Renault F1 takes 1-2 in round 2 and rockets to championship favoritism

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March 20, 2006 A day can make a big difference in any form of sport, but perhaps none as pronounced as in Motorsport. Just a week ago, in the first round of the championship, the rule changes that will define a new era in Formula One appeared to have levelled the competitiveness of the field. Renewed pace from Ferrari, reliability from McLaren and Honda, and promise from Williams and BMW looked to have made for a season of intruige and a broadly contested title. But following the application of the Malaysian blowtorch, Renault now appears set to successfully defend its Formula One dual crown. The French team that gave Fernando Alonso his first Formula One crown last year has already demonstrated in 2006 that it has the speed and the reliability to run two cars at the front all year and yesterday was the first one-two for the blue and gold since Renault returned to the sport as a works manufacturer in the 2002 season and only its second in history. It was a day for technology too as Ferrari debuted a new brake cooling drum (technical details here) - an evolution of similar devices seen on cars last year, but Ferrari have taken it to its extreme. The cooling drum not only covers the brake disc and calliper, preventing heat being transferred to the wheel rim, it also completely fills the space inside the wheel rim, not only improving brake cooling, but also dramatically reducing the vortices generated by the rotation of the wheels, hence making this area more aerodynamically efficient. Other news included the coolest new helmet for some members of the Renault pit-crew and young lion Nico Rosberg who was once again the talk of the paddock with third fastest in qualifying before an engine failure wrecked his race.

Even more encouraging for Renault was the form of their other driver Giancarlo Fisichella , who bounced back in style from a disappointing retirement in the Bahraini Grand Prix seven days ago, controlling the Malaysian Grand Prix from start to finish.

Renault F1's charismatic Managing Director Flavio Briatore was overjoyed at the team result: "This was a fantastic performance from the whole Renault team. Every single member of our team put in an exceptional performance today. Fisico and Fernando were fantastic. Giancarlo controlled the race, and Fernando amazed us at the start. The car was so heavy, that to do what he did into turn 1 was something special. I think this performance shows that we interpreted the rules for 2006, with the new V8 engines, in the right way. We have a great group of people, and everybody is pushing in the same direction. I am very happy for the whole Renault Group today, and they should be proud to have an incredible team like this one."

Director of Engineering Pat Symonds was equally effusive about the results and the prospects for defending the title: "We had a fantastic amount of success last season, but the one-two finish eluded us throughout 2005. It is the ultimate team prize, and we are delighted to have achieved it today. What a fantastic result this was for Giancarlo. We saw yesterday that he has real strength of character, as he bounced back from a disappointing weekend in Bahrain, and this just reinforces that. It was a controlling and compelling performance. It is important not to forget Fernando, who was disadvantaged in qualifying by a team problem. He fought through the field to make the most of his race, as he always does. This is a team result, and belongs to every single person at Enstone and Viry."

Just a week ago, Fisichella looked anything but a winner with some demonstrative displays of frustration. Like we said, a week is a long time in Motorsport.

"It was a perfect race for me", said the Spaniard, "but it was very tough physically and mentally. It was really, really hot out there and I began to feel it from mid-race onwards. I knew it would be hard but there was no choice but to push all the way to the end. So I did. I didn't want to lose concentration in the last laps, and everything went well, the car and engine were perfect too. I am really so happy for this win. And I am especially pleased because I am dedicating the win to a friend who died last week, Pietro. To have my race engineer Alan Permane on the podium alongside me was special too. Thank you to the whole team, this is a brilliant result."

Alonso just keeps on motoring, recognising that although he wasn't far from a win, he was closer than any of those who had scored points in the last Grand Prix, and hence had stolen a significant lead at an early stage of the season.

"From my point of view, I think things could have been different without the problems in qualifying, but today was about making everything we could from P7 on the grid, and I think we did that. I got a great start, and managed to brake late into turn 1 to get the Williams round the outside. I knew Webber was lighter than me, and would have let him go if he had tried to pass, but we had the speed in spite of the heavy fuel load. After that, it was just a question of pushing and letting the strategy work itself out. I have a special feeling for this circuit, it is a fantastic track, and it has always been good to me. I am very pleased to have 18 points out of a possible 20 after only two races, and we are really looking forward to Melbourne."

For Ferrari, their newest driver showed he had the right stuff, with Philipe Massa starting on the back of the grid and driving past his more celebrated teammate , seven times champion Michael Schumacher to claim fifth. Schumacher was sixth in the end and remains within striking distance if he gets his mojo working.

