SEPANG, Malaysia, Thursday, March 15, 2001 - Reigning World Champion Michael Schumacher says that the Malaysian Grand Prix on March 18, round two of 17 on this year's Formula One schedule, will be the toughest race of the season. "It will be the...
SEPANG, Malaysia, Thursday, March 15, 2001 - Reigning World Champion Michael Schumacher says that the Malaysian Grand Prix on March 18, round two of 17 on this year's Formula One schedule, will be the toughest race of the season.
"It will be the toughest race of the season," he said, "both on the human side and the technical side."
It will be tough physically for the drivers because the ambient temperature during the race will be in the 95-degree Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) range combined with high humidity. Like most of the drivers, Schumacher did not return to Europe after the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. The drivers remained in this part of the world to train and become accustomed to the hot weather conditions. "I stayed out in the area because I felt it was better not to get jet lag," Schumacher said. "Everybody warned me how hard it would be here in Malaysia at this time of the year, so I hope everything else is as well prepared as I am." In 1999 and 2000, its first two years, the Malaysian Grand Prix took place at the end of the season. But the date was switched to beginning of this season when the weather is even hotter than it is in October. Rain could also play a part in the outcome of this year's race. "Four times in the past five years it has rained on March 18th in Sepang," said Jaguar Racing boss Bobby Rahal. "And this will inevitably make an exciting spectacle."
From the driving point of view, the sweeping 15-turn, 3.444-mile (5.543-km) Sepang circuit presents an array of challenges because it's so wide that the drivers have several choices of racing line. From the technical point of view, it's also a challenge to set up the chassis for this track. The challenge for everybody is going to be to try and beat the Ferrari team that dominated the season opener. Schumacher started from the pole in Australia and won the race while his teammate Rubens Barrichello finished third. "This car is exceptionally good," Schumacher said. "It's the first time since I have been at Ferrari that we have been able to dominate the weekend at the start of the year. The car was good straight out of the box. It's a very neutral car, a real racing car, a go-kart of F1, because it handles so well. It's something I have always been looking for-to have the best car in my hands-and so far it looks as if I have." David Coulthard, who finished second in Australia in his West McLaren-Mercedes, said: "We need more speed! We have some (new) parts here which hopefully will see us improve our lap time. I think it's quite clear from Australia that Ferrari have an advantage at the moment." Coulthard also didn't return home so that he could prepare for the heat and humidity in Malaysia.
"I stayed in Australia," he said, "and I was trying to follow the sun so I could do some training in the warmer temperatures. I went to Surfer's Paradise for a couple of days. But as anyone who watches the news saw it flooded. It was a bit like Scotland, so I went up to Cairns and Port Douglas where it was lot better for training.
"I do all my training outdoors as much as possible, avoiding the gym because they all tend to be air conditioned, to give my body the best chance to adapt to the heat here." This will be the second Grand Prix race for 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya.
"I have never raced on the Sepang circuit," Williams-BMW driver Montoya said, "and it looks like quite difficult circuit to learn. I have spent the last week watching on-board camera recordings of last year's race. I've studied the telemetry data, and I have also driven many laps on video games. I feel ready for it" Montoya, who spent the break between the races in Sydney, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, said he is not worried about the hot weather challenges. In the Australian Grand Prix, also run in hot conditions, he didn't even take any drinks from the car's onboard water bottle. "I normally never drink because I forget about it," he said. Nor is Montoya worried about the possibility of rain.
"The FW23 can be competitive in both wet or dry," he said, "so I am not bothered about which weather we are going to have.
FORMULA ONE NOTEBOOK
Where to watch: Qualifying will be shown live at midnight (EST) March 17 on Speedvision. The race will be telecast live at 1:30 a.m. (EST) March 18 on Speedvision.
Ferrari unbeaten: Ferrari is unbeaten in the young history of the Malaysian Grand Prix. Eddie Irvine won the inaugural race in a Ferrari in 1999, and Michael Schumacher took the victory last year for the team. Schumacher started from the pole in both races.
de la Rosa to race for Jaguar: Bobby Rahal, CEO of Jaguar Racing, has confirmed that Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa will drive for Jaguar in 2002. "Pedro will be driving for us next year," 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Rahal said. Eddie Irvine is in the second of a three-year contract with the team while Luciano Burti has a one-year deal. As for who will drive for Jaguar in 2002, Rahal said: "I told our drivers we just have to worry about today. That will take care of tomorrow."
Montoya's learning curve: Juan Pablo Montoya says he still much to learn about F1.
"I learned a lot of things in my first Grand Prix," he said. "My aim is to learn something new and to improve in every race. "As a Formula One driver, I consider myself to be a complete rookie because racing here is completely different to anything that I've done before. There are a lot of things I have to learn. I have to learn to understand the car, learn how much I can push the car without killing it before the end of the race and stuff like that.
"I didn't go to the end of the race in Australia, so I don't know if I was pushing the brakes too hard. There are a lot of things that are still a lot of questions marks."
Schumacher's six: If Michael Schumacher wins at Malaysia it would be his sixth consecutive victory. His streak started last year with wins in Italy, the inaugural SAP United States Grand Prix in Indianapolis, Japan and Malaysia, and he then won the 2001 season opener in Australia. Alberto Ascari holds the record with nine consecutive victories over the 1952 and 1953 World Championship seasons. Four drivers are tied for second place in the record books with five consecutive wins each: Schumacher; Jack Brabham, with five straight wins in 1960; Jim Clark, with five straight wins in 1965; and Nigel Mansell, with five straight wins in 1992.
"I'm not driving for records," Schumacher said. "I'm simply driving first of all to enjoy competing to do well and to win races. That's it."
Home Grand Prix: The Swiss-based Sauber team considers the Malaysian Grand Prix to be its second home race as one of the team's principal sponsors is the Malaysian petroleum company Petronas.
The team and drivers Nick Heidfeld and Kimi Raikkonen attended a barrage of PR functions in the week prior to the race, including driving one of the Red Bull Sauber-Petronas F1 cars though the streets of the Malaysian city of Johor Bahru.
"We have been had PR stuff to do from nine in the morning to nine at night," Heidfeld said, "but each day we've got a couple of hours to do training, and we've tried to do that when the sun was at its hottest."