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The Malaysian Grand Prix Preview - a Sepang melting pot? 02 Apr 2009

Jenson Button (GBR) Brawn Grand Prix.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Friday, 27 March 2009 Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Brawn Grand Prix signs autographs for the fans.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Race Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 29 March 2009 Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Race Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 29 March 2009 Timo Glock (GER) Toyota TF108.
Malaysian Grand Prix, Rd 2, Practice Day, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 21 March 2008 Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, 26 March 2009

While the rest of the paddock expects Brawn GP to dominate again this weekend, the team themselves believe that the racing will be closer than it was in Melbourne. Australian Grand Prix winner Jenson Button expects a stronger challenge from Ferrari and McLaren in Sepang and is keen to make the most of the opportunity he has now.

"We don't know who is going to be quick here as it is such a different circuit,” said Button. “You would say we are going to be competitive, but it is a question of who else is going to be up there with us.”

Team mate Rubens Barrichello concurs.

"In Australia we had the visibility as a problem," said Barrichello. "We had the temperature dropping and we actually had a fantastic feeling with the car - and perhaps better than others. In Malaysia I think the racing car be closer. Ferrari will definitely be closer there; McLaren has always been good there. I was surprised with Red Bull - so I think it will be close racing."

BMW Sauber are also very keen to take the victory that they felt was denied them in Australia, especially as Malaysia is the home of sponsor Petronas.

“Last year Nick (Heidfeld) recorded our first ever fastest race lap as a team in Sepang and Robert (Kubica) finished in an outstanding second place,” team principal Mario Theissen said. “Our aim is to pick up from where we left off with these good performances.”

Ferrari will also be doing everything they can to make their F60 kinder on its tyres. The 5.3-kilometre Sepang circuit is very hard, with two long straights leading into tight, slow-speed corners which require heavy braking and demand high-energy performance from the tyres. Additionally, the wide variety of corners keeps them under heavy loads over the course of a lap. This also makes setting up the cars tricky.

The circuit layout is not the only tough aspect, as the hot weather and humidity provides a harsh test too. Even when it rains in Malaysia, as it does frequently, temperatures remain high. Bridgestone will have its hard and soft compound tyres here. Previously in Malaysia, hard and medium compound dry grooved tyres were used, so this year’s allocation has a softer tyre than has been seen here before. Also of note, this will be the first time that teams get to use the 2009 hard compound, as the current specification hard tyre is an evolution from that used in pre-season testing.

At McLaren, Lewis Hamilton is hoping to build on his surprise third place in Melbourne, which he believes was one of the best races he has driven in Formula One, but is not expecting miracles. "The Malaysian Grand Prix is the second of two back-to-back flyaway races, and it's difficult for any team to make big changes to the car when it's so far away from the factory and there's so little time.

“Also, technically speaking, Sepang is a harder test of a Formula One car than Albert Park, so we can't realistically expect a repeat of the result we saw in Melbourne. But we're targeting upgrades and improvements at every race, so I hope they'll have a benefit. I know people are hoping for a night-and-day change in our car's pace, but that's not going to happen this coming weekend."

Sebastian Vettel is also out to show that Red Bull’s performance in Melbourne was no flash-in-the-pan, but will be hampered by the 10-place grid penalty levied after his incident late in that race with Kubica. Williams and Toyota showed impressive form in Australia, and both have points to prove (and score) here after their disappointments last week.

The teams running KERS - Ferrari, McLaren, BMW Sauber and Renault - may enjoy more of an advantage here thanks to those long straights, but now that air extraction chimneys have been banned, the heat may prove too challenging for those teams that have marginalised their cooling systems in the interest of aerodynamic efficiency.

In other words, just as we felt a pattern beginning to emerge in Melbourne, the 2009 Formula One form book has gone back into the melting pot again.