Ferrari F1 head Jean Todt: "Considering all the problems that we've had over the weekend, today our objective was to bring home some points and that's what we achieved. The team and the drivers worked well as did the Bridgestone tyres. Today it was very difficult for us because Michael, on a two-stop strategy was starting from 14th place on the grid and Felipe 21st, was on a one-stop strategy. The seven points that we've picked up - four with Felipe and three with Michael - are very important in as far as future prospects are concerned in that we're only at the start of the season. I'm very pleased for Felipe because he deservedly got his first championship points as a Ferrari driver. Now we have to work very hard in all areas so as to improve our competitiveness and reliability."

For Massa, it was his best result yet in the world's premier Motorsport series: "I'm very pleased with this result and I would like to thank the team for an excellent job. To start from the last row and end up 5th is a good result. Our strategy worked well and I was able to make a good start. During the race I was able to push a bit more at the right moment knowing that during the other phases I would have needed to play more of a waiting game. I lost quite a bit of time behind some of the slower cars but when I had a free track I was able to improve my rhythm keep a good pace. It was a difficult race but finishing fifth gives me that extra bit of motivation for the next races where I hope to be able and compete with the front runners."

For Michael Schumacher was philosophical: "We can accept this result, considering everything that has happened over the weekend. I don't think that we could have achieved much more. On my second stint I wasn't as quick as I was on my first and third one, so now we need to understand the reasons why. All things said and done, the race went basically as I had expected even if one always hopes for something more. During my first pit stop I had to wait a fraction of a second before going out because another car was coming down the pit lane. This was a wise decision from the safety point of view. During the closing stages of the race I was not able to get past Felipe because I just wasn't fast enough and he didn't make any mistakes. This track has always been one of the most difficult for us. Melbourne is a completely different circuit and I hope that it will be better suited to our 248 F1. Now I'm going to take a few days off with my wife Corinna before travelling on to Australia."

Ross Brawn: "Obviously this result isn't too bad considering how we qualified. The tyre performance was consistent and this proves that we chose the right compound, especially in the first stint. Michael didn't quite have the pace in the second stint so we need to understand exactly why. That's why he lost the ground to Felipe and Heidfeld."

For Honda, the news was good. Jenson Button finished third, but within ten seconds of Fisichella and now sits alongside Michael Schumacher with 11 championship points, the closest of the drivers to Alonso's already significant tally of 18 points.

From second on the grid he was embroiled in a race-long battle with Renault, holding P2 until Alonso squeezed out ahead of him after the second round of pitstops. Rubens Barrichello had a disappointing end to a difficult weekend, finishing 10th after incurring a stop-go penalty for speeding in the pit lane when he had been looking good for points.

Honda Sporting Director, Gil De Ferran was happy with the first podium of the year for the team. "We are happy with our first podium of the year. Jenson fought hard all afternoon but in the end we lacked a little pace and he lost some time in traffic during crucial periods of the race, especially around the second stop.

"Rubens was on course to be fighting for points, but unfortunately got a 10 second stop-go penalty for a pit lane speed violation. Another good note was the reliability of the engine, which in its second race showed no problems in dealing with the hot conditions we have encountered in Malaysia. We are certainly encouraged by our performance so far this season, but at the same time are determined to make further improvements and bring us closer to the fight. Let's see what Australia brings."

Jenson Button was obviously pleased to be back on the podium, "but it was the top step that we had in mind, so we are a little disappointed."

"We want to be winning races,"said the Brit, "and today showed that we are in the fight, but there is still a lot of work to be done before we can achieve that target. Having said that, I was held up by traffic a few times, not least of all by Scott Speed before the second pitstop. Had that not happened, maybe I could have come out of the pits ahead of Alonso. Regardless of that though, we have two weeks and a test in Vallelunga to work through our issues and hopefully we can look forward to better things in Melbourne in two weeks' time."

Button is driving alongside a more significant driver this year with the addition of former Ferrari driver Rubens Barrichello and although it is unlikely that Baricchello will remain outside the points. "It's certainly been an eventful weekend and it was disappointing to end it with a stop-go penalty when I was in with a chance of at least coming away with a few points. These past two races have been a bit of a learning curve but I'm sure things will pick up for the next few races and we can start to realise more of the car's potential."

Honda, which has a proud history in F1 and is coming to reclaim its crown in its eyes, appeared happy.

Shuhei Nakamoto is a Management Board Member of the Honda Racing F1 Team and Engineering Director of Honda Racing Development. "Aside from the problem with Rubens yesterday, which necessitated an engine change, we have been encouraged by the engine performance in the first two races," he said. "We have two weeks to improve for the next race in Australia and will be working hard in testing and with the data we have gathered here to do our best for Melbourne."

