The sixth running of the Malaysian Grand Prix takes place this Sunday, 21 March at the Sepang Circuit, outside Kuala Lumpur. The second round of the world championship will see the ten teams tackle a very different scenario to the first race in...
The sixth running of the Malaysian Grand Prix takes place this Sunday, 21 March at the Sepang Circuit, outside Kuala Lumpur.
The second round of the world championship will see the ten teams tackle a very different scenario to the first race in Melbourne. While the Australian GP was run in relatively cool conditions, Malaysia is traditionally the hottest and most humid race on the calendar, which presents drivers, engineers and engine specialists with some unique challenges.
"High temperatures, both ambient and on the track, are one of the main features of the Malaysian Grand Prix and in fact, this was one of the factors that influenced our decision to start this season with the new car, the F2004," revealed Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro Technical Director, Ross Brawn.
"The new car has much better cooling than its predecessor. We realised, looking at last year as a whole, bearing in mind we had a particularly hot summer in Europe, that too often we were having to run our cars in an inefficient way because we had to have all our cooling ducts fully open in order to apply maximum cooling to the car. So, one of the clear objectives we set with the F2004 was to improve its cooling characteristics."
In simple terms, the more holes there are in the bodywork and the bigger their size, the more the efficiency of the aerodynamics and the balance of the chassis are upset. In turn, this impacts on tyre performance, so the efficiency of the total package is badly affected.
"Therefore, the aim with the F2004 was to be able to obtain maximum cooling without compromising the aerodynamic package," continued Brawn. "You optimise your car at a certain ambient temperature and when you operate outside that ambient temperature you have to modify the shape of the bodywork by opening up the various cooling ducts and that always results in a drop in performance."
"This car is optimised to run at a higher ambient temperature. So when we need to give it extra cooling, it is not such a retrograde step. It means having bigger radiators and slightly more weight on board, but we decided this was the way to go and the F2004 has far more cooling capacity than the 2003 car."
Apart from the advantages it brings in terms of the car's efficiency, greater cooling also brings with it greater reliability for the car components. That is of particular significance this season with the introduction of the one engine per weekend rule.
"The engine is what suffers most in hot conditions as it is the component which generates the most heat that requires dissipating," said Brawn. "Of course the one engine rule means we will use maximum cooling for the free practice sessions on Friday and on Saturday morning, when overall performance is not so critical and then optimise it for the race to run slightly hotter."
"The transmission also generates a fair bit of heat, but it is not so difficult to keep cool. Brakes are not too affected by the ambient temperature, given that they operate at temperatures of up to 700 degrees or even higher. The duty cycle [how often and how hard they are used] is what affects them and Sepang is not too difficult in this respect."
Another effect of the hot temperatures is that the air is less dense, resulting in engines producing less power. However, this is not such as a disadvantage, because as Brawn pointed out: "The important thing to bear in mind is that it's the same for everyone."
Engines, tyres and mechanical components are not alone in being adversely affected by high temperatures: the human body also needs to adapt to the conditions. As a native of Brazil, Rubens Barrichello is well used to the heat, while Michael Schumacher's ability to emerge from the cockpit as fresh as a daisy is well known.
"I am not too badly affected by the heat and my physiology means I do not sweat very much," explained the reigning world champion. "Of course, being fit is important and before this race, I always go somewhere with similar weather to do my training."
"Normally, I do not drink very much during a race. In fact for some races, I do not even have a bottle in the car. But in Malaysia, I make a special point of drinking a lot of electrolyte drinks during the week and make a conscious effort to remember to drink from my bottle during the race."
On the mechanical and physiological front, it seems that Scuderia Ferrari is as well prepared as possible for the second round of the championship.