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Malaysia preview - the heat is on at Sepang 21 Mar 2013

Start and finish straight and start light gantry.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, Thursday, 21 March 2013 Lotus E21 nose.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, Thursday, 21 March 2013 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari in a Brembo Press Conference.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, Thursday, 21 March 2013 Red Bull Racing mechanics work on the Red Bull Racing RB9 rear end.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, Thursday, 21 March 2013 Martin Whitmarsh (GBR) McLaren Chief Executive Officer.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, 16 March 2013 McLaren MP4-28 sidepod, radiator and electronic detail.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, Thursday, 21 March 2013 Adrian Sutil (GER) Force India F1 and Paul di Resta (GBR) Force India F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 17 March 2013 Force India VJM06 in the garage.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, Wednesday, 20 March 2013 Mercedes AMG F1 W04 front wing detail.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, Thursday, 21 March 2013 Giedo van der Garde (NDL) Caterham F1 in the Press Conference.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, Thursday, 21 March 2013 Mercedes AMG F1 garage and Pirelli tyres.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, Wednesday, 20 March 2013 Max Chilton (GBR) Marussia F1 Team and Jules Bianchi (FRA) Marussia F1 Team.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, Thursday, 21 March 2013 Malaysian flag.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, Thursday, 21 March 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 Pirelli’s 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 it’s only after one race. It doesn’t 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, it’s going to be much hotter there so it’s 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 what’s going to happen. It’s 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 it’s 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 don’t think we did a bad job. Of course it’s not going to be easy for us. I’m sure we have the people and all the tools to make it happen. Budget is always a factor and it’s no secret that we don’t have the same money as Ferrari, Red Bull or Mercedes.

“It’s 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 we’re 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 can’t 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 we’ll arrive in Malaysia with less scope to improve our fortunes. This weekend, however, will provide us with additional opportunities to understand our car’s behaviour and to increase our understanding of the package.

“Nonetheless, the Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix brings its own unique challenges; it’s 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 I’m sure they’ll 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 I’m 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. It’s 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 it’s a real challenge - the corners are so long, you need a lot of aerodynamic grip. It’s a track I like to drive, but it’s not like a Monaco or a Spa. I don’t really know what effect the high temperatures will have because we haven’t had them during testing. I think the weather in Australia suited us quite well, so let’s see how Malaysia is.”

This weekend will be extra important for both Mercedes, with their Petronas backing, and Caterham, on their home ground.

“I’m massively looking forward to this weekend and I think we’ll 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 I’m 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 can’t wait. Last year we had a fantastic reception from the Malaysian fans and I think this year it’s going to be a great feeling to race in Tony (Fernandes, co-chairman, Caterham) and Kamarudin’s (Meranun co-chairman, Caterham) home.

“I have a special surprise planned just for this race: a new crash helmet design that we’ve worked on that I think the Malaysian fans will love! We’ll unveil the design during the week and I’m excited to see people’s reaction to it - our crash helmet designs are one of the best ways drivers have to express something cool and it’s a chance for me to show what it means to me to take part in our home race. I can’t wait to get started - it’s 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. We’d expect three stops again but once more it’s likely to be weather that dominates the action. Even when it isn’t raining, the drivers can expect humidity in the region of 80 percent and ambient temperatures of more than 30 degrees Celsius.”

Sepang’s 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 Sepang’s two longest straights, separated by the final, hairpin Turn 15.

Sunday’s 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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