The Malaysian blowtorch focussed its wrath on Williams - Williams changed from BMW to Cosworth engines this year and they were very competitive at the first Grand Prix of the season. The speed was there again in Malaysia with Nico Rosberg backing up his first race fastest lap with third fastest in qualifying and a second row grid position. Rosberg looks a formidable talent and with remarkable talent and a rare understanding of racecraft for such a young head, Rosberg already looks the find of the season.

Unfortunately, both Rosberg's third grid position and the fifth spot of teammate Australian Mark Webber were wasted before the end of the race with respectively an engines and a hydraulic system that could not withstand the Malaysian heat.

Bernard Ferguson of Cosworth said the team had known it would be tough in the hot conditions because it was the second race for the Cosworth CA2006 V8 engines in both cars. "Unfortunately Nico's engine expired on lap 7 due to an as yet undiagnosed problem. We need to get the failed engine back to our Northampton headquarters as quickly as possible so we can analyse the failure."

If the reliability had been there though, the Williams boys looked capable of getting solidly into the points despite both of them getting gazumped by Fernando Alonso in the first corner who drove around the outside.

"My start wasn't too bad", said Webber, "but Fernando's was phenomenal. "

"He closed up really quickly from behind me and passed me. This was a shame because it prevented us from running at our own pace. The hydraulic problem came on as I was on the start-finish line. My engineers confirmed it was terminal, so we had to stop. I am off to Australia tonight and I am really looking forward to seeing my family that I haven't seen for a long time, so naturally I'm looking forward to my home race in a fortnight." Juan Pablo started the race from fifth position and retained that place at the end of the opening lap. Kimi started sixth on the grid and was hit from behind by Christian Klien (Red Bull Racing) at turn 5. With a broken rear suspension the Finn pirouetted into the barrier and retired.

Juan Pablo Montoya took the chequered flag 39.3sec behind race winner Giancarlo Fisichella.

Williams was not happy with the events of the first lap, as Team Principal Ron Dennis explained: "Kimi being taken out in the first lap and Juan Pablo's first stint tyre graining problems masked our true competitiveness. We also had to sacrifice some downforce to improve the cooling efficiency of the car. The whole team is looking forward to the scheduled improvements to both the car and engine, which should make us even more competitive in two weeks time. Unlike many teams, we have enjoyed good engine reliability which also supports our positive expectations for Melbourne."

Montoya was also happy: "The car was good today and I think we had a solid race. We lost a lot of time in the first stint as my front tyres were graining, but as soon as we changed the tyres the car came back to life and if you look at my pace against Jenson Button later on it was pretty much the same. With the hot temperatures here we did have to look after the engine, which means that we had to sacrifice downforce, so finishing fourth is encouraging. We have scored some more points for the team and I think we look strong going into the next race."

World Championship hopeful Räikkönen lost ground to all of his major rivals on the day: "I am very disappointed because I had a great car set-up and very good race strategy. I think it was fairly obvious that Christian Klien made a pretty fundamental mistake and ran into the back of me at turn five, breaking my rear suspension in the process. A positive side, the team has had good race reliability in the first two races and I am already looking forward to Melbourne in two weeks."

Norbert Haug, Vice President Mercedes-Benz Motorsport: "Kimi was pushed out in the opening lap and we missed him a lot in this race. Our reliability was there and Juan Pablo drove a solid race. I would like to thank everybody in the team in Woking, Brixworth and Stuttgart for all their efforts over the last busy month to create this level. Our engines ran fine in both races within a week's time. We have a solid basis, however we definitely want to do better and we will continue to work hard."

Panasonic Toyota Racing capped off a promising weekend with its first point from 2006 in today's Malaysian Grand Prix under the sweltering skies of Sepang. After showing strong potential in qualifying, an engine failure on Saturday demoted Ralf Schumacher to the back of the grid but he battled strongly on a three-stop strategy on his way to eighth place.

Jarno Trulli suffered a broken diffuser early on and thus endured a difficult afternoon's work. Nevertheless he ended up only one place further back, just outside the points. The Toyotas have shown improved pace this weekend but there is still a lot of work to do. Both Ralf and Jarno are scheduled to test at France's Paul Ricard circuit next week as the team aims to make further gains on its early season performance.

