Team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella had taken the first blood with a win in Australia, but Fernando hit his stride at the second event in Sepang. The team appeared to have a big advantage over the rest of the field and Fernando took pole by over two tenths from the Toyota of Jarno Trulli. At the start he opened up a lead, and looked in command for the rest of the race. It was far from easy though, and Fernando looked exhausted as he climbed onto the podium to claim the winner’s trophy.
His engine engineer at the time was Rémi Taffin, who recalled the race from behind the scenes. ‘We had gone to Melbourne and scored a one-three as a team, but Fisico had been in front. We’d actually made a mistake in qualifying with the fuel level and that had hurt Fernando so we arrived in Malaysia incredibly motivated. We knew we had a good car and Fernando was on form. He loved Sepang – he’d scored his first pole and win there in 2003. We got the pole by some margin but Fernando had a fever on race day and didn’t feel great. He very nearly fainted when he got out the car, but he still managed to win by nearly 25secs. We were all so pleased – we knew we had a great driver on form – even when sick – and a great car. The engine was also one of the best I’ve ever worked on, and certainly the best in the field that year. We had reworked the V10 concept and surprised everyone with how powerful and driveable it was. In this race Fernando had opened up a gap, then had it taken away with a safety car. Then he’d managed to expand it back to 25secs again. It made us really believe in ourselves and that we were in for a genuine shot at the championship.’
Back at the factory a small band of engineers were following the race on the big screen in Renault’s cinema room. One of them, Ricardo Penteado, who is now responsible for Viry’s operations room, was a dyno and simulation engineer at the time. ‘There were only two or three people in the room as the race was very early for Europe,’ Ricardo remembers. ‘
The build up had been quite intense – even though we knew that we were well-organised and in control, there was a big effort to cope with Malaysia.
Humidity was high and we had tweaked the engine maps to deal with this. Seeing Fernando win by such a comfortable margin showed we had done the sums right. I can remember sending the results of the race to the entire factory ; it was a great feeling. We got a bit overexcited at how far ahead we were so I even photoshopped my predications for the results of some future races and sent those as well… !’