Malaysian GP: Williams preview

Following mixed fortunes for the team at the season opener in Melbourne last weekend, the BMW WilliamsF1 Team are now looking ahead to the second round of the 2004 FIA Formula One World Championship during which they hope to achieve a more...

Following mixed fortunes for the team at the season opener in Melbourne last weekend, the BMW WilliamsF1 Team are now looking ahead to the second round of the 2004 FIA Formula One World Championship during which they hope to achieve a more rewarding result at Malaysia's Sepang circuit on Sunday 21st March.

Located south of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's cosmopolitan capital, the Sepang circuit is a state of the art, purpose-built facility, one which guarantees drama both on and off the track. Each 5.543 kilometre lap of the 56 lap race is complex to the extreme. A low grip but smooth track, Sepang demands high downforce in the set-up.

With speeds reaching 200mph on the two fastest straights and falling to as low as 50mph through the tight, twisting corners, Sepang is a technically challenging circuit for both man and machine. However, with overtaking opportunities at an optimum for a Formula One track, next weekend's race will provide a perfect stage for the drivers and a thrilling spectacle for the fans.

Climatic conditions will undoubtedly play a part in the outcome of the 2004 Malaysian Grand Prix. Renowned for its unpredictable weather, Malaysia's uncomfortably high humidity levels carry the constant threat of monsoon-style downpours. However, Sepang's equatorial location also ensures acute temperatures which should suit the Michelin-shod runners and therefore provide the BMW WilliamsF1 Team a favourable platform for a successful weekend.

Juan Pablo Montoya:

Following our disappointing race in Melbourne last weekend, we immediately started working on improving the FW26 in order to be competitive for the next race and close the gap to Ferrari. The hot temperatures, typical of Malaysia and Bahrain, should be favourable for our car, so we are hoping that the next two races will be more positive for us. The BMW engine has been very reliable over winter testing, so we expect it to be able to tolerate the extreme heat. Similarly, the Michelin tyres should perform much better in the warmer conditions.

During the winter I have been going to the gym, playing tennis and riding my bikes to keep fit, so the humidity and the heat that we're going to face in Malaysia doesn't worry me too much. I only hope my water bottle doesn't stop working during the race like it did last year! We should also remember that in 2002 we achieved the BMW WilliamsF1 Team's first ever one-two victory in Sepang.

Ralf Schumacher:

The season opener in Melbourne clearly demonstrated that there is still quite a lot of work ahead of us if we want to fight for the World Championship this year. Even if we can't close the gap to Ferrari straight away, we must do better in Malaysia. The car and the Michelin tyres are better suited to Sepang and Malaysia's hot weather, but we can't rely on this alone.

From the physical perspective, I feel well prepared for the heat despite what happened last year. When I was climbing up the field from 17th to 4th place, the device that drives the air into my crash helmet was ripped off by accident. As a result, the temperature in the helmet was stiflingly hot, making it hard to drive. Hopefully though, I'll have a better experience this year.

Sam Michael (Chief Operations Engineer, WilliamsF1):

Malaysia will be a lot hotter than Australia, but there is always the risk of the daily tropical thunderstorms that are so common to the area. Kuala Lumpur is a challenging, high downforce circuit for the drivers with several changes of direction through the medium and high speed corners. There are also three slow speed corners to negotiate and four straight sections which reward engine power. There is also considerable scope for overtaking at Sepang with three opportunities over the course of a lap.

Since Melbourne, we have made some developments to the car which will hopefully improve our performance in Malaysia. We have already devised a tentative pit-stop strategy from which we will elect which of Michelin's two tyre compounds we will run. With the new regulations, strategy has really changed since last season and is now a fine balance of risk versus gain when determining when to bring the drivers in for the first pit-stop of the race.

We are lying second in the Constructors' Championship, with nine points, heading to the Malaysian Grand Prix, and are therefore looking to build on this with a strong result.

Mario Theissen (BMW Motorsport Director):

Malaysia will be the first truly hot race of the season which will give us a better understanding of the true competitiveness of this year's grid. Although we don't mind the heat, we would prefer to race without the threat of heavy downpours for which Malaysia is well known.

One outcome of the new regulations is that engine use is being controlled to suit certain situations far more than in previous years. In other words, during qualifying and certain race situations, the engines are being run flat out, whereas in free practice and other phases of the race, the aim is to conserve the power unit.

There are various ways of doing this. One way is to cut down on the distance covered during practice, but that is not our preferred approach. Our drivers and engineers make full use of the free practice sessions for set-up evaluations and tyre selections. Another opportunity for conserving the engine is to modify the gear selection parameters, which is sensible in certain situations.

For example, when choosing tyres on Friday, it doesn't make any difference whether you change gear 500 revs earlier or later so this is the perfect time to preserve the engine. To deal with the higher temperatures in Malaysia, we will probably see additional or larger air-cooling intakes and exhaust extraction vents. These apply to the air intakes in the side-pods and the two vents in the exhaust manifold.


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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Ferrari , Williams