Malaysia preview - the heat is on at Sepang 21 Mar 2013
The Australian Grand Prix last weekend gave us some important clues about the pecking order in the 2013 FIA Formula One World Championship. Red Bull have the fastest car in qualifying, but Lotus and Ferrari have better race cars. Mercedes winter form was not a mirage. McLaren have a technical mountain to climb. And Force India look very good.
But all of them expect the 2013 Formula 1 Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix in Sepang this weekend to paint a clearer but by no means definitive picture as they all get to run Pirellis new tyres in much warmer temperatures - around 33 degrees Celsius rather than the mid-20s of Albert Park.
Melbourne winner Kimi Raikkonen believes a repeat will be possible, and says of his surprise success: It feels good but its only after one race. It doesnt really change our aim and how we approach this year. Definitely, we are happy with the win but there is an awful lot to still to do to win the championship. We seemed to have a good car in Albert Park, so hopefully it works well in the next races also.
Malaysia is a difference place, its going to be much hotter there so its very difficult to say how the cars will feel, who will be fastest after having just one race. I think we have to do two or three races before we really know who is where and whats going to happen. Its probably going to rain again in Malaysia at some point but it will be a different circuit, different conditions. Our car worked well in Australia and usually - at least last year - in hot conditions its been good for us so hopefully it will turn out to be a good weekend.
There was a big question mark last year over whether our team could keep up with the development of the bigger teams and I dont think we did a bad job. Of course its not going to be easy for us. Im sure we have the people and all the tools to make it happen. Budget is always a factor and its no secret that we dont have the same money as Ferrari, Red Bull or Mercedes.
Its a long season. If you do things right it will go nicely but one thing can change the whole year. You do a few things a little bit wrong it can turn around and go downhill after that. So we just have to do our normal things, like we did last year and put the good effort into new parts and if were happy we keep them and if not we have to look more closely. But like I said, so far it has been good, so there is no reason why we cant keep it up.
Meanwhile, Ferrari are confident that their F138 will again be very competitive, and Red Bull say they have no concerns over the performance of their RB9.
At McLaren, Martin Whitmarsh has been putting a brave face on the disappointing form of the MP4-28. Clearly, our performance in Australia was not up to our high expectations - and we have been working tirelessly to bring additional performance to MP4-28. But the short turnaround between rounds one and two of the championship means that well arrive in Malaysia with less scope to improve our fortunes. This weekend, however, will provide us with additional opportunities to understand our cars behaviour and to increase our understanding of the package.
Nonetheless, the Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix brings its own unique challenges; its one of the most physically demanding races of the year - for both the drivers and their machinery - and the race will be tough for all competitors. Both Jenson (Button) and Checo (Perez) have gone well at this circuit in the past, and both put in excellent performances throughout the weekend in Australia, so Im sure theyll once again be pushing the car to its limit.
And at Force India, Australian Grand Prix leader Adrian Sutil says: It was a great feeling to lead in Melbourne! We were on a different strategy and we knew we would probably go to the front quite early in the race, but we never expected to be leading for such a long time. It was a surprise for everyone and even more of a surprise that we could keep all the cars behind us while doing really competitive lap times. I actually pulled away from Vettel at one stage in the race. I knew the car was fast, I felt good, I felt confident. On the supersofts I had to give up a few positions, that was normal, that was our strategy because you had to be on them at least once. But Im not disappointed at all, seventh place is a good way to start the season.
I finished fifth in Malaysia in 2010, so I have some good memories. Its not my favourite track, but it depends on the car. If the car is quick and stable, you enjoy it more, but sometimes you really struggle with the balance, and then its a real challenge - the corners are so long, you need a lot of aerodynamic grip. Its a track I like to drive, but its not like a Monaco or a Spa. I dont really know what effect the high temperatures will have because we havent had them during testing. I think the weather in Australia suited us quite well, so lets see how Malaysia is.
This weekend will be extra important for both Mercedes, with their Petronas backing, and Caterham, on their home ground.
Im massively looking forward to this weekend and I think well go really well, says a bullish Lewis Hamilton, who is set to start his second race for Mercedes in Malaysia. We made a good start in Melbourne, but Im expecting to go even better here.
At Caterham, Giedo van der Garde had a surprise to reveal. We also have a really busy week away from the circuit in Sepang and I have to say I cant wait. Last year we had a fantastic reception from the Malaysian fans and I think this year its going to be a great feeling to race in Tony (Fernandes, co-chairman, Caterham) and Kamarudins (Meranun co-chairman, Caterham) home.
I have a special surprise planned just for this race: a new crash helmet design that weve worked on that I think the Malaysian fans will love! Well unveil the design during the week and Im excited to see peoples reaction to it - our crash helmet designs are one of the best ways drivers have to express something cool and its a chance for me to show what it means to me to take part in our home race. I cant wait to get started - its going to be a great week!
Pirelli will be bringing the orange-marked hard and the familiar white-marked medium tyres to this race, as their two hardest compounds are ideal for the extreme temperatures and abrasive surface of Sepang. Given the likelihood of downpours, the green-marked intermediate and blue-marked full wet tyres will almost certainly be used as well.
Motorsport director Paul Hembery explains: We would describe Sepang as genuinely extreme, both in terms of weather and track surface. This means that it is one of the most demanding weekends for our tyres that we experience all year. For the first time we see our new orange hard compound in competition, with this colour chosen to make it more easy to distinguish from the white medium on television.
The nomination we have for Malaysia is the same as last year, but the compounds themselves offer more performance and deliberately increased degradation this season. Last year three stops proved to be the winning strategy in a mixed wet and dry race, with a thrilling finish between Fernando Alonso and Sergio Perez that was all about tyres. Wed expect three stops again but once more its likely to be weather that dominates the action. Even when it isnt raining, the drivers can expect humidity in the region of 80 percent and ambient temperatures of more than 30 degrees Celsius.
Sepangs tarmac may be abrasive, but the track surface itself is very even following resurfacing in 2007. But it places the second heaviest lateral demands on the tyres after Barcelona. This can lead to heat build-up within the tyre, which can reach a maximum of 130 degrees Celsius. Although grip levels are high, the frequent rain tends to wash away any rubber that has been laid down, creating a green surface at the start of each session. While a dry line can emerge quickly because of the high ambient temperatures, drainage is not particularly good, which can lead to pools of standing water.
The 5.543 kilometre (3.444 mile) circuit features only minor changes for 2013. The pit wall debris fence has been extended in order to better protect the marshals, and the track now features two DRS zones instead of the previous one. They are located on Sepangs two longest straights, separated by the final, hairpin Turn 15.
Sundays race will run over 56 laps or 310.408 kilometres (192.887 miles) and starts at 1600 hours local time, which is eight hours ahead of UTC/GMT.
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