The Malaysian Grand Prix Preview 05 Apr 2007
Will Ferrari maintain their dominance at Sepang, or can McLaren and Renault catch up? If you were to look at the times from the recent test at the Malaysian circuit, you might form the view that virtually everyone has a chance, for most teams put in competitive lap times at one stage or another. The difficult thing is knowing who was running what set-up or configuration when those times were done.
Put it another way, Ferrari, McLaren and Renault seem genuinely pleased about their performance, while BMW Sauber, Williams, Honda, Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Super Aguri and Toyota all believe they have made progress.
The fact that 10 of the teams tested here is likely to create the sort of situation we often see in Barcelona, where everyone has an early handle on set-up, and the true respective performances emerge as a result.
Kimi Raikkonen believes he is well placed to repeat his Melbourne performance, provided his Ferrari does not require an engine change following a water leak towards the end of that race. Team mate Felipe Massa will be going all-out to avoid the sort of problems he suffered in Australia, and to close the points gap to the Finn.
If his McLaren is again unable quite to get on terms with the red cars, world champion Fernando Alonso is determined to maximize his points score so that he remains in play until the silver arrows can compete with the Ferraris, but the team will have some new parts for the race. Team mate Lewis Hamilton is also keen to repeat, perhaps even better, his extraordinary debut in Australia.
"I thought Sepang looked like a great circuit and I was not disappointed, he said. Its layout means you can build up a great rhythm, with all the corners running into each other. It is also really wide, which I imagine will lead to exciting racing. The four days of testing were really useful on two counts. We had a number of developments to the car that we ran and will now bring to the race, and I was able to learn the track prior to the event. I am now looking forward to competitive action here. As I said at the time, it was a dream start for me in Australia, but I am realistic that motorsport is unpredictable and things dont always go so well. We have all been working to reduce the gap to Ferrari and I will do my best with Fernando and the team towards this in Malaysia."
Last years winner, Giancarlo Fisichella, admits that Renault werent fast enough in Australia, but says: Without a doubt, this is the toughest race of the season - not just physically, but mentally too. The high temperatures and humidity make things very tough for the drivers and the cars too. For me personally, though, there are very good memories from my win last year, and I am prepared for the race this time round. I trained hard over the winter, I am in peak condition - and ready to go.
As one of the hottest races of the season, the Malaysian Grand Prix will exact a heavy toll on drivers and machinery. Temperatures are expected to be around 34 degrees Celsius all weekend, and the humidity will take its own toll, making the cockpits feel like saunas. The most important thing for each driver will be to keep fully hydrated.
The tortuous circuit is tough on every element of the car. The high temperatures place heavy demands on cooling systems, brakes and tyres, and the mixture of corners makes it tricky to achieve an optimum set-up for the high and slow-speed corners. However, the temperature will be beneficial in one way since nobody should have any of the problems some experienced getting heat into their tyres in Melbourne. The weekend should thus paint a more accurate picture of precisely where everyone is in respect to each other.
Bridgestone will bring their medium and hard compounds (rather than the soft and medium used in Australia) and telling the difference between the two will be far easier than in Melbourne - on each of the medium tyres, one groove will be painted white, making it clearly visible whether the car is stationary or at speed.