2014: Malaysian Grand Prix Preview

Two weeks after the Australian Grand Prix, teams have traveled to Malaysia for round two of the Formula One championship. Nico Rosberg threw down the gauntlet in the opening round, winning the race in a dominating and comfortable style, finishing ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and rookie Kevin Magnussen. Ricciardo was subsequently disqualified due to fuel flow irregularities however this decision is set to be appealed by Red Bull on April 14. The results mean that Rosberg has taken the early lead in the drivers championship with McLaren leading the constructors. As suspected there were reliability issues in Melbourne but what will the score be at the Sepang International Circuit?

Circuit: Sepang International Circuit
Number of Laps: 56
Circuit Length: 5.543km
Number of Corners: 15
Lap Record: 1:34.223 JP Montoya (2004)
Previous Australian Grand Prix winners still on the grid: Sebastian Vettel (2013, 2011, & 2010), Fernando Alonso (2012, 2007, & 2005), Kimi Räikkönen (2003 & 2008), and Jenson Button (2009)
Most Successful Team: Ferrari (6 wins)
DRS Zones: 2    
Pirelli Tyres: Hard and Medium

The Malaysian Grand Prix comes with its own unique challenges. A lot of teams have struggled with cooling – most noticeably Red Bull – and this issue will only be magnified in the heat and humidity. It’s not just the cars that the heat is an issue for as drivers can face temperatures of 50 degrees in the cockpit. A track characterised by long straights and high speed corners, as well as it being incredibly wide at some points, will only add further challenges for them. The race was first held at the Herman Tilke designed track in 1999 and has been won nine times by drivers still on the grid. Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, and Sebastian Vettel are the most successful drivers at the track with three wins each. It is a special track for Kimi Räikkönen who took his first ever race victory  in 2003 as well as Jenson Button who took his first of 50 F1 podiums in 2004.

Tyre degradation is also a focal point on Malaysian Grand Prix, as it is particularly high. There is a long run to the first corner from the grid – the second longest on the current calendar – and plenty of overtaking opportunities. There are rarely safety cars at the race due to the wide run off areas. Generally, safety cars are deployed due to the heavy rain quite often seen. In 2009 the race was called off after 31 laps and half points were awarded, due to the horrible weather conditions affecting visibility.

Rosberg’s dominating win at the Australian Grand Prix confirmed the fears of the chasing teams that Mercedes have a significant advantage. There were promising signs for Red Bull who, despite having problems with Sebastian Vettel’s car, got a driver on the podium (only for him to be later disqualified). The Malaysian Grand Prix will be an interesting one for the reigning world champions who have struggled with cooling. McLaren seem to have put last years’ woes behind them, finishing with two cars on the podium (Button was promoted to third) and leading the constructors championship. While it is early days, and they do not have the outright pace that Mercedes have, it is definitely a much more solid foundation than what they had last year. Lewis Hamilton will be hoping to bounce back after an engine misfire brought an end to his Australian Grand Prix after only a few laps. Valtteri Bottas had a strong race for Williams after he clouted the wall and had to pit after picking up a puncture. He finished solidly in the top ten. His team-mate Felipe Massa was taken out at the first corner by Kamui Kobayashi, who had rear brake failure, so will be hoping to prove what his Williams car can do in Malaysia. Ferrari finished with both cars in the top ten in a solid but unspectacular result. Both Toro Rossos had a promising start to their 2014 campaign with Daniil Kvyat becoming the youngest ever driver to score points in Formula One.

For the rookies it was an impressive start in Australia. The next challenge is to maintain the standards they set for themselves. Kevin Magnussen was on the podium, Kvyat was in the points and Marcus Ericsson was impressing with his racing until his car retired due to a technical fault. Both Sauber drivers finished the race but down in 11th and 12th and a lap down. It was a dire weekend for Lotus who will be hoping to complete a race distance with at least one of their cars in Malaysia. The Marussia duo of Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton both finished after initially stalling on the grid while both Caterhams retired. It is all to play for in Malaysia but as always, anything can happen and it probably will!

 

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