After a three week break since Melbourne the second round of the F1 championship takes place in the sweltering heat of Malaysia. Despite the high temperatures there are rumours of rain for the Sepang weekend but most of the teams spent some test time at the circuit recently, so they should be prepared for all eventualities.
Sepang is a challenging track that is generally favoured by the drivers. The heat makes tyres, brakes and cooling major factors while the medium and high speed corners and the straights require good aerodynamics and engine power. The conditions also mean that it's a tough race for the drivers.
"The humidity is physically very wearing and you have to spend your time balancing the need to keep cool with the need to be physically prepared to deal with the heat during the race," said Honda's Jenson Button. "In the build-up to the weekend, I'll be training outside as much as possible to acclimatise and spending last week here for the test has also helped with that process."
In regard to tyres, Bridgestone has decided to mark the softer of the compounds with a white line along the inside groove. The white spot employed in Australia was not very successful so the manufacturer experimented with alternative ideas during testing. The mixed weather conditions gave an opportunity to try out wet tyres.
"We had rain during the test and ran with both the wet and extreme wet tyres," said Kees van de Grint, Bridgestone's head of track operations. "One issue that often appears while running in the wet is to get temperature in the tyres. As it rains ''hot water'' here, it was not difficult to get the tyres to the correct temperature."
Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen dominated in Melbourne but there have been little doubts about the Finn's engine overheating due to a water leak. Only time will tell if the problem is enough to force an engine change, but despite that Raikkonen is optimistic.
"I hope that the next weekend will be a positive one for us, just like the one in Melbourne," he commented. "Over the last days we had some very good testing. I drove the car over two days and we were able to collect all the necessary data. The F2007 seems to be a really competitive car on every kind of race track and the team continues in every direction to make it even better."
In McLaren's opposing camp, reigning world champion Fernando Alonso perhaps has his own teammate to deal with before he looks at challenging Ferrari. Lewis Hamilton caused a sensation in his debut race to take third in Australia, only just beaten to second by Alonso's better strategy in the second pit stop.
While the UK media get all ecstatic about young Hamilton, I'm waiting to see if he can be consistent. Norbert Haug, Mercedes vice-president, is at least keeping his feet on the ground about McLaren's new star. "As a driver, he (Hamilton) may not always do everything right this season, but the team will back him all the way," Haug remarked.
Ferrari and McLaren made all the headlines in Australia but what about the rest? BMW Sauber had a strong showing, on for fourth and fifth at Albert Park until Robert Kubica's gearbox gave up. Teammate Nick Heidfeld went on to inherit the fourth place and is eagerly anticipating Sepang, even with the unpredictability of weather.
"Driving in the rain always holds an element of risk due to the lack of visibility," he said. "Even more so here, where the rain is far from normal. When the heavens open, everything disappears under water in no time. But I'm still a fan of wet weather. It's a lot of fun hanging on to 700 horsepower in these conditions."
Current constructors' champions Renault suffered in Melbourne -- the much anticipated debut of rookie Heikki Kovalainen was fairly poor and made to look even worse by Hamilton's stellar performance. Giancarlo Fisichella managed points in fifth but it was an uncompetitive start for a team that has been title winners for two years in a row.
Bob Bell, technical director for the French squad, was cautious about Renault's status. "At this stage, it is unrealistic to talk about catching Ferrari or McLaren -- but we need to show that progress has been made, and that we are starting to close down the gap," he hedged.
Williams was notable during testing and Nico Rosberg scored a solid seventh in the opening race. Alex Wurz is not a rookie but his debut after umpty-million years as a test driver was bought to a halt just 10 laps in of Albert Park due to a collision with the Red Bull of David Coulthard.
"In last week's test, I covered over 200 laps in two days which was a good test for me and for the reliability of the car in such extreme conditions," said the Austrian. "The race simulation we did also went very well. We won't see the true performance of the teams until the race weekend, but I'm sure it's going to be another super close Grand Prix."
Toyota managed a single point with Ralf Schumacher in Melbourne, which was about what the whole world in general expected and Toyota has forever since claimed was way below expectations. No matter how much the Cologne based squad talks itself up, it's done nothing remarkable yet. I may be proved wrong in future.
"I have very good memories of Malaysia because I achieved Toyota's first Formula One podium there in 2005 and that is probably the best race of my time with the team so far," said Jarno Trulli. "It would be great if we could repeat that kind of result but we know we still have some work to do to catch up with the top teams because in Australia we were still a bit away."
I don't really know what to say about Honda. Crap, really, springs to mind. That's not very fair, I know, but I honestly can't find anything encouraging to say about the team. Poor performance in Australia, dubious livery, aerodynamic woes, it's all a bit disappointing isn't it?
Technical director Shuhei Nakamoto is putting a brave face on things. "Although we were unable to realise our potential in Australia, we are confident that the RA107 is fundamentally a good car and expect to be able to make good technical progress with it in a wide range of areas," he said. Hmmm….
Jenson Button had to suffer being beaten by the Honda-powered Super Aguri of Takuma Sato in Melbourne, rather a surprise but Red Bull was no surprise with Mark Webber 13th and Coulthard out early on due to the Wurz incident. Rookie Adrian Sutil finished his first race for Spyker and is looking forward to another new track to learn at Sepang.
"I've never raced at Sepang before, but I am familiar with the layout and am looking forward to getting back in the car," he said. "I learnt a lot in Australia and now I want to put that into practice in Malaysia. The aim is to be fast, not to pick up any penalties -- which I know won't happen again -- and do a good race."
Sepang is a very different track from Albert Park and it's not easy to judge who will get the best out of it. Ferrari is apparently the strongest team in this early season -- will Raikkonen lead so easily if Felipe Massa has no problems? And will Hamilton's star keep rising? I don't know about you but I can't wait to find out!