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Malaysian Grand Prix - team and driver preview quotes 31 Mar 2009

Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Force India F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Friday, 27 March 2009 (L to R): Jenson Button (GBR) Brawn Grand Prix with Nick Fry (GBR) Brawn Grand Prix Chief Executive Officer.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Friday, 27 March 2009 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Race Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 29 March 2009 Jarno Trulli (ITA) Toyota.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, 28 March 2009 Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, 26 March 2009

Despite the intense heat, the Sepang circuit has always been a firm favourite with the drivers. Here, they and senior team personnel look ahead to this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix...

Force India
Giancarlo Fisichella
2008 Qualifying - 17th, 2008 Race - 12th

“Sepang is a very interesting track, for me one of the best circuits of the year. It’s modern but it has a bit of character and I won here in 2006 so I have good memories. It’s a nice circuit actually, with many different types of corners. There are a couple of slow corners, for example turns one and two and again in nine. Turns Five and Six are high speed, fifth gear corners and Turn 11 is one of the most difficult braking points of the season - when you brake, your front wheels are on the right hand side of the track so the front is locking but just at the end of the braking you’ve got oversteer. It’s difficult to get right. Everyone says this is the toughest race of the season so it seems like a cliché, but it really is hard, both physically and mentally. It’s hot and humid and the circuit is quite twisty, so physically it takes a lot out of you - we sweat so much that at the end of the race I normally lose around three kilos of weight.

Dominic Harlow, chief race engineer
“This 15-turn track contains a variety of corners, from a tight second gear hairpin leading on to the pit straight to two high-speed sweeping corners at turns five and six and a fast double-apex right hander. With such tricky combinations of corners, braking stability is key, although with understeer predominating in the long slower corners, getting a good balance can be difficult. An evening race in Sepang is going to be about one thing, thunderstorms. As convective clouds build over the circuit during the day, the cooling conditions of the late afternoon trigger heavy downpours. For the qualifying and race sessions this could really mix things up. The larger difference in grip between the slicks and wets in 2009 could mean a test for the drivers, something that Force India are confident Adrian (Sutil) and Giancarlo will revel in. The Sepang circuit is physically demanding because of heat and lateral forces. The track surface is now quite old and with the substrate not fully compacted bumps have increased over time. For the engineers, the set-up here is one of the toughest of the season and with the soft tyre will be even more tricky.”

Brawn GP
Jenson Button
2008 Qualifying - 11th, 2008 Race - 10th

"After the amazing weekend that we experienced in Melbourne, the whole team was keen to get to Malaysia and start racing again. However the Malaysian Grand Prix is always one of the toughest races of the season and it will be a real challenge for our new car with so little testing under our belts. Malaysia has a really hot and humid climate which really tests the car's durability and coupled with the frequent torrential downpours can make for an unpredictable race weekend. It's a tough place for the drivers as the heat in the cockpit can be unbearable and tests the limit of your fitness and concentration. You have to work hard to find a good balance for the car at Sepang and it can be challenging for the tyres to work well for the whole lap. Malaysia is a special circuit for me as I achieved my first podium here back in 2004 so I'm hoping that this weekend will provide some more happy memories!"

Rubens Barrichello
2008 Qualifying - 14th, 2008 Race - 13th

"The Malaysian Grand Prix is always a really tough race but if you can cope well with the heat and humidity, it is a track that the drivers enjoy. It's a real engineering challenge to find the right balance and you need to have a car with good aerodynamics to find time around the lap. The intense heat puts pressure on the engine, brakes and the drivers as the temperature can rise above 50 degrees in the cockpit so you have to be well-prepared and ensure you are fully-hydrated. Our team had a really good race weekend in Australia and the car performed as we expected, however we anticipate that our competitors to be closer this time so we will be working extra hard to improve on our performance from last weekend."

Ross Brawn, team principal
"The Australian Grand Prix weekend was a fantastic experience for our team and the one-two result for Jenson and Rubens went beyond our hopes and expectations for our very first race. We know that our competitors will not stand still however and that the challenge will become ever more difficult from here. We can rise to that challenge and we have a very good and stable car which should go well around the Sepang circuit. As in Australia, we will need to maximise the practice running that we have on Friday to develop the set-up, and we will be faced with the usual reliability concerns caused by the high temperatures that we expect in Malaysia. As the race is later than usual in the calendar and will take place later in the day, we are expecting some rain showers which will make the strategy for the weekend very interesting."

Fernando Alonso
2008 Qualifying - 7th, 2008 Race - 8th

“In Australia we struggled in qualifying and our race suffered as a result. So we need to make sure we qualify well so that we can have a strong race. We also need to make sure we get the most from our KERS system at the start of the race as there is a long run to the first corner where it should make a big difference. We must also concentrate on understanding the tyres because Melbourne showed that the two compounds play a major role in determining the performance of the car. This will be particularly important in Malaysia where the track temperatures will be very high so we need to see how the tyres perform in these conditions.

