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Sauber team crash out of Malaysian Grand Prix

Nick Heidfeld (front) shortly before he skidded off the track at the Malaysian Grand Prix


The Swiss motor racing team, Sauber Petronas, saw both its cars skid off the Malaysian Grand Prix circuit on Sunday.

In a race full of drama, the drivers had to compete not just with each other but with a severe tropical storm which lashed down on to the circuit during the early laps. Many cars skidded off the circuit and a safety car had to be brought on for part of the race.

Both Sauber drivers, Germany's Nick Heidfeld and Finland's Kimi Raikkonen, were forced to abandon the race. They can take heart in the fact that other established names forced off the track included Canada's Jacques Villeneuve, Britain's Eddie Irvine and France's Olivier Panis.

Sauber had been looking to build on their success at the first race of the Formula One season in Melbourne, Australia, when Heidfeld and Räikkönen secured fourth and sixth places respectively.

Both Heidfeld and Räikkönen sounded upbeat about the race on Saturday, after their success in Australia. "I feel more confident after scoring my first World Championship points in Melbourne," said Heidfeld, "and I hope we can secure a similar result in Malaysia."

But both drivers, who started the race in 11th and 14th positions after Saturday's qualifying round, had not expected the appalling weather which brought treacherous driving conditions.

"It's a great shame," said Sauber Petronas chief Peter Sauber, "that in such extreme conditions we were unable to show off the potential of our cars and drivers."

The race did not get off to a good start, after Italian Giancarlo Fisichella forced a ten-minute delay when he took the wrong side of the grid in his Benetton.

Three-time world champion Michael Schumacher eventually won the 5,543 kilometre Grand Prix in 1:47:34.801, his sixth consecutive Formula One victory. Schumacher was followed by fellow Ferrari team mate Rubens Barrichello.

David Coulthard came in third as McLaren-Mercedes struggled to compete with Ferrari's increasing dominance at the highest level of the sport.

The race was the second of the season and gave Schumacher his 46th Formula One victory, putting him five behind the career record of 51 wins held by Alain Prost.

In the world championship overall standings, Heidfeld now lies fifth with three points, while Räikkönen is joint seventh with fellow Finn Mika Hakkinen, both of whom are on one point. Schumacher leads the table with 20 points.

In the constructors table, Ferrari leads with 30 points, while Sauber are in fourth position with four points.

swissinfo with agencies


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