Thursday, 20 March 2008

Malaysian Grand Prix Preview

With barely a couple of days to take stock and review the events of Melbourne on Sunday the teams have unpacked their bags and motorhomes in the paddock of the Sepang circuit on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It's one of the fastest, toughest turnarounds of the year for the teams, especially as they are all so far from home and it makes things very hard to get new parts shipped out from the factories. And after last weekend's mayhem there are plenty of repairs needing to be carried out! Whilst this may not be the biggest problem for the big boys, the likes of Super Aguri will be stretched to their already very thinly stretched limits.

One team who will be looking to lick their wounds after their Australian debacle is Ferrari. They must be somewhat shell-shocked after their appalling weekend, and they must still have serious concerns over the performance of their engines which had numerous failures throughout the weekend. They will of course have fresh engines on hand to use this weekend, but it is doubtful whether they will have had time to fully diagnose and rectify any problems they may have in the design or manufacture of their power plants. This will be a big test of Stefano Domenicali's fledgling Team Director career. I don't imagine for a moment that they will have as bad a weekend as in Oz. But will they come back fighting and go after McLaren, or will they try to stabilise and get some healthy points on the board so they can regroup before we hit the European season?

Arch-rivals McLaren on the other hand couldn't be in better shape. Faultless reliability, great qualifying pace, great race pace, and a lead driver who looked as fit as a butcher's dog after 2 grueling hours in the scorching heat of Albert Park. Hamilton is in incredible shape, and his driving looks as good if not even better than last year. But knowing McLaren, they certainly will not be resting on their laurels. They will be pushing as hard as ever to try and extend their early advantage over Ferrari. And let's not forget BMW, who raised a few eyebrows with their impressive pace in Australia despite a fairly indifferent winter testing performance.

The Sepang circuit has a bit of everything. It is mostly a mixture of loooooooong straights and some very fast and medium speed corners with some tricky braking zones. But there are also a few very tight hairpins thrown in there for good measure. The surface is generally good given that it is a relatively new circuit, and it is plenty wide enough, which will come as a relief to the drivers after the bumpy, dirty, narrow track in Melbourne. On paper, the circuit should provide considerably less challenge to the drivers in terms of traction and braking stability. However, there is potentially a BIG spanner going to be thrown in the works in the form of rain. Not just your average rain or drizzle, we're talking full on South Asian tropical thunderstorm type rain. The weather is predicted to be "Scattered thunderstorms" on all three days of the Grand Prix. Apparently it has been raining heavily on and off in KL for close to 3 weeks, and it shows no signs of abating. This could mean rapidly changing track conditions for the drivers to deal with, and some tough choices for the teams in terms of tyres and set-up. Without traction control, if the rain starts to develop patches of standing water at any time during qualy or the race the drivers will certainly be earning their money!

I worry that if it rains heavily before and during the start time of the race it could even put the race in jeopardy. I recall an A1GP qualifying session being red-flagged here a couple of years ago due to heavy rain making the session too dangerous. If they do start the race in wet conditions it will make the first two turns very interesting indeed. Having a very long, wide, high-speed run down to the first corner followed by hard braking into two ever tightening hairpins has caused lots of problems for drivers even in dry conditions. If they're trying to brake with cold tyres and brakes into those corners then the chances of everyone getting out in one piece are virtually nil!

It'll certainly make for an eventful race if it does rain, and let's hope the race will be eventful even without the wet conditions. It certainly has a lot to live up to after the excitement of last weekend, so bring it on!

No comments: