Moving swiftly along from the season-opener in Bahrain, Formula One now heads to the Malaysian Grand Prix, just a week later. Reigning champion Fernando Alonso kept former champ Michael Schumacher at bay in Bahrain but can Renault fend off Ferrari...
Moving swiftly along from the season-opener in Bahrain, Formula One now heads to the Malaysian Grand Prix, just a week later. Reigning champion Fernando Alonso kept former champ Michael Schumacher at bay in Bahrain but can Renault fend off Ferrari in the heat of Kuala Lumpur?
The 5.543 Sepang circuit is a popular track; its technical challenges are compounded by the tropical Malaysian climate. Cooling is all important here and the teams prepare accordingly. "In Sepang the engines have to put up with huge thermal loads, and fuel temperatures also rise to critical levels," said BMW motorsport director Mario Theissen.
"Every team prepares for the heat with extra or larger engine air-cooling intakes in the sidepods as well as apertures in the form of slits, flues or exhaust vents. The aerodynamics and engine experts always have to aim for a compromise."
Williams technical director Sam Michael described the track: "Sepang has three slow speed corners and four straight sections, which reward engine power. There are also low drag levels. It is a challenging circuit for the drivers, with plenty of direction changes through medium to high speed corners."
For Alonso, Sepang holds some good memories. "I seem to have important moments of my career there," he remarked. "My first pole and podium in 2003, and the first win of my championship in 2005. I am arriving on the back of a win, at a super circuit, so I am very happy and hopefully we can win again."
Ferrari put on a good show in Bahrain but was it genuine pace from the reds or did the pre-season testing at the circuit give them a little advantage? "If you consider how far behind we were at the end of last season, and how unlikely a win was, the Bahrain result seems phenomenal," Schumacher conceded.
"I see no reason why things shouldn't go well," he added about Malaysia. "We are all keen to kick on. I really cannot wait for this season's races. It will be a tight one but this is how it should be."
As usual, Kimi Rikkonen wrung the neck of his McLaren to bring it home on the podium for third in Bahrain after starting at the back of the grid. But it was woeful of McLaren to let him down at the first race and teammate Juan Pablo Montoya could do no more than finish where he started, in fifth.
Jenson Button came home fourth at Sakhir but a lot of people had expected more from Honda. However, it was actually the highest place finish the team has ever secured in the first race of a season. "I am really looking forward to showing what we can do at the next race," Button commented.
"It's reassuring that we come away from Bahrain knowing that we genuinely have the pace to compete with the other top teams. Our car should work well at every circuit this year but particularly at hot races like Malaysia where the conditions are very well suited to our tyres."
Williams scored a double points finish at Sakhir with Mark Webber sixth and Nico Rosberg seventh. The more experienced Webber may have been ahead but it was rookie Rosberg that impressed in the race -- but how will the youngster fare at a track he's not familiar with?
"I haven't driven at Sepang before so it's a new circuit I'm going to have to learn quickly, although I will do a few more laps in the practice sessions than in Bahrain in order to prepare myself," Rosberg commented. "I've driven it on the simulator, though, and from that I think it's going to be a track I'll enjoy."
Christian Klien fell to Rosberg's closing charge in Bahrain but at least racked up one point for Red Bull. Old hand teammate David Coulthard was a disappointment in 10th. Sister team Toro Rosso was not far behind, with Tonio Liuzzi and Scott Speed 11th and 13th respectively.
Ferrari were not the only ones to test at Bahrain over the winter; Honda's sporting director Gil de Ferran hopes the work the team did in the high temperatures will help for Malaysia. "It is obviously quite tricky preparing for hot conditions during the cool of a European winter, but our pre-season test in Bahrain gave us some useful pointers," he said.
"We anticipate that temperatures will be warmer in Malaysia than they were during last weekend's season-opener in Bahrain, but Michelin has proved it can be competitive in all conditions and we have worked well with its engineers to optimise tyres for every type of circuit."
Despite the new qualifying system -- entertaining though it was -- fuel strategy and tyres were still the deciding factors in Bahrain. Ferrari didn't flatter to deceive in qualifying quite as much as some had thought but Renault's bionic pit stop sealed Alonso's victory.
But is Renault's reliability a problem? Fisichella's succinct expletives over the radio before he retired with a hydraulic failure in Bahrain pretty much pointed out that anything can happen. We wait impatiently to see what will happen in Malaysia.