“Sepang is totally different to Melbourne and so I expect our car to be more suited to the circuit. It's a special track for me as I've won there twice and it's probably my favourite circuit so I always enjoy racing there. There are lots of fast, sweeping corners and it's a circuit where you can really appreciate the performance of a Formula One car. In terms of our competitiveness, I hope we will be stronger there, but as we saw in Melbourne all the teams are very closely matched and we will have to fight hard to finish in the points.”

Nelson Piquet
2008 Qualifying - 13th, 2008 Race - 11th

“I've already put Melbourne behind me and I'm fully focussed on coming back with a strong weekend in Sepang. We know we need to improve our performance, but we also learnt a lot about the R29 in Melbourne and we will use that information during free practice to try and find a better balance with the car. As a circuit Sepang will also give us a better idea of our competitiveness as it's a more conventional track than Melbourne and I'm looking forward to driving there. It's a very wide and open track which offers several good overtaking opportunities and usually produces close and competitive racing. There are two long straights where our KERS should make a difference and help us to overtake. In terms of the hot temperatures, it is always a very physical race for the drivers as well as the team, but I've been training hard over the winter to prepare for the season and so the heat and humidity should not be too much of an issue.”

Bob Bell, technical director
“The Sepang circuit is very smooth which should be more to our advantage compared with the bumpier surface that caused us problems in Melbourne. I also think the KERS system will be more of a benefit in Malaysia as the circuit has a couple of long straights and so I'm confident we can do a better job this weekend. With Australia and Malaysia being back-to-back races, we won't be able to introduce any new developments in such a short space of time and so we need to concentrate on getting more performance out of our existing package.”

Lewis Hamilton
2008 Qualifying - 9th, 2008 Race - 5th

“Firstly, we shouldn’t get carried away by our podium in Australia. Yes, we had a fantastic race but we’re all aware that our car isn’t capable of repeating that sort of performance on sheer pace alone. And Sepang is one of the tougher tracks on the calendar, one where we will probably be further from the frontrunners than we were in Albert Park. The track is both fast and technical so requires good mechanical and aero grip. It’s much more aero-dependent and rear-limited than Melbourne so it may highlight some of the shortcomings in MP4-24. Nevertheless, we’re all really encouraged by the progress we’ve made and I know we’ll be pushing as hard as ever to put more points on the board in Sepang.”

Heikki Kovalainen
2008 Qualifying - 8th, 2008 Race - 3rd

“The Sepang track is a challenge because it requires several compromises to get the best set-up. There are plenty of long straights, where you ideally need lower downforce, but that gives the car a tendency to slide too much through the high-speed corners. The best corners are Turns Six and Seven - the fast left-right esses behind the pits. In the car, you’ve not only got to find the optimum balance, but also make sure the brakes and cooling are efficient, otherwise you’ll be in trouble before you get to the end of the race. The only difficulty for me is the heat; coming from Finland, we often see the same temperature-readings - but with a minus in front!”

Martin Whitmarsh, team principal
“Despite a good result in the race, our performance in the Australian Grand Prix was not what we would like it to be, and the reality is that this weekend’s race in Malaysia is unlikely to offer a significant improvement in fortunes. Nevertheless, we are still pushing to introduce performance to the car – the close proximity to the opening race means there won’t be many large changes to the car but there will be several upgrades to existing components. For us, the mission is clear: we must introduce laptime to our car faster than our rivals to enable us to, firstly, catch the leading runners and then to be able to compete against them. It’s a task we take incredibly seriously and are confident that progress will be made sooner rather than later.”

Norbert Haug, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport vice-president
“With Lewis in third place, the season opener in Melbourne ended much better for us than we had expected after his 18th grid position. Compared to our test results in Barcelona two and a half weeks ago, we made a good step. This result was mainly due to Lewis’s perfect drive and a good strategy by our team. Moreover, some of the incidents in the race went in our favour. However, we cannot expect the same again this coming weekend in Malaysia. We all will work flat out to improve our technical package further - that’s a promise.”

Jarno Trulli
2008 Qualifying - 3rd, 2008 Race - 4th

"I generally go really well in Malaysia and I have had some strong results there so I am approaching this race with great confidence. We achieved a great breakthrough in Malaysia in 2005 when I got the team's first podium in Formula One so I have good memories which will inspire me this weekend. Of course one of the big topics in Malaysia is the heat and humidity, which is quite a challenge for the drivers. It's not easy but that's why I train so much over the winter; I'm fit and it will be fine. Australia was a weekend of highs and lows but we showed that we are very competitive and I hope we can do that again this weekend."

Timo Glock
2008 Qualifying - 10th, 2008 Race - DNF

"I don't have much experience of racing in Malaysia because I was taken out so early last year, but from the practice and qualifying I know the conditions are quite extreme. It's also pretty tough on the cars and tyres as well but I can adapt quickly to different conditions and different tracks so I'm ready for the challenge. I said before the season started that our car looked pretty good and the performance we showed in Australia proved that. It's great to have good points on the board already this season and my goal is obviously to add to that this weekend. We have every reason to be optimistic."

