Raikkonen's defence back on track as Hamilton struggles to keep up

The Australian Grand Prix might have been a nightmare for Ferrari, but a week is a long time in Formula One and yesterday Malaysia proved to be a dream as Kimi Raikkonen crushed his opposition and sped home to an easy 22-second victory.

What made the triumph sweeter still for the world champion, whose engine had blown up the previous week, was that his closest challenger was not arch-rival Lewis Hamilton, but Robert Kubica in a BMW Sauber. On a day when luck ran against him, Hamilton had to be satisfied with a fifth place finish that nevertheless maintained his lead in the drivers' championship table.

It was Raikkonen's team-mate Felipe Massa, starting from pole position, who took the lead at the outset, chased by Raikkonen and Kubica. Hamilton, starting from ninth place, after the five-place penalty he received after qualifying for inadvertently impeding Nick Heidfeld's best lap, made his usual brilliant start and surged alongside his former McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso in the sprint to the first corner. The Spaniard did him no favours and moved him over the kerb on the outside, but after what happened between them at Spa-Francorhamps in Belgium last year Hamilton was not having any of that and refused to back off. As they turned into the first corner he ducked behind Alonso's Renault and then boxed it in against Heidfeld and Jarno Trulli on the outside, a pair who were having their own time-consuming battle after the Italian's Toyota had touched the German's BMW Sauber. By the second corner Hamilton was fifth, right behind Mark Webber, who got a good run down the inside in his Red Bull from sixth on the grid. Trulli tucked in behind him, with Heikki Kovalainen in the second McLaren next up.

As Massa and Raikkonen pulled confidently away, Kubica also distanced himself from the scrap between Webber and Hamilton, the Briton unable to find a way past the Australian and losing ground as a result. He finally moved up when Webber refuelled on the 16th lap. When the Ferraris did likewise on laps 17 and 18 he moved up to second behind Kubica, but his chances of a podium evaporated when the wheelnut-locking mechanism on his McLaren's right front wheel malfunctioned when he made his own refuelling stop on the 19th lap. The 10-second delay dropped him back to 11th place, and thereafter he was fighting to recover for the rest of the race.

Raikkonen, meanwhile, was leading. "I could have had a chance of passing Felipe into the first corner at the start," he admitted, "but I knew that I had one lap's more fuel than Felipe and it is never worth taking a risk with your team-mate in the first corner, so I stayed behind him. I knew if I could stay with him I would have a good chance later during the pit stops."

His optimism was justified, and later Massa made a costly error when he spun out of the race on the 31st lap.

After that, Ferrari turned down the revs on Raikkonen's engine, just as BMW Sauber would when it became clear that Kubica was not going to be challenged by Kovalainen, who had moved up to third place after some good strategy and pitwork from McLaren.

The main interest after the second stops was whether Hamilton's relentless chase after Trulli's Toyota would yield fourth place. After he had refuelled for the second time on the 44th lap, with no further dramas, he set out after the Italian. From 7.3 seconds on lap 45, the gap between them shrank in successive laps to 6.3, 5.2, 4.4, 3.6, 3.2, 2.6, 2.3, 1.7, 1.1 and 0.6, but it was 0.7 seconds as they crossed the finish line. It had been a brave chase that enlivened an otherwise relatively dull race, in which Hamilton set his best laps, but Trulli kept his nerve.

"I got a really good start and was pretty happy as we jumped four positions from ninth to fifth," Hamilton said later. "I was pushing Mark for a very long time, but being behind someone, no matter how quick you are, it is really difficult to get past.

"We were in a good position for a shot at third place at least, but then I had the problem in my first pit stop which lost me a lot of time. So I did the best job I could. However, we take away the fact that the car ran very reliably in these extreme conditions, and I was able to push Jarno right until the last second.

"I have to say that both Mark and Jarno drove really well today, and it was great to fight them out on track today."

Ahead of them, Raikkonen simply cruised home, and Kubica was equally unchallenged in second.

"After I passed Felipe and was running in free air I had no problem and was able to pull away," the Finn reported. "It was a very easy race after that point. The car was good in the first and second qualifying sessions, but we couldn't find the grip in the tyres in the third.

"But I knew I was running a lap later than Felipe and that the car would be better in the race, so as long as I kept close I had the chance to pass him later. The team did a great job this weekend."

The result leaves Hamilton still leading the drivers' world championship with 14 points, ahead of Raikkonen and Heidfeld on 11 apiece and Kovalainen on 10. In the constructors' chase, McLaren lead with 24, ahead of BMW Sauber on 19 and Ferrari on 11.

"For sure we had quite a difficult weekend in Australia, but speed-wise we knew we were going to be fine here," Raikkonen said, "so everything worked perfectly. This is a good start for the season for us now."

With BMW Sauber also looking so strong, Hamilton's McLaren team will be working flat out to improve before the next grand prix in Bahrain in a fortnight's time.

Malaysian Grand Prix race details

1 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1hr 31min 18.555sec

2 Robert Kubica (Pol) BMW-Sauber +19.570sec

3 Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren +38.450

4 Jarno Trulli (It) Toyota +45.832

5 Lewis Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercesdes +46.548

6 Nick Heidfeld (Ger) BMW-Sauber +49.833

7 Mark Webber (Aus) RedBull-Renault +1min 8.130sec

8 Fernando Alonso (Sp) Renault +1:10.041

9 David Coulthard (GB) RedBull-Renault +1:16.220

10 Jenson Button (GB) Honda +1:26.214

11 Nelson Piquet (Br) Renault +1:32.202

12 Giancarlo Fisichella (It) Force India-Ferrari +1 lap

13 Rubens Barrichello (Br) Honda +1 lap

14 Nico Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Toyota 1 lap

15 Anthony Davidson (GB) Super Aguri-Honda 1 lap16 Takuma Sato (Japan) Super Aguri-Honda 2 laps

17 Kazuki Nakajima (Japan) Williams-Toyota 2 laps

Retired: Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 17 laps; Felipe Massa (Br) Ferrari 26 laps; Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Ferrari 51 laps; Timo Glock (Ger) Toyota 55 laps; Sebastien Bourdais (Fr) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 56 laps

Constructors

1 McLaren 24pts

2 BMW-Sauber 19

3 Ferrari 11

4 Williams 9

5 Renault 6

6 Toyota 5

7 RedBull 2

8 Toro Rosso 2

9 Honda 0

10 Force India 0

11 Super Aguri 0

Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen