After the first round of the season in Australia, Formula 1 moves to Malaysia this weekend for one of the hottest races of the season where the teams will face a new challenge courtesy of high temperatures, high humidity and the threat of rain.
The championship’s new era started in a positive note from an entertaining point of view with a Grand Prix which brought us quite a lot: accidents, punctures, technical failures, Safety Car deployment to even post-race penalties. It was a race which saw the reigning World Champion retiring after five laps as well as two rookies scoring points.
Somewhat surprisingly, more than half of the grid made it to the chequered flag with Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg passing the finish line first. With over 20 seconds in hand over second position, Mercedes might look like they’ll be racing in a different league in 2014. McLaren has also shown strong pace and lead the constructors standings with 33 points. Despite the double-points finish Ferrari can’t be satisfied with their car’s performance and, along with Red Bull, have lots of work to do. With their fifth place Williams has scored more points than the entire 2013 season, while Lotus is still yet to complete a race distance. But there’s still a lot to discover, especially with the tyres set to play a greater role this weekend.
The 5.5 km Sepang International Circuit is a medium-to-high speed track which consists of many fast turns, long straights and just a few hairpins.
“Sepang is a very different type of track from Albert Park: Melbourne was all about slow-speed corners and mechanical balance, whereas Malaysia is a real high-speed circuit, the corners are much faster and there’ll be more of an emphasis on aerodynamic performance”, says McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen.
“I think it’ll be a tougher test than Australia - the ambient temperatures will make it tougher for the drivers; and the track temperatures will be higher too, which will make it harder on the tyres.”
At Sepang, the cars need good aerodynamics, strong grip in the corners and high speed on the straights. As if this wasn’t already a big challenge for the teams and drivers, the unpredictable climate in Malaysia will make the race even more interesting. Rain typically arrives at four o’clock in the afternoon, which is when the red lights are due to go out on race day.
“We know the weather at Sepang can change a lot; in fact it is usually either extreme heat or extreme rain, so very tropical and we’ll need to be ready for everything. Also the extreme temperatures are hard on the cars in terms of reliability and from the driving point of view it is quite stressful as well. All round, I would say Sepang is one of the toughest races of the year. We’ll need to be strong in all areas,” explains Lotus’s Pastor Maldonado.
Malaysian Grand Prix will mark the debut of Pirelli’s 2014 hard tyre. Formula 1’s tyre supplier will bring its hard and medium compounds at this track, same as the last two seasons, because of its more aggressive surface, with much higher temperatures.
There will be two DRS sectors at Sepang, on pit straight and back straight, with two separate detection points after Turns 12 and 15. Martin Donnelly will act as the FIA’s driver steward across the event.
Eight of the 15 Malaysian GP to date have been won from pole position. The ‘most wins’ record is shared by Michael Schumacher (2000, 2001, 2004), Fernando Alonso (2005, 2007, 2012) and Sebastian Vettel (2010, 2011, 2013).
Last year’s Malaysian Grand Prix is best remembered for the ‘Multi 21’ affair after Sebastian Vettel’s controversial win in front of his team mate Mark Webber. Vettel led early in the race but lost the lead right after his first pit stop as Webber stayed out a two laps longer. After their final stops, Red Bull told their drivers to hold position but Vettel ignored those orders and eventually took the lead. Lewis Hamilton came third for Mercedes, ahead of team-mate Nico Rosberg, who was considerably faster than the Brit in the final stint but was ordered to hold position.
Timetable: (All times local, GMT+8)
Friday 28 March
- First Practice: 10:00 - 11:30
- Second Practice: 14:00 - 15:30
Saturday 29 March
- Third Practice: 13:00 - 14:00
- Qualifying: 16:00 - 17:00
Sunday 30 March
- Race: 16:00