Friday March 22, 2013
Teams agree Malaysian GP will be an unpredictable round
Reports by LIM TEIK HUAT
THE loud rumble of the sleek Formula One cars will hit the Sepang Circuit from today but the 15th edition of the Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix looks anything but predictable judging from what transpired in Melbourne.
The Australian Grand Prix last weekend provided a glimpse of the pecking order in the Formula One World Championship. Red Bull appears to have the fastest car in qualifying but Lotus and Ferrari have better race cars.
Mercedes showed their form in winter testing was for real while McLaren looks to have a lot of work cut out for them. And Force India looks very good with both cars finishing in the points.
Nevertheless, all teams agree that the Malaysian round at the sweltering Sepang track will definitely provide a clearer but still inconclusive picture of what’s in store for the season.
The teams will be testing out Pirelli’s new tyres in much warmer temperatures compared to the balmy and cooler Melbourne weather. Fernando Alonso of Ferrari, for one, will surely be out to set a new record at Sepang as the first driver to notch four wins here.
Winner in 2005 in a Renault and in 2007 with McLaren Mercedes and last year as well, Alonso, who starts his 200th appearance on the grid of a Formula 1 Grand Prix this weekend, is currently tied on three wins in Sepang with the now-retired Michael Schumacher.
Sepang had since 1999, been a favourite track for Ferrari with the Prancing Horse winning six of the last 14 races.
Giving an additional boost of confidence to the Spaniard is the fact that the Ferrari car looks good as indicated by Alonso’s second place finish in Melbourne last Sunday.
However, the double world champion, is also mindful of the unpredictable weather conditions in Malaysia but it is something he has got used to.
“You can’t have a race near the Equator, without journalists asking about the effect of the weather on the drivers. Its not a big difference in this heat and humidity because for us in the car it does not feel too hot.
“Whether it is in Melbourne at 26 degrees or here at 32, when you are driving at 300km, the air coming in the cockpit is not too bad.
“You don’t feel the heat so much. In fact, its more of a problem when you stop in the garage because of all the heat in the car.”
Ferrari’s team principal Stefano Domenicali is hoping his team can carry over the strong performance from Melbourne with Alonso’s second place and Massa’s fourth place finishes.
“The first Grand Prix weekend of the season in Australia was a positive one for us as we had previously stated that our objective was to finish on the podium and that target was achieved. But it was important to see both our drivers deliver strong performances, as it provides a great basis on which we can build a competitive season and I’m pleased for both of them.
“Seeing Ferrari heading the constructors championship is a great reward for the people who have been working so hard, both here at the track and back home in Maranello.”
“But its only the first race in a very long season and now is the time to analyse and evaluate all the data from Melbourne in order to be immediately ready for this coming weekend in Malaysia,” said Domenicalli, who added Sepang will be a different race altogether.
“We need to wait and see how our car will behave in what is a totally different environment. The track will make different demands on the cars to the ones we experienced in Australia.
“With a change in track surface and the unique hot and humid conditions, it will have an impact on everyone’s performance this weekend.”
Kimi Raikkonen was the surprise race winner in Melbourne but he is insisting there is no added pressure at Lotus.
“There’s no target or anything, we don’t do any different things this weekend that we did in any previous race or last year.”
“We may be leading but it makes no difference to our work in what we did or what we’re going to do this weekend or any other weekend. We just try to do our best and hopefully can score some good points,” said Raikkonen, who is hoping for a better starting position at Sepang.
“If we have a normal dry condition, I’m pretty sure we are closer - I hope at least. We will wait and see until once we get the normal qualifying done. I’m sure we are not a second behind,” said the Finn, who only managed seventh in qualifying in Melbourne.
McLaren for one is hoping to turn things around after seeing drivers Jenson Button and Sergio Perez taking ninth and 11th placing respectively in Melbourne.
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh has been putting on a brave face on the disappointing form of the MP4-28 cars.
“Clearly, our performance in Australia was not up to our expectations. 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 arrived in Malaysia with less scope to improve our fortunes.
“This weekend will provide us with additional opportunities to understand our cars’ behaviour and to increase our understanding of the package.”
Both Jenson (Button) and Checo (Perez) have done 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,” he said.
Sergio Perez earned second place here last year while Button has won in 2009.