Round Two of the 2014 Formula One World Championship brings us to Kuala Lumpur for Malaysian Grand Prix, held at the Sepang International Circuit.
Lewis Hamilton: Malaysia is a stunning country and I always enjoy coming here. The fans are fantastic and it also forms one of three home races for the team alongside Germany and Great Britain.
I finished second on my Formula One debut here in 2007 and have been on the podium at the last two Malaysian Grands Prix but I've yet to win here. It would be amazing to stand on the top step at one of our home races and I'm looking forward to bouncing back after a tough weekend in Australia.
Although it was not the result we were hoping for, every setback is a chance to learn more about this new car, which is important as they're incredibly complex machines. I know the team at Brackley and Brixworth is pushing harder than ever and I'll be doing the same.
Nico Rosberg: The Malaysian Grand Prix is the home race for PETRONAS so it's always a busy and exciting weekend. Sepang holds some great memories for me too as I achieved my first podium for Mercedes here at the start of the 2010 season.
Of course, it will still be hot, humid and probably wet at some stage too, so it should be a fascinating weekend. Australia was the perfect start to my season, but it also highlighted that we're not 100% there yet in terms of reliability.
We've had two weeks before this race to identify all the things that we can do better, so hopefully we can bring both cars home for a good result this weekend and continue our strong start to the year.
Toto Wolff, Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport: We head to Malaysia looking forward to an exciting week: not just at the circuit, but off track as well with PETRONAS. This is the third time we have worked together to bring Formula One to the streets of Kuala Lumpur and it is a great opportunity to bring our Malaysian fans closer to their team.
As one of our home races, we are extremely motivated to get a good result here. The first race in Australia left us with mixed emotions. Neither of our drivers put a foot wrong all weekend but unfortunately only one came away with the result he deserved.
We know that reliability will be crucial to this long season and we have been working hard to improve the situation for the race in Malaysia. We made a solid start to the year in Melbourne, but we are very aware that not one percent of effort can be dropped if we are to remain competitive.
Paddy Lowe, Executive Director (Technical): While we were pleased to come away from Melbourne with a win, we were also left with plenty to think about. As is to be expected with such new technology, we are learning more about the car with every lap. This inevitably brings more problems to the surface, all of which require careful management.
Our priority has therefore been to arrive in Malaysia in better shape mechanically than we left Australia. This race presents a very different set of challenges in terms of both the climate and the demands of the circuit layout. Sepang is a permanent race track which is generally a lot more differentiating of the cars; particularly with regard to aerodynamics.
As always, reliability and endurance will be crucial, but we believe this venue will provide a more accurate representation of the relative pace between teams. It should be an interesting weekend. Sepang International Circuit: The Inside Line
Sepang International Circuit: The Inside Line
In the Cockpit -
Lewis... Sepang is a fantastic circuit and it's always an exciting challenge here with the heat and humidity. During my first race here in 2007 I didn't have a drinks feed available during the race, so by the end I was totally exhausted and had lost about four kilos in weight! As a driver it's a weekend you have to be well prepared for physically, as it can be very easy to lose concentration towards the end of a long race in these conditions. Then there's the rain which, when it comes, is just incredible. In a matter of minutes you can find yourself at the centre of a monsoon, which adds to the challenge.
The first corner comes at the end of a long straight, so you have to pick your braking point carefully to avoid overshooting the turn. This leads into another slow corner, with the pair of them seeming to go on forever. Turns 5 and 6 are high-speed and fantastic to drive; similar to the Maggots / Becketts section at Silverstone but with slightly more space between each corner.
You need a little lift going into Turn 5 to get the front end turned in, good balance on the power through Turn 6 then onto the brakes for Turn 7. There's a bit of a bump as you power through Turn 8 before easing the car over to the right-hand side of the track for Turn 9. A good exit from this corner is important but an even better one is required from Turn 11, as this is crucial to carrying good momentum through the high-speed Turns 12 and 13. Picking your braking point correctly for Turn 14 is both tricky and essential. Getting it wrong can prove costly, as this leads down the second long straight of the lap and into the final corner; one of the best overtaking opportunities.
