third and may well have had a shot at second in different circumstances.

Ralf Schumacher deserved some credit for fourth place. The German pushed hard throughout the race having started with a heavy fuel load. That along with his brother's first lap antics saw him make rapid progress as the field pitted and he maintained his position for the rest of the race. The performance went some way to admonishing his disappointing qualifying display when he could only manage 17th.

Trulli eventually finished fifth after an eventful afternoon. He spent the race dicing with Button once he had recovered from the first lap incident and the battle between the two became three when Michael Schumacher had fought his way back into the points. The German passed both only to make his fourth stop of the race when his tyres went off.

It looked as though Trulli would have to settle for sixth after spinning at the last corner while pressuring Button, but in the last few laps the Englishman's rear tyres fell away and both Trulli and Schumacher were able to pass him. Heidfeld would take the final points placing.

Two races in and just one second place for Ferrari - and that for Barrichello. Two victories for McLaren, a maiden winner in Raikkonen and a first pole for Renault's Alonso. It might not be quite a new world order, but it can't be denied that the new season is turning out to be quite refreshing.

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