John Howett, president
"Australia was a very challenging weekend for the team but we responded extremely well to it and the performance was a credit to everyone. We showed extremely strong pace in the race and all our work has clearly delivered a competitive car which we expect to show again in Malaysia."

Hirohide Hamashima, Bridgestone director of motorsport tyre development
"Sepang is quite severe on tyres as it has many different corner types and two heavy braking zones after long straights. This means the energy going through the tyres over a lap is considerable. Drivers will have to be careful not to lock their brakes, especially with the new generation cars which seem less stable due to the lower levels of downforce. High temperatures are usually a factor in Malaysia, and the later start time for the race is when we often see rain, so there are many challenges we could face. The hard compound we have in Malaysia is a development from the hard compound that teams used in pre-season testing. It has been modified to be softer than before, in response to feedback from the teams, however it is not a very big change and I am confident that it will be suitable. Management of the soft compound is likely to be the biggest challenge of the weekend, as we have not previously brought a soft tyre to Sepang."

BMW Sauber
Robert Kubica
2008 Qualifying - 4th, 2008 Race - 2nd

"The Malaysian Grand Prix is always something very special, as it is like a home race for us because of Petronas. We have a lot of fans in Malaysia and it is really a special feeling to drive there. The race went extremely well for me last year. Of course I hope that we can get a strong result again this time around. I'm really looking forward to this GP, as this is a unique track with a wide variety of corners; some are seriously quick, but others are very slow. And in some places you can choose different lines, which makes it particularly interesting. The final sector is very different from the other two, as it has just two long straights and a hard braking area. This track really offers everything, and that means it demands a lot of the car. The later start time means there is a pretty strong chance of rain. I'm sure that we are in for an extremely interesting weekend."

Nick Heidfeld
2008 Qualifying - 5th, 2008 Race - 6th

"For me Sepang is a nice, challenging circuit. Last year I managed to pull off some good overtaking moves there. The heat is always an issue, coupled with a high level of humidity. However, I've never had a problem with it and am particularly fit this year. We've often experienced cloudbursts in Malaysia in the late afternoon and early evening. This year's schedule increases the chances that we will still be on the track at this time. Hopefully it will still be light enough. I always feel very much at ease in Malaysia. All the activities we've been involved in with Petronas have given me the chance to see a bit of the country and I've also been here on holiday. There is not a lot of time before the grand prix this year, but we have engagements with Petronas on Tuesday and Wednesday - and of course there will be a visit to the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur. The towers fascinate me every time I see them, especially at night when they're illuminated."

Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director
"After the opening race of the season in Melbourne, we are now very much looking forward to our first home Grand Prix of 2009. Every year since our team was founded in 2006 we have seen for ourselves the charismatic presence of our premium partner Petronas in Malaysia. It is always amazing to experience the fantastic reception we enjoy as a team in Malaysia. Last year Nick recorded our first ever fastest race lap as a team in Sepang and Robert finished in an outstanding second place. Our aim is to pick up from where we left off with these good performances.”

Willy Rampf, head of engineering
"We always look forward to this race in particular, as it's the home Grand Prix for our partner Petronas. The Sepang circuit is very challenging and places big demands on the chassis and the teams' choice of set-up. There are fast ess-bends in which stability is critical. At the same time, you need good traction under acceleration out of the tight corners, some of which are uphill. The right-hander before the back straight, which closes up at the exit, is especially tricky. Because the tyres are placed under heavy loads in the fast corners, in particular, in Sepang, we use the soft and the hard compound here. So we're driving a level harder on them than in Melbourne. Cooling is also an issue, given the high ambient temperatures. And, of course, the weather is very unpredictable. You always have to be prepared for rain here."

Kazuki Nakajima
2008 Qualifying - 22nd, 2008 Race - 17th

“For me, Sepang is one of the most exciting tracks we visit during the year. That doesn’t mean it is an easy track, far from it, as it has some complex and technical corner sequences and some that demand special attention such as Turns 11 and 14 where your braking and turn-in sequence is different to say the least. Malaysia is closer to my home country than many of the places we visit, so I find it more familiar in terms of the culture, the food etc. I raced at Sepang in Japanese GT, so I am also a bit better acquainted with the place, but of course the heat and the humidity are quite exceptional.”

Nico Rosberg
2008 Qualifying - 16th, 2008 Race - 14th

“Just like Kazuki, I really like the Sepang circuit, it is fast and flowing and has a nice variation of corners that makes it really exciting to drive. The climate makes the racing very demanding for driver and machine. The heat and humidity means that it is physically exhausting and this is one track where the fitness training over the winter really pays off. I love the country, there is a nice warmth about the people too and like almost everywhere in Asia, I like the food, so it is a good place to visit every year.”