Nico... Straight after one of my personal favourites at Albert Park, Sepang is another circuit that I really enjoy. The track layout is great to drive and has a bit of everything thrown in: long straights, fast corners, hairpin turns and good places to overtake. Turns 1 and 15 are the key corners for this, but it's the high-speed 'S' section between turns 5 - 6 that really pushes the driver.
The weather is always a factor through the weekend, with big chances of a monsoon arriving at least once per day. In the past few years this has usually happened in either qualifying or the race. It mixes things up nicely and makes for exciting racing, which is great fun on track and also for the fans watching at the circuit or at home. The conditions this weekend will also be much hotter than in Australia so it will be a good opportunity to see how the cars perform in such a different climate.
On top of dealing with the rain, the biggest challenge from a driver's perspective is coping with the heat and humidity. This is one of the things we have to train for over the winter: ensuring that we can cope with these conditions both physically and mentally right up to the chequered flag.
On the Pit Wall
Tyres... The medium and hard compound tyres have been nominated for Malaysia; an allocation one step harder overall than in Melbourne. This pairing has been chosen by Pirelli to match the demanding, high speed characteristics of the Sepang International Circuit. The layout is tough on tyres, with high-speed corners frequent and considerable loads being put through the rubber. Turns 5 - 6 and 10 - 13 put a lot of energy through the tyres on both sides of the car, with Turns 7 - 8 doing so on the left side only. This means that, for nine of the 15 corners around the track, the rubber is subject to significant loads. While degradation is not predicted to be a dominant factor, different tyre usage to that experienced in Melbourne is to be expected. This could present a different engineering challenge, which has perhaps not yet been fully explored and provides an interesting learning experience. The medium rubber is the common choice between the two races and teams now have good experience on that tyre, so it will be intriguing to observe the difference in performance levels on that compound in particular.
Overtaking... Although there was a reasonable amount of overtaking on show in Australia, this should be a much easier task for the drivers in Malaysia. Where narrow performance differentials between some cars prohibited passing manoeuvres at Albert Park, a far smaller advantage is required to make a move at Sepang. The first and final turns of the lap consist of two practically symmetrical long straights followed by almost hairpin-style corners. These have historically created good overtaking opportunities, as can be seen below:
Circuit layout aside, delving into the above figures reveals a number of other potential factors contributing to high overtaking figures in recent years at Sepang. Of these three races, only 2011 was run in completely dry conditions. It was also only the second Formula One race to feature DRS. With the system still in its infancy, this may well have contributed to a relatively low percentage of assisted passes.
2012 started amidst severe downpours, ending dry but overcast following two Safety Car periods and a race suspension. With more heavy showers predicted before the end of the race, many drivers opted to remain on the wet tyres whilst others gambled on slicks. When the rain never came, overtaking was frequent as those who had stayed out on track began to overheat their rubber. With these drivers struggling through the corners, most manoeuvres were conducted through the bends rather than down the straights; hence a low percentage of DRS passes once again.
2013 began under light rain and remained cloudy throughout, but with the track drying quickly once the early drizzle ceased. Despite the changeable conditions, this race featured a significantly lower amount of overtaking than seen at the previous two events. This may largely be attributed to tyre degradation, which was a prominent feature during the early races of the 2013 season. With 73 pit stops in total during the race, which was won using a four-stop strategy, the majority of changes in position occurred during pit stop phases. Of the manoeuvres completed on track, a slightly higher percentage were classed as assisted than those classed as normal; likely owing to the second DRS zone introduced for 2013.
Safety Car... Historically Sepang has seen a low probability of safety cars - 10% over the past ten years - which aligns with the expansive run-off areas surrounding the track itself. Even if a car breaks down out on track, there is plenty of space to come to a halt without posing a risk either to other drivers or marshals. Of the previous ten Malaysian Grands Prix, only two have featured the Safety Car. These were in 2009 and 2012 and were both the result of extreme weather conditions suspending proceedings. Both also fell under the later race start time of 16:00 brought into effect from the 2009 season. Alongside 2013, this makes for three out of five races to have been affected by rain since the change in schedule was introduced.
