Malaysia: the hottest race of the year?

Malaysia: the hottest race of the year?

2010 Malaysian GP preview Only a few days after the race in Melbourne the Formula One circus has already arrived in Malaysia for the third round of the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) Formula One World Championship, which...


2010 Malaysian GP preview

Only a few days after the race in Melbourne the Formula One circus has already arrived in Malaysia for the third round of the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) Formula One World Championship, which will take place at the Sepang International Circuit, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. High speeds and high temperatures -- with a typical ambient heat of more than 30 ?C -- and high seasonal humidity present an annual challenge to equal the fast, twisty nature of the track: heavy tropical downpours are a near-certainty and the unscheduled arrival of storm clouds is beyond the control of even Formula One's brightest minds.

The safety on track during last year's Grand Prix.
Photo by xpb.cc.

The design and construction of the circuit on a former 260-hectare oil palm plantation was overseen by German architect Hermann Tilke, who has since gone on to construct a number of state-of-the-art Formula One tracks. From the first edition of the race in 1999, the Malaysian Grand Prix has always provided drama and incident and the 2010 event is not expected to be any different. The race will start at 16.00hrs local time.

The FIA has appointed four stewards who will make up the F1 Stewards Panel for the race in Malaysia: Australian Garry Connelly and Radovan Novak from the Czech Republic will represent the FIA; Dr. Abdul Malik Md. Yusoff, represents the hosting country Malaysia; and ex-Formula One driver Johnny Herbert, who will represent the drivers. Herbert was active in Formula One from 1989 until 2000, competed in 165 races, and raced for Benetton, Tyrrell, Lotus, Ligier, Sauber, Stewart and Jaguar. In 1995 he won the British and Italian Grands Prix, and in 1999 the European Grand Prix.

The Malaysian challenge

The searingly hot temperatures and high humidity in Malaysia will not make it easy for the drivers this weekend, add the fireproof clothing and the roaring engine and its radiating heat to the equation, and it becomes clear a two-hour stay in the cockpit of a modern Formula One car will be anything but a walk in the park. It will be a race against the heat, not only for the drivers and pit crews, but also for the engines and tyres. But the weather conditions can quickly turn around in Sepang, and last year the race had to be stopped after 31 laps and was finally red-flagged due to the heavy monsoon-like rains.

BMW_Sauber technical director Willy Rampf about the circuit: "We expect ambient temperatures of around 35 degrees Celsius and accordingly track temperatures over 40 degrees. Therefore you have to take care of the cooling, and this is something you also have to take into account for the set-up to avoid excessive tyre wear."

But although the race is physically very demanding, drivers still like the fast and challenging circuit. Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg: "Malaysia is one of my favorite circuits. It's fast and challenging with a nice layout and a real variation of corners which makes Sepang an exciting track to drive." Australian race winner Jenson Button agrees with Rosberg, and Sepang is also his favorite circuit: "Sepang is an awesome circuit, one that I love driving, and I think that I'll be able to further develop and improve my relationship with the car here. It's a circuit that not only requires smooth and precise input, but it also needs real commitment through some of the high-speed stuff. I think it's a circuit that every driver loves."

How do drivers cope with these conditions?

The cockpit temperature can be anything between 40 and 50 degrees Celsius and drivers lose up to 3kg of body weight during the race. Doctor Riccardo Ceccarelli of the Renault team: "The biggest problem we have to worry about is overheating. We're not so worried about dehydration because when you sweat in such humid conditions, the sweat does not evaporate and it stays on your skin -- which is why we always feel so damp and sweaty. However, because the sweat doesn't evaporate, it causes the body temperature to rise, leading to overheating, which then causes a big drop in concentration levels."

Drivers will have to change their diet and eat light meals like fruits and vegetables, and drink plenty of fluids. The complete Renault team will consume 4000 bottles of water, 1000 cans of energy drinks and another 1000 cans of soft drinks during their stay in Malaysia.

Massa wrote on his web log: "Malaysia at this time of year is very hot and sticky, making the race itself very tough in terms of your physical condition. I make a point of training outdoors rather than in the gym, running and doing other exercises, so that I get used to working in the hot conditions."

Three teams claim they can win the race

All three front runners, Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren claim they can win the race this weekend. Ferrari currently leads the championship with 70 points, followed by McLaren with 54 points, Mercedes takes third position with 29 points. The Red Bull team is now in a tie for fourth position with Renault: both have scored 18 points.

Championship leader Fernando Alonso.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Fernando Alonso leads the drivers championship with 37 points, and Felipe Massa is in second position with 33 points. Alonso on his weblog: "I definitely didn't think I'd be leading the championship after two races and this situation is way more than I had expected. He is also a fan of the Sepang circuit, and he can't wait to be racing behind the wheel of a Ferrari at his favorite circuit. And when asked about his target for the weekend: "That's easy, to carry on doing what we have done in the first two races. It won't be easy, but we must trust in our ability to get the job done."

Third in the championship is Button with 31 points. Button is not totally convinced he can win this race as well: "I think we travel to Sepang mindful that the characteristics of the circuit probably won't suit our car as well as it will suit some of the others -- but I'm confident that, once again, we'll be fighting at or near the front." Team mate Lewis Hamilton takes fourth position with 23 points. Hamilton, who failed to qualify for Q3 last weekend: "I still think it might be difficult to make up the difference that's needed in qualifying. Hopefully, that's something that we'll be able to solve as soon as possible." But he is optimistic he will stronger this weekend: "It's a fast circuit, that requires a well-balanced car with a good level of downforce. I'm optimistic that we'll be competitive this weekend."

