SEPANG, Malaysia -- The Formula One
season has barely started and already Kimi Raikkonen's world has
been turned upside down.
Malaysia, which hosts the second race of the championship on
Sunday, reflects that clearly enough.
Last year, it was McLaren's young Finnish 'Iceman' who kept
his cool in the sweltering Sepang heat to stand triumphant as
world champion Michael Schumacher fended off talk of a Ferrari
McLaren could celebrate two wins from the first two races
and left Malaysia with Raikkonen leading overall ahead of teammate David Coulthard.
"One shouldn't draw the wrong conclusions from races that
don't go perfectly," said a downcast Schumacher after
Raikkonen's first grand prix victory.
"We are not already facing a crisis, absolutely not."
Schumacher was proved correct in the end, fighting back to
claim a record sixth crown after being taken down to the wire by
This year they arrive in Malaysia with the roles reversed.
While Ferrari looks dominant after a one-two finish in
Melbourne, Raikkonen and McLaren are on the back foot after
their worst start to a championship in years.
Write them off at your peril but the chances of the
Mercedes-powered team standing tall at the end of the year are
not looking good.
For a start as abject as Australia 2004, you would have to
turn back time at least a decade.
The team scored just one point in Melbourne, with Coulthard
finishing eighth after Raikkonen had become the first retirement
with an early engine failure.
The script was not meant to read like this.
McLaren was after all the first team to get its new car
on track, starting testing before Christmas last year with
They had expected it to be a quantum leap forward and,
despite obvious teething problems with the engine, the car
proved quick enough to break lap records in Spain.
So Australia was all the more baffling.
"They were fast in (winter) testing so it is difficult to
know whether they were playing games in testing or they had
problems and pulled back a little bit," said Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello on Thursday.
"I was surprised that they were not as fast as expected."
The Brazilian was not the only one.
Coulthard and Raikkonen had suspected the first race would
be tough for them but both were still taken aback by the lack of
pace compared to Ferrari and even Renault, last year's fourth
Qualifying was depressing, with Raikkonen 10th and Coulthard
12th and both drivers complaining that they needed more engine
power and lacked confidence in the car's handling.
"I think it was quite clear to all of us that it was not
where we wanted to be," said Coulthard.
How much of an improvement the team can make in Malaysia
remains to be seen.
"We had a reasonable test last week in Valencia and we have
some new parts to run on the car which were actually available
before Melbourne but we didn't have the right conditions in
Imola at last test prior to going to Melbourne to be confident
they were actually a step forward," said Coulthard.
McLaren has a hard road ahead of them, although a
significant development of the car is in the pipeline and major
changes are expected by mid-season.
In the meantime, Ferrari will worry more about other
challengers, such as Renault and Spaniard Fernando Alonso.
"A lot of people were talking about Raikkonen last year,"
said Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello at the Malaysian Grand Prix on
"I didn't hear a lot of people talking about him in
Australia because he didn't have the car to compete. It depends
on the car.
"I think Renault is the main challenger here in Malaysia.
Renault is not the car to beat, ours is that, but they will be
How long before the same is once again said of McLaren?