2008 Malaysian Grand Prix review: Raikkonen routs the opposition

Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Sepang, 2008, 470150

There was an irresistible inevitability about Kimi Raikkonen’s Malaysian Grand Prix victory.

No distractions deflected him from his course – not the embarrassment of running out of fuel during first practice, not his team mate’s fuel-aided pole position.

It was McLaren’s turn to feel the pain Ferrari suffered in Melbourne as both their drivers were penalised after qualifying and Lewis Hamilton was delayed by a wheel gun problem.

Massa leads away

McLaren’s penalty robbed us of a four-way fight to the first corner, as neither of the new occupants of the second row, Jarno Trulli or Robert Kubica, were able to get close to the Ferraris. In fact they fell back to the clutches of the chasing pack, while Felipe Massa kept Raikkonen behind.

The big winners of the first-corner scramble were Mark Webber and Hamilton, who emerged fourth and fifth. Hamilton tried for a line around the outside but was blocked by Alonso, so switched to the inside of the Renault and found a way through.

Ahead Nick Heidfeld tried the route around the outside of the pack that Alonso exploited so effectively in 2006, but was scuppered when Trulli understeered into him. He fell to tenth behind Alonso and David Coulthard.

The trio circulated together for three laps until Alonso got a run on Coulthard coming onto the back straight. Heidfeld meanwhile carried more momentum than the pair of them and passed both down the inside of the final turn. Alonso followed him through on the next lap.

It was a much tidier first lap than at Melbourne but there were a couple of casualties – Nico Rosberg tagged the rear of Timo Glock’s Toyota, knocking his compatriot into a second consecutive retirement. Rosberg completed a second lap before pitting for a new front wing. Another rookie in trouble was Sebastien Bourdais, who got off-line at turn six and spun out on the first lap.

Problems for Hamilton and Webber

Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton, Sepang, 2008, 450313

On soft tyres, Hamilton fell back from Webber – the McLarens again suffering as overnight rain had washed the build-up of rubber off the track. But as the tyres wore down he rallied to chase the Red Bull driver and was half a second off his rear wing when the Australian pitted on lap 17.

Released, Hamilton lapped much quicker and was poised to move ahead as his first stop approached on lap 20, thanks also to Webber losing two seconds behind Takuma Sato’s lapped Super Aguri.

But Hamilton’s first pit stop was ruined by a sticking front-right wheel nut – the same corner of the car that caused his crash at the Nurburgring last year. He lost around ten seconds and emerged 12th behind the similarly delayed Webber, who had also lost his rear light and had developed a problem with his air pump.

Their problems promoted Trulli and Kovalainen up the running order. On soft tyres once again, Hamilton went through the same cycle of falling back from and then catching Webber, but still could do nothing to pass him on the track.

Raikkonen leads, Massa loses

The Ferrari drivers remained in close company, though Raikkonen struggled to get close to Massa due to the turbulence coming from his team mate’s car.

But after Massa pitted on lap 18 Raikkonen unleashed his real pace and the outcome of the duel by pit stops was never in doubt. Just as in France last year, Raikkonen happily let his team mate take the lighter fuel strategy, comfortable in the knowledge that his raw speed would prevail on race day.

Massa compounded the loss of the lead by losing every other place when he spun out on the 32nd lap. Replays showed the car snapping out of control quickly and it was hard to avoid the impression that, as at Melbourne, he’d lost the rear of the car under acceleration.

Up and down the field

Rosberg’s problems were half of Williams’ troubles. Kazuki Nakajima started last following his penalty from the last race but picked up a puncture in his second stint and was delayed further by a spin.

He ended the race last behind the two Super Aguris, Anthony Davidson over a half a minute in front of his team mate. Giancarlo Fisichella gave Force India their first finish in an excellent 12th ahead of Nico Rosberg and Rubens Barrichello, the latter picking up a penalty for speeding in the pits but at least avoiding disqualification this time.

Also finishing a race for the first time was Nelson Piquet Jnr, 11th and 22s behind Fernando Alonso.