Red Bull has been under attack by teams who claim they use an illegal ride height system, but team boss Christian Horner said there is not such a system on the Red Bull car (or is he perhaps hinting they have such a system, but it is not illegal?), and has invited the FIA to check out their car. The FIA didn't accept the invitation, and will probably take a closer look at the 'suspicious' suspension system on Thursday, when all cars are brought to the FIA for the usual pre-race scrutineering.

On pole in Australia, but did not finish the race.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Sebastian Vettel has problems with his 'Luscious Liz' (the name he gave to his number 5 Red Bull car), she is still unreliable. Perhaps he should name her 'Liz Malicious', because she just keeps on playing dirty tricks and is very reluctant to bring Vettel unscathed to the finish line. Vettel has now only 12 instead of 50 points, and team mate Mark Webber has sofar only gathered six points. Niki Lauda even suggested Red Bull can now forget about the title, but team principal Horner insists there is no reason to panic: "We know we have got a fast car and I would far rather have a fast car than a slow car. There is still a long way to go and the season will have many different twists and turns."

Sepang International Circuit, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Circuit length:5.543 km
Direction:Clockwise
Corners:15 turns
Longest straight:950 m
Total number of race laps:56
Total race distance:310.408km
Top speed:300 km/h
Average speed:205 km/h
Gear changes:60 per lap
Tyre wear:High
Tyre compounds:Hard/Soft
Brake wear:Medium
Downforce level:Medium to high
Lap record:J.P. Montoya - McLaren - 1:34.223 (2004)
Speed limits in the pit lane:60 km/h during practice sessions;
100 km/h during qualifying and race

Sepang, Kuala Lumpur weather forecast
Friday:Cloudy with heavy rain showers, min 26C, max 32C
Saturday:Cloudy with heavy rain showers, min 26C, max 33C
Sunday:Cloudy with heavy rain showers, min 26C, max 33C

Pit stops and tyres

Expected pit stop schedule for Sepang:
For 1 stop - between laps 27-33
For 2 stops - between laps 16-27 and 35-41
For 3 stops - between laps 14-19, 25-30 and 38-43

Bridgestone has allocated the Hard and Soft tyre compounds for this race, and will of course bring the intermediate and full wet tyres to Sepang as well. According to Hirohide Hamashima, Bridgestone's director of tyre development, Sepang is relatively severe on the tyres, and the circuit has many different corner types, and two heavy breaking zones after the two almost 1 km long straights. With the high temperatures it is possible we will see more tyre degradation than we have sofar seen this season. Bridgestone has shipped a total of 2000 tyres to the circuit.

FIA goes ahead with new Parc Ferm? process

Last year cars were locked away in a single location, most of the time two empty pit boxes, but with now 24 cars on the grid, the FIA has come up with a very high-tech eye-in-the-sky solution. The cars will now be parked in the team's garage overnight, they will be covered by a flyscreen-like cover which will be locked and sealed by FIA officials. In each garage the cars will be monitored by a system of sophisticated overhead video cameras. At night the cameras will trigger an alarm when there is movement in the garage, and the system automatically switches to a higher video resolution. The cameras will be monitored by a team of FIA video inspectors.

More news

Robert Kubica celebrating his second place in Melbourne.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Renault's Robert Kubica, who surprised everyone by finishing second in Australia, about the Malaysian GP: "I don't think it will be an ideal circuit for us, but on the other hand we discovered in Australia that the car performs better in warmer conditions and the heat in Malaysia might help us. Recently the high-speed corners haven't been too challenging, but I think they will be more demanding this year with the heavier fuel loads."

BMW-Sauber will again run a revised version of the F-Duct system on Friday, The controversial system gives drivers a higher top speed on the straights, and other teams like Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes and Red Bull are all working on a similar system that suits their car.

Nick Wirth, designer of the Virgin car has told his company will pay for the new chassis Virgin needs, the fuel tank on the current chassis doesn't hold enough fuel to finish the race, very embarrassing for Wirth and Virgin. And it is a very expensive mistake as well, the estimated costs to design and produce a new chassis are over one million pounds. Virgin hopes the new chassis is ready for the first European race at Barcelona, Spain. The FIA gave Virgin the green light for a new chassis, but other teams fear Virgin will take the opportunity to integrate a F-Duct system in the new chassis.

For the Lotus team Sepang will be their home Grand Prix, yes, it will take some time to get used to that, but the 2010 Lotus team is a complete Malaysian venture led by Malaysian people and sponsored by Malaysian companies, and the team will later this season move their headquarters from the UK to Malaysia. Lotus has sofar been the most successful of the new teams, and team and airline owner Tony Fernandes is very proud of what his team has sofar achieved. Malaysian reserve driver Fairuz Fauzy wll make his debut in Formula One, he will drive the Lotus during Friday's first free practice session.

And there we are, the second race in eight days, on one of the most inhospitable circuits on the calendar, a climate that poses a real challenge to people and equipment, and a real chance of rain during the race, those are all the ingredients we need for hopefully another spectacular Formula One race.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jenson Button , Mark Webber , Fernando Alonso , Lewis Hamilton , Niki Lauda , Nico Rosberg , Fairuz Fauzy , Robert Kubica , Sebastian Vettel
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Benetton