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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Malaysian Grand Prix

At the end of last year, I speculated that Renault wouldn't be as strong in 2006 as they had been in 2005 due to the fact that they were late with releasing their V8 engines and also they've had very little experience with V8 racing engines in general. I'm glad to admit that I was totally wrong.

The Renault team in fact has consistently been underrated by many this year. Just look at the various results of internet polls. However, at Sepang, the testing form in winter has proven to be correct. Renault was very much in control and dominated proceeding with only the Honda of Jenson Button being able to keep pace.

If I had thought that Ferrari would be challenging in Sepang after their Bahraini performance, I'm also glad to admit my error there. Yes, I realise Michael Schumacher started from 14th and Filipe Massa shared the back row with Ralf Schumacher. However, if you examine the Ferrari race pace, it is not impressive. Whilst Fisichella, Alonso and Button were consistently lapping in the 1m 35s bracket throughout the race, Michael Schumacher was struggling to beat 1m 36s. The Ferrari team admits that Schumacher's lack of pace is perplexing. Nevertheless, they did not impress as some were hoping.

Fernando Alonso is truly shaping up to be a master class in grand prix racing. Hampered by an overfueled car at the start of the race, his pace towards the end was simply blistering. His fastest lap of 1m 34.8s is faster than Kimi Raikkonen's fastest lap at Sepang in 2005. And Fernando is actually losing 150bhp or so using the RS26 V8 as compared to the ten cylinder Mercedes engine in Kimi's car. Although you could argue that tyres this year are significantly softer than last year's rock hard variety. Still, the man makes very few errors. In fact, he's yet to make any significant ones in the race this year. Last year, he clipped the wall in Montreal and that was basically it.

Quite how one so young can drive so confidently, quickly and consistently defies belief. He's just rock solid quick. Fisichella may have won from pole but he did make a mistake in turn 4 at Sepang towards the end of the race. An unforced error at that since by that stage his teammate had been told to turn down the wick. Still Fisichella's been brilliant though I suspect that had Alonso been correctly fueled he'd be in front at the chequered flag.

Take nothing away from Fisichella, he's had more than his share of bad luck and he deserves this victory. Jenson Button tried hard but in the end simply couldn't live with Fisichella's pace up front. The Honda still hasn't got the race pace to match its stunning performance in free practice.

A pity both Williams retired from the race. Mark Webber was hounding the admittedly heavy Alonso at the early stages. However, I think they definitely had enough pace there to beat Juan Pablo Montoya's McLaren. Nico Rosberg qualified an excellent third on the grid. However, his inexperience tells. Too much wheelspin at the start, Nico probably lost places for both Williams by tussling with Webber going into turn 1. Fernando Alonso quite smartly went round the both of them into turn 1.

All in all, this race was pretty uneventful when compared to last week's race at Sakhir. However, Renault have definitely stamped their authority on this year's championship. Kimi Raikkonen was not around for this race having been tagged by Christian Klein on lap 1. It would have been interesting to see how well he would have gone otherwise. However, the McLaren's pace is still quite suspect.

On to Australia. I expect the cooler tempratures there should favour the Ferrari's Bridgestone rubber as it did in previous years. But don't be surprise if Renault once again comes out on top. They have done a magnificent job once again.

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