There were far fewer retirements than at Melbourne but Toro Rosso once again saw both their cars stop – Vettel’s engine expiring on lap 39. Adrian Sutil retired his Force India on lap five.

A settled finish

Kimi Raikkonen, Nick Heidfeld, Heikki Kovalainen, Sepang, 2008, 470313

The end of the race lacked drama. Hamilton rather inevitably moved back ahead of Webber at his last pit stop and had caught Trulli by the chequered flag but was a lap short of being able to try to pass.

Kovalainen had leapt ahead of the Toyota driver to third behind Robert Kubica, the BMW driver a very comfortable second. Heidfeld was sixth after an eventful race while Webber scored two points for Red Bull after the team started the weekend poorly.

Close behind Webber was Alonso, scoring the final point, six sceonds ahead of Coulthard. Jenson Button, tenth, said that was as much as the Honda was capable of.

Raikkonen’s dominant win does much to allay fears about the competitiveness of Ferrari – although the fact remains they have only had one car running at the end of the first two races.

Hamilton retained his championship lead and catching McLaren in the constructors’ race will be difficult for the Italian team if Massa doesn’t start bringing the car home.

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38 comments on 2008 Malaysian Grand Prix review: Raikkonen routs the opposition

  1. Fer no.65 said on 23rd March 2008, 19:17

    Great for QuickNick indeed… he’s just driving INCREDIBLY! It’s just wonderful to see him progress since Kubica arrival at Hungary 2006, isn’t it?… Come on Nick! :D About the wing… i don’t think everything is flexing more then it should… it’s not like their 248F1 wing that really was flexing more than legally possible…

  2. mail123456 said on 23rd March 2008, 19:18

    flexing, flapping no matter :) they are moving :)
    and no … they sit pretty steady when car is over the curbs when chassis is shaking, and start moving when car is on the racing line with high speed when chassis stayed pretty stable … I’m not a aerodynamic specialist but when air flow pass them some kind of pressure is applied (not in vertical direction, but they have some kind of aerodynamic effect)

  3. Gman said on 23rd March 2008, 19:19

    Some very good racing this weekend- the Heidfeld pass was indeed very good. I was disappointed to see Williams fall back as far as they did from last week’s performance- i’ll write it off to a bad weekend for the team, but hopefully they can turn it around a bit more in the coming races.

    Ferrari is apparently back to normal on the technical side, but if Massa continues to struggle, will the team look in any other direction this season?

  4. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 23rd March 2008, 19:37

    Mail, I’d be surprised if no other teams’ wings move in similar ways.

    Phil, I don’t think the engine situation mattered. Their speeds at the traps were comparable. I think McLaren struggled with tyre degradation which was worsened by the overnight rain.

    And Haplo, I did think Alonso was a bit preoccupied with Hamilton at the start…

  5. mail123456 said on 23rd March 2008, 19:42

    actually yes … Red Bull’s "shark" tale is moving too :D
    but in other hand similar elements on Renault and Red Bull are well supported and did not move …

  6. Rikhart said on 23rd March 2008, 20:02

    Id suggest leaving the tinfoil hat aside a moment, and think a bit, because if those things weren´t allowed to vibrate slightly, as is clearly seen there, they would snap apart, a F1 car is not a piece of granite.

  7. Flexi wing??? Parts, since about a year ago, have to go through FIA stress tests. The same that McLaren, Sauber-BMW, Wiliams-Toyota, Toyota, Renault and others adhere to just as well. Now you could tell me that Ferrari was caught and all, but, even McLaren and some other teams as well had to redesign some components(So was Ferrari alone, or was it simply a rule change?).

    Ferrari are back. Great!!! Now i wonder, as it is going to be business as usual(Ferrari wins), what people would be saying as Kimi steamroller presses on?

    Sadly, team Willy did not do as well as i hoped they would. Toyota and Trulli, fantastic. Kubica and BMW-Sauber, absolutely brilliant. Alonso, really carrying and fighting with it, the dead weight that the Renault is. Kovalainen, making the best of the possibilities. Massa, what a severe waste of an opportunity!!!