Reliability... This will be the second race weekend for the cars, including the all-new Power Unit and gearbox packages. Teams are now entering the sort of territory that will really start to test the cars in terms of both reliability and endurance. MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS achieved a very good result with one car in Melbourne but must now carry that performance through with both cars. As has been commonly accepted since the 2014 regulations were first announced, reliability is a key factor in this new era of Formula One. With severe penalties for changing components too frequently, these early races could well dictate the rhythm of the season.
Performance... In terms of the pecking order in Melbourne, there were key moments throughout the weekend which made it very difficult to judge just where each team stands in terms of competitiveness. In qualifying, for example, a wet track came into play from half way through the first session. While some drivers set a lap on the option tyre, even those who didn't were reasonably comfortable in the knowledge that they would not have to push flat out to progress into the next phase. At this point, which of those cars are quick over a single lap remains anyone's guess. What is certain, however, is that performance levels are very close in changeable conditions. Even in the race, a clear order still did not emerge, with the majority of the pack running quite close together. Excluding the possibility of another wet qualifying session, Sepang should provide a better reading of the field.
Featured This Week: Climate
Malaysia is renowned for its climate and in this respect provides one of the most significant challenges of the year to both team and driver. As a sport, Formula One is very fortunate to have a good group of weather forecasters travelling to each event with the FIA who provide data to every team. In Malaysia, however, their job is exceedingly difficult. In most places around the world, weather fronts can be seen approaching on the radar, giving a projection of what teams will need to deal with at least a few minutes in advance. Whilst the weather pattern may be forming a few kilometres away, a solid idea of what to expect on that day, the following day and certainly within the next hour can generally be obtained. This is not the case in Malaysia. Very strong, focused rain cells often form quickly and randomly. These may develop less than a kilometre away, or even directly above the circuit, with very little warning.
What's more, it is almost impossible to discern from the radar whether the volume of rain will be sufficient to create intermediate or extreme wet conditions. This is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges of Malaysia. Teams approach every Malaysian Grand Prix weekend expecting rain - given historical reference, it would be foolish not to - but there is always an element of the unknown. Predicting what weather band is on the way and when it will arrive is extremely difficult. Radar images work to around a one minute refresh rate. One minute at the Sepang International circuit is equivalent to around two-thirds of a lap. If a driver misses the pit entry just before a significant radar sighting becomes apparent, this can prove costly. However, teams often fall into exactly the same bands of weather. What might have been the best strategy in hindsight is not what every team will have chosen, simply because they are all working from the same radar images and the same set of data. Four of the past ten races held at the Sepang International Circuit have been affected by rain, with nearly every Grand Prix weekend seeing at least one wet session.
Contrary to Albert Park, temperature is a fairly consistent parameter at the Sepang International Circuit. While engines do have a different working life in these conditions, teams know what to expect and do not have to deal with ten degree shifts as in Melbourne. Ambient temperatures are usually around 30 - 32 degrees - not dissimilar to that experienced during the Bahrain tests - so cooling requirements are tailored to suit. Humidity doesn't have such a significant impact on cooling as ambient or track temperature, so the challenge lies more in avoiding being caught out by the potential downpours.
Humidity from a team perspective, however, is a different matter. Humans feel humidity dramatically: often struggling to cope and even experiencing breathing difficult at times. Amidst all the technological considerations, we must not forget that there are human beings in both the garage and the cockpit who need to be operating at peak performance levels in very difficult conditions. Despite the physical exertion behind the wheel, for example, the worst effects of the humidity from a driver's perspective can actually be seen once they return to the garage. At this point they no longer have airflow rushing around them and there is suddenly a huge amount of heat rejection and perspiration to endure. Hot, humid and unpredictable; this is the Malaysian climate in a nutshell!
Mercedes AMG Petronas