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Sepang, 21-23 March 2008
The Chequered Flag podcast

By Andrew Benson

Kimi Raikkonen on the podium after winning the Australian Grand Prix
Raikkonen is right back in the title battle after his win
World champion Kimi Raikkonen kicked his title defence into life with victory in the Malaysian Grand Prix.

The Finn passed his Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa thanks to a stunning lap before his first pit stop, after which he dominated the race.

Massa spun out of second place, gifting it to BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica, with Heikki Kovalainen's McLaren third.

McLaren's Lewis Hamilton was held up in his charge from ninth on the grid by a pit-stop problem and ended up fifth.

That was one place behind the impressive Toyota of Jarno Trulli, who had battled for third with Kovalainen, only for the Italian to drop back with an earlier final pit stop.

Mark Webber's Red Bull headed Hamilton for much of the race but the Australian was leapfrogged at the final pit stops by the Englishman and Nick Heidfeld's BMW Sauber.

The great thing is I was able to drive the race without water and I feel better than I did last year

Lewis Hamilton
Heidfeld took sixth place, ahead of Webber, who held off a late charge from double world champion Fernando Alonso's Renault.

With the four points for fifth added to his 10 for winning the first race in Australia a week ago, Hamilton retains the championship lead.

But Raikkonen is now just three points behind him, and the scene looks set for the intense battle between the two men that was widely predicted before the season.

The Finn buried memories of a chaotic start to the season in Melbourne with a drive befitting a champion.

He qualified second to Massa, with a lap's more fuel on board, and, after pulling out of an attempt to pass him on the run down to the first corner, he tracked the Brazilian closely until he made his first stop on lap 17.

Robert Kubica leads Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton during the Malaysian Grand Prix
Kubica drove an impressive, unobtrusive race to second
Raikkonen then put the hammer down, setting fastest times for each corner of the lap before coming in for his own stop.

His on-the-limit lap was just enough to ensure he emerged from the pits in front of Massa.

And once in the lead, Raikkonen edged ever further ahead of the second Ferrari to make the race his own.

Raikkonen said: "I got alongside Felipe after I got a bit better start but I thought we don't want to risk between the team-mates in the first corner, and I decided to stay behind and try my move on the first stop and it worked out perfectly.

"We were pretty similar speed-wise, but once he went in my car went better and I was able to go much quicker on my in-lap and pass him.

"After that the car was handling perfectly and I was able to go away.

"It was a pretty easy race from that first pitstop really. "We had quite a difficult weekend in Australia and we were not 100% sure it was going to be any different here. "But everything worked perfectly. This is a good start to the season for us and we're in a pretty good position."

Massa then spun away his chances of second place with an unforced error that left him beached in the gravel trap at turn eight.

He said he did not know what had caused the spin.

Behind the Ferraris, Kubica had a lonely race, not fast enough to challenge the red cars, but well ahead of the rest on his way to the best result of his career.

For a while early in the race it appeared that Hamilton might challenge the Pole for the final podium spot.

The Englishman leaped up from ninth on the grid, to where he was demoted for holding up Heidfeld in qualifying, to finish the first lap in fifth place with some clever overtaking.

He then tracked Webber until the Red Bull pitted on lap 16, but Hamilton's hopes of leapfrogging the Australian in the pits were dashed when his mechanics struggled to get his right-front wheel off.

Lewis Hamilton's McLaren and Jarno Trulli's Toyota during the Malaysian Grand Prix
Hamilton had a trying afternoon and lost out to Trulli
That delayed Hamilton by about 12 seconds, and he found himself behind Webber again.

Hamilton finally got past into fifth when Webber made his final stop on lap 40 but, although he closed in on Trulli, he was unable to pass the Toyota on the final lap.

"We got off to a very, very good start from ninth to fifth and I was pushing Mark for a long, long time but being behind someone is extremely difficult so it doesn't matter how much quicker you are, it makes it extremely difficult to get past," Hamilton said.

"Then we were in with a good shot for third place and then we had the wheel gun at the pit stop.

"I was very thirsty as my water wasn't working. I pushed hard for fourth but Jarno did a great job.

"The great thing is I was able to drive the race without water and I feel better than I did last year but we just have to do a better job in qualifying at the next race."

Results of the Malaysian Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang:

1. Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari one hour 31 minutes 18.555 seconds
2. Robert Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber +19.570secs
3. Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes +38.450
4. Jarno Trulli (Ita) Toyota +45.832
5. Lewis Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercedes +46.548
6. Nick Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber +49.833
7. Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault +1:08.130
8. Fernando Alonso (Spa) Renault +1:10.041
9. David Coulthard (GB) Red Bull-Renault +1:16.220
10. Jenson Button (GB) Honda +1:26.214
11. Nelson Piquet Jr (Brz) Renault +1:32.202
12. Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) Force India-Ferrari one lap behind
13. Rubens Barrichello (Brz) Honda 1 lap
14. Nico Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Toyota 1 lap
15. Anthony Davidson (GB) Super Aguri-Honda 1 lap
16. Takuma Sato (Jpn) Super Aguri-Honda 2 laps
17. Kazuki Nakajima (Jpn) Williams-Toyota 2 laps
R Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 39 laps completed
R Felipe Massa (Brz) Ferrari 30 laps
R Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Ferrari 5 laps
R Timo Glock (Ger) Toyota 1 lap
R Sebastien Bourdais (France) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 0 laps

Fastest lap: Nick Heidfeld 1:35.366, lap 55

Key: R = retired

Hamilton wins dramatic F1 opener
16 Mar 08 |  Formula One


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