  8. Phil said on 23rd March 2008, 22:18

    Sri, Ferrari were caught with a flexible floor (if I am following your comments correctly) not wings. As I understand it, the floor deformed further than was allowed,  allowing the rear diffuser to stall and thus reduce drag on the straights, hence illegally increasing top speed by the use of a moveable aero device. The FIA banned it after the 1st race, but strangely failed to remove their points from the win in Australia. Raikkonen then won the championship by 1 point. Funny that. I think BMW was also involved, but the way it got banned affected other teams and forced a few changes for all, clouding the ‘Ferrari are cheating’ accusations sufficiently for the FIA to get away with it. There was also controversy over the front wings, but everyone seemed to be in on that. Rim shields again were technically outside the rules, but they were on a car painted red, so totally legal… As for those little wings on the cockpit sides, if they have no aero value then why are they on the car? It’s a bit like being offside but not interfering. Thanks to Keith for the info on the engines. Will still be interesting for Bahrein though to see if Ferrari have to back off a little, since their customer engines seem a little fragile.

  9. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 23rd March 2008, 22:23

    Actually Phil having given it more thought I should add something to what I said about the engines. These days if teams have an engine advantage they don’t use it to be faster in a straight line, they use it to add more downforce (and therefore drag, bringing the top speed back down to everyone else’s level) and use it to be quicker around the corners. But I still don’t think that was Ferrari’s advantage today – I think it was tyres.

  10. ferrari had three advantages – the five place drop and hamilton and that stupid nut on his wheel and who decided on the first stop to put soft tyres on when clearly the hard tyres were working better on the day?
    apart from that good win ferrari

  11. Toncho said on 23rd March 2008, 22:37

    After the firs "normal" race we could see that the battle is more tight that we thought with six different cars in the points.  RB and Toyota showed a great pace and BMW is closer to the top teams that last year.  Talking about pilots, great race by KUB and KOV (fastest in Q3 with more fuel and 3rd after starting only in the 8th place). Anyway,LH made a good race with a great start, maybe is less shining that wining but WC is also  about getting points when you are not the fastest. 

  12. Phil: To be fair to Ferrari (I know – strange, coming from me), their felixible floor was not protested in Australia last year.  McLaren sent a letter to Charlie Whiting asking whether it would be legal to use a floor that met the FIA test for flexing but then flexed under the greater loads encountered on the track.  Naturally, Charlie nearly had a fit and pointed out that this would be deliberately circumventing the rules regarding flexible floors.  The FIA then announced that the load applied in the floor test would be stepped up for the next GP and several teams, including Ferrari, had to do quick re-designs as a result.

    It is pretty clear that the FIA knew what was going on and had turned a blind eye to it until McLaren’s letter, however, especially if you believe Stepney’s version of events leading up to the Oz GP.  The irony is that, by choosing not to protest the Ferrari but rather sending a letter of enquiry, McLaren allowed the FIA to act without disqualifying the Ferrari cars in Melbourne.  I wonder if they would have been so gentlemanly had they been able to foresee the storm that was soon to erupt…

  13. Green Flag said on 23rd March 2008, 23:49

    Phil, so much nonsense has been written about the illegality of the F2007′s so-called moveable floor. The fact is that it was, at the time of the 2007 Australian GP, 100% perfectly legal, and the car passed the stewards’ scruteneering. It was banned after the race which is why no points were deducted. FYI, when Renault’s mass damper was ruled a movable aero device – because it helped the car maintain an optimum aerodynamic attitude – points were not deducted either.

  14. Melanie said on 24th March 2008, 1:22

    Good race from Trulli, Webber, Kubica and Kimi.

    I don’t think Ferrari will have problem in Bahrain, Kimi has said that they were already saving the engine after the first pit stops, and Massa only completed half of the Grandprix.

  15. Keith — interesting thought on the tyres. No question that the Ferrari had the advanatge in long stints on hard rubber but my take on the gap was more to do with aero grip than mechancial grip. I guess we won’t know until the circus goes another couple of races.

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