Drivers to watch

Updated: March 17, 2004, 6:03 PM ET news services

Check out a short list of favorites for Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix:

Fernando Alonso (Spain):
Returns to the site where he won his first career pole position - the first of two he won last year; started the season-opening Grand Prix of Australia and finished on the podium in the third spot; became the youngest race winner in the history of grand prix racing after claiming the Hungarian GP last year at the age of 21; finished sixth in the championship standings in 2003, his third season; finished on the podium at three other races, recording third-places finishes at Malaysia and Brazil and a runner-up effort in Spain.

Ruben Barrichello
Rubens Barrichello (Brazil):
The ultimate No. 2 driver, the Brazilian plays supporting actor to leading man Michael Schumacher at Ferrari; acted his part to perfection at the first race of the season, coming in second to Schumacher after starting along side his teammate; won races last year in England and Japan to lift his career total to seven wins; finished the championship in fourth place after coming in second in Malaysia, third in San Marino, Spain, Austria, Europe and Italy; also won two pole positions.

David Coulthard (Scotland):
Started the Grand Prix of Australia from the 12th spot and climbed to an eighth-place finish in the last race; had another mediocre year in 2003, finishing 10th in the championship; his lone win last season at the Australian GP; had his best season in 2001 when he finished second in the championship; owns 13 wins in 157 F1 starts, standing on the podium 60 times.

Juan Montoya (Colombia):
Earned four ranking points with his fifth-place finish in the season-opening Grand Prix of Australia earlier this month; qualified third; came in second in Malaysia two years ago; in his third year in Formula 1, the former CART champion collected 82 points to finish third in the championship for the second straight season; won races at Monaco and Germany; had a consistent stretch in the middle of the season when he finished on the podium eight straight races; came in second in five events, and third at two races; might have to answer questions of being an underachiever after producing just three wins in 50 races, despite starting from the pole 11 times.

Kimi Raikkonen (Finland):
Is coming off a disappointing effort at the season-opening race in Australia; qualified 10th but retired on lap 10 with an engine failure caused by a loss of water pressure; claimed his first career victory in Malaysia at last year's race; last year finished just two points in back of Michael Schumacher in the championship title hunt that was decided in the last race of the season; earned points in 13 of 16 races; was runner-up in seven races and finished third at two others.

Michael Schumacher
Michael Schumacher (Germany):
Won this grand prix in 2000-01; the six-time Formula One champion claimed the pole at the season-opening Grand Prix of Australia and went on to claim his 71st career win; after leading all 54 laps, the German said, "In Formula One things can change very rapidly and we shouldn't forget that we have always done well in Australia. Malaysia, as well as being a very difficult race, is also unpredictable because of the climate. It isn't one of our favorite tracks."; his pole at Australia was his 56th, 10 behind Ayrton Senna's record of 65.

Ralf Schumacher (Germany):
The Sepang circuit was the site of one of his sixth career victories; started fourth in 2002 and took advantage of other drivers' early misfortuntes to drive a balanced race under high temperatures and humidity; qualified eighth in the season-opening race in Australia but managed a fourth-place finish; was fifth in the standings in a mixed 2003; earned points in seven straight races until making it to the podium with a runner-up effort at the Canadian GP; won the next two races at the European GP and the French GP; scored just one point in the final six events.