Racing Under a Cloud - FORMULA 1


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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Racing Under a Cloud

It's big, it's wide and the climate is hot and humid. However, an evening start to the second race of the year might offer some respite to the spectators at least although the forecast rain may not be appreciated. Maybe it should come as no surprise as it regularly rains after the race but the new start time (the race moves it from 3 pm to 5 pm local time) puts it right into the firing line. The evening start also adds to the problems for the drivers - last weekend several drivers complained about the low sun. With the sun setting at 7:22 pm and the race expected to finish around 6:30 pm, if run in the dry, the same problem will plague them at Sepang. However, with rain forecast, it may be the lack of light that might be more problematic and it also sets up the possibility of severe glare off the wet track if there is a break in the cloud.

The weather isn't the only cloud hanging over the race. With the diffusers of Brawn, Toyota and Williams passed by scrutineers in Australia the result of that race and this one is subject to an appeal hearing set for 14th April.

Meanwhile the chasing pack will be hoping to catch up with Brawn following the team's dominant 1-2 in Melbourne. If they're looking for positives signs then they need look no further than last year when Ferrari bounced back from a disasterous Australian Grand Prix in which all six Ferrari-engined cars failed to go the full race distance to run away with the Malaysian race. It should have been a perfect 1-2 from the front row of the grid for the Scuderia but Massa spun off the track whilst under no pressure costing him 8 points which eventually influenced the championship.

One of the talking points of Australia was the new tyre allocations. It produced an interesting dilemma for teams as they looked to minimise the damage done by running with the supersoft tyres during the race. Malaysia sees Bridgestone bringing the new soft and hard compounds which may not be as extreme as the problems seen in Melbourne, the tyre of choice in 2008 being the medium compound. One suggestion that has been mooted is that the teams can take advantage of the new safety car rules to do two pitstops during the safety car period and so do a single-lap on the "option" tyre. It may be something to watch out for but the rain looks like throwing all that out of the window.

"Sepang is quite severe on tyres as it has many different corner types and two heavy braking zones after long straights. Drivers will have to be careful not to lock their brakes, especially with the new generation cars which seem less stable due to the lower levels of downforce. Management of the soft compound is likely to be the biggest challenge of the weekend, as we have not previously brought a soft tyre to Sepang." - Hirohide Hamashima, Bridgestone director of motorsport tyre development

The race looks set up for Jenson Button. The car is going like a dream, he usually stands out in the wet, and expect the team to be on top of the tactics. Brawn, however, need to clean up their performance at pitstops. They were all messy in Australia even though the team was under no pressure but a wet-dry race could mean unexpected stops for tyres.

"After the amazing weekend that we experienced in Melbourne, the whole team was keen to get to Malaysia and start racing again. However the Malaysian Grand Prix is always one of the toughest races of the season and it will be a real challenge for our new car with so little testing under our belts. Malaysia has a really hot and humid climate which really tests the car's durability and coupled with the frequent torrential downpours can make for an unpredictable race weekend." - Jenson Button

The driver to watch this weekend may be Kimi Raikkonen. After a poor season (by his standards) in 2008 the pressure is on him to perform this year and to cut out the mistakes of last year. Those problems returned in Australia when he lost the rear of the car, clipping the wall and ruining any chance of a good points score. With the list of names linked with a seat at Ferrari seemingly growing by the week, Kimi needs to sort his act out.

"I think we made a few mistakes too many in Australia, and most of all I expect to see the real strengths of the teams in Malaysia. I'm convinced, in fact I'm totally sure, that there will be a strong reaction, even though the cars are the same." - Luca di Montezemolo

Jarno Trulli goes into this race with a point to prove after falling foul of the stewards in Melbourne. First relegated to starting from the pitlane for an 'illegal' rear wing, he climbed up to third only for the stewards to take that away with a 25 sec penalty in a race that saw the field bunched up behind the safety car. Cetrainly the Toyota driving will be looking to improve on the fourth place he secured in last year's event.

"I generally go really well in Malaysia and I have had some strong results there so I am approaching this race with great confidence. Australia was a weekend of highs and lows but we showed that we are very competitive and I hope we can do that again this weekend." - Jarno Trulli

KERS sees its second outing and with two long straights with heavy braking zones at the end it may be used rather differently from in Australia where Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso stated they used it in short bursts around the track. The interesting thing about Sepang is that those two straights are only separated by one braking area in which to store up more energy. Use up all the energy down the first straight and you won't have a lot for the second one and so that may make it a bit trickier to defend position in the way that Alonso was doing in Melbourne.

"We also