The younger Schumacher was obviously happy to have secured the team's first points for the season, but is obviously missing the podium finishes that were achieved last year. "That was a very interesting race and it is obviously good news to have scored our first point of the year so we are very happy with today's result. We certainly could not have expected that with a three-stop race from the back of the grid. We are also happy that our times showed that we are again competitive. But it was a difficult race today and of course that does not mean that we have solved all our problems. We have the cooler weather of Melbourne next so we will be testing in Paul Ricard next week to be as prepared as possible for that. We hope to be able to keep up this level of pace at the coming races. We have to keep fighting and try to push for the podium again as soon as possible." Jarno Trulli narrowly missed the points after a hard afternoon's work with ninth place: "I'm delighted that we scored a point with Ralf today. We should probably have finished with both cars in the points but it was really bad luck for me today. My afternoon got off to an unfortunate start when I suffered a broken diffuser when someone hit me from behind, just like in Hungary last year. That destroyed the rear of the car and that cost me today because I could have scored points. From then on I was suffering a mixture of oversteer and understeer and it was a big struggle so I just concentrated on driving as quickly as possible. We tried to adjust the car at the pit stops but obviously with the diffuser broken we could do very little. It's good that our pace has shown an improvement since Bahrain and we've gained some important data. We know we will succeed if we keep our heads down and work hard." Toyota Team Principal Tsutomu Tomita was realistic about the amount of work that lies ahead over the next few races. "That was obviously a much better performance over the whole weekend and a strong performance in the race thanks to a significant improvement in the combination of our car and our Bridgestone tyres. That gives the whole team a very high motivation which is the most important thing that we could gain here. Of course we are delighted that Ralf scored our first point of the year. Ralf was originally scheduled to do two stops but because of high pneumatic consumption we had to switch him to a three-stop strategy. So to score points from last on the grid is especially impressive due to that fact. Jarno struggled with a diffuser that was damaged early on, which meant he really struggled for race pace but he still finished 9th so those are very encouraging results. The team deserved that result for all their hard work, but now we must start pushing to get on the podium. We will go to Paul Ricard next week to test further development of our combination with the Bridgestone tyres in preparation for the next race and then the start of the European season. We will keep pushing hard as we seek further success."

The Race

Running a two-stop strategy, Fisichella made a perfect start from pole position and did not put a foot wrong all afternoon. He pitted on laps 19 and 38, and ran an otherwise untroubled race as his R26 car and RS26 V8 engine did not miss a beat.

Fernando Alonso started from a lowly seventh position after problems in qualifying, but much of the disadvantage had been eradicated by the time he reached turn two. A lightning start, and a daring outside pass on both Williams drivers under braking into the first corner, meant the Spaniard emerged from the opening corners in third position.

After holding off the lighter Williams of Mark Webber during the opening laps, and conserving his tyres for what would be a very long first stint, the Spaniard began to show the true pace of the R26. His two-stop strategy saw him visit the pits on laps 26 and 43, as he vaulted ahead of Jenson Button's Honda into second position, which he held comfortably to the flag.

The Renault F1 Team leads the Constructors' Championship with 28 points from the opening two races.

Fernando Alonso heads the Drivers' Championship on 18 points, while Giancarlo Fisichella is fourth on 10 points. The RS26 V8 engine has also taken both race wins under the new V8 regulations, and Fernando Alonso's engine completed its first two-race life with a total of 18 points scored from a possible 20.

Malaysia 2006 - Race Results

1 Giancarlo Fisichella Renault 1:30:40.529 2 Fernando Alonso Renault +4.5 secs 3 Jenson Button Honda +9.6 secs 4 Juan Pablo Montoya McLaren-Mercedes +39.3 secs 5 Felipe Massa Ferrari +43.2 secs 6 Michael Schumacher Ferrari +43.8 secs 7 Jacques Villeneuve Sauber-BMW +80.4 secs 8 Ralf Schumacher Toyota +81.2 secs 9 Jarno Trulli Toyota +1 Lap 10 Rubens Barrichello Honda +1 Lap 11 Vitantonio Liuzzi STR-Cosworth +2 Laps 12 Christijan Albers MF1-Toyota +2 Laps 13 Tiago Monteiro MF1-Toyota +2 Laps 14 Takuma Sato Super Aguri-Honda +3 Laps Ret Nick Heidfeld Sauber-BMW Engine Ret Scott Speed STR-Cosworth Clutch Ret Yuji Ide Super Aguri-Honda Mechanical Ret Christian Klien RBR-Ferrari Hydraulics Ret Mark Webber Williams-Cosworth Hydraulics Ret David Coulthard RBR-Ferrari Hydraulics Ret Nico Rosberg Williams-Cosworth Engine Ret Kimi Räikkönen McLaren-Mercedes Accident

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