Fortune didn’t always smile on Giancarlo Fisichella during his long F1 career, but in the 2006 Malaysian GP everything went the Italian’s way, and he scored a brilliant win from pole for Renault.
The icing on the cake was that Fernando Alonso recovered from a disappointing grid position to claim second place, making it a superb one-two finish for the team.
That year’s season had started in Bahrain rather than in Melbourne, as was the norm. Despite the switch from V10 to V8 power over the winter Renault and Alonso maintained their 2005 championship-winning momentum by winning the opening race, in the face of strong competition from Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari.
However next time out in Malaysia things didn’t go Alonso’s way in qualifying. In fact in the rush to refuel the car before the third session, the team had given him double the intended fuel load, having initially thought that nothing had gone in at the first attempt. So he went into the crucial “fuel-burning” session way overweight.
Stuck with this heavy load, Fernando could not produce a competitive lap time – but fortunately for him he still earned seventh place, helped by Schumacher taking a penalty for an engine change.
Meanwhile Fischella saved the day for Renault by earning a superb pole position, his first since Australia the previous year. Fisi was joined on the front row by Honda’s Jenson Button, while rookie Nico Rosberg was third, ahead of Williams team mate Mark Webber.
At the start Fisi headed Button away, while Alonso got a flier. Helped by the fact that the Williams guys were battling each other on the inside line he took a few risks on the run to Turn One to end the first lap in an amazing third place.
Fisichella led comfortably until he stopped on lap 19. Button came in two laps later, and by then the gap from the Honda to the heavier Alonso has drifted out to 14.9s, so the World Champion did not appear to be an immediate threat to Button.
The big unknown was when Alonso would stop, since it was up to the team how much fuel went into the car before the start – what he had left in the car after qualifying plus a share of the “credit” for the 13 laps he ran in that session. But how big was that share?
He finally came on lap 26, and resumed less than 8s behind Button. Now it was a question of what would happen in and around the second stops.
Fisichella and Button both came in for a second time on lap 38, with the Renault man 10s clear and under no threat at all. Meanwhile the charging Fernando had closed to within 4s off Jenson, and by running five very quick laps after the Honda was tanked up for the run to the flag, he was able to jump Jenson for second as he came out of his stop. After that it was a controlled run to the flag for the Renault duo.
“We had a small problem with tyre graining a couple of laps after the pit stop,” said Fisichella. “But apart from that, there was a great balance, great behaviour, and I was very comfortable.”
The one-two was a memorable result, especially given that Alonso had started only seventh. In fact it was the first achieved by the Enstone team since Spain 1995 – back in the Schumacher Benetton-Renault days!