Malaysian Grand Prix Preview

Following last week’s thrilling season opener in Australia, Formula One is ready to do it all over again this weekend when the paddock arrives in Malaysia for the second round of 2013.

Kimi Raikkonen got his season off to the perfect start in Melbourne and will be looking to repeat that success in Sepang on Sunday, a circuit he has won twice at in the past. With his Lotus being by far the best car on the grid for looking after its tyres, and tyre degradation set to play a part in determining the winner of this weekend’s race, he has to be considered one of the favourites for victory.

One man who will be looking to stop him is the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso. Alonso looked fast throughout the race in Melbourne and was more than a match for Raikkonen on several occasions through the Grand Prix. The Spaniard lost out primarily due to having to make an extra tyre stop, and if Ferrari can improve the tyre degredation on their car this weekend, they should be contenders going into the race.

As always, Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel cannot be counted out. The RB9 was dominant in qualifying last weekend, with Vettel and Mark Webber locking out the front row by some margin, but the car struggled to replicate that performance in race conditions and the Lotus and Ferrari were clearly faster on the day. However, with Sepang a totally different test of a chassis’ capabilities than Melbourne, they will be right in the hunt for their first win of 2013.

Mercedes look set to challenge for the points once again after Lewis Hamilton’s strong fifth in Melbourne, although as the only top team to suffer a mechanical retirement in Australia, they have work to do to ensure the reliability of their car. It’s a different story for McLaren, with the MP4-28 hopelessly off the pace in Melbourne and points for Jenson Button and Sergio Perez appearing to be the maximum target in Sepang.

Further back, Force India had an extremely impressive race last weekend, with Adrian Sutil’s storming drive netting him a seventh place finish (and should have finished higher following a poor last stint that was the fault of his tyres) and Paul di Resta following him home in eighth. Sauber also look to have a quick car, and if Nico Hulkenberg can make it to the start this time we should get a clearer indication of the team’s performance. The same cannot be said for Williams, who struggled hopelessly with their car in Melbourne and will desperately be searching for improvements if they are to challenge in the midfield.

Toro Rosso made a promising start to the season last weekend, although the Red Bull junior team insists it won’t be until the start of the European races that we see the car’s full potential, whilst Marussia will look to retain bragging rights in its back of the field fight with Malaysian-owned Caterham, who celebrate their home Grand Prix this weekend.

With the field looking so closely matched this year, we look set for a thrilling race in Sepang on Sunday.

The Venue

The oldest Hermann Tilke-designed track on the F1 calendar, the Sepang International Circuit is definitely one of the German’s better efforts. A 3.4 mile track, it’s long straights and sweeping bends combine to make a nice, flowing circuit which creates plenty of opportunity for overtaking.

The race has been a permanent fixture in Formula One since 1999, when Eddie Irvine took the chequered flag for Ferrari. Since then, Ferrari has enjoyed by more the most success at the circuit, with the Scuderia notching up no less than six wins in the 14 races to be held here. In comparison, McLaren, Red Bull and Renault trail the Prancing Horse with two wins apiece.

A lap of the Sepang International Circuit begins with a long, sweeping right-hander after which the cars brake down to negotiate a tricky hairpin at turn two. Following that, the pack then accelerate through turn three before a short straight leads them into a tight right-hander at turn four.

It’s after that when the cars get properly worked out, as they are met with a huge, sweeping S-bend at turns five and six, before braking for the medium speed turns seven and eight, where mistakes are high. There then follows another short straight before the hairpin at turn nine ends the middle sector.

By now the cars are beginning to make their way back to the pit straight. A long right-hander leads into another sweeping S-bend, with the second half then tightening into a slow right-hander which leads the field onto the long back straight. Once the pack get to the end of the back straight, the final corner is a left-hand hairpin which takes the cars back onto the pit straight to start another lap of this magnificent facility.

Track Facts
Location: Sepang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
First Race: 1999
Track Length: 3.444 miles/5.543 km
Laps: 56
2012 Winner: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
Lap Record: Juan Pablo Montoya (Williams-BMW) – 1:34.223 (2004)

Past Winners
2012 – Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
2011 – Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull-Renault)
2010 – Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull-Renault)
2009 – Jenson Button (Brawn-Mercedes)
2008 – Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)
2007 – Fernando Alonso (McLaren-Mercedes)
2006 – Giancarlo Fisichella (Renault)
2005 – Fernando Alonso (Renault)
2004 – Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
2003 – Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren-Mercedes)
2002 – Ralf Schumacher (Williams-BMW)
2001 – Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
2000 – Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
1999 – Eddie Irvine (Ferrari)

Stephen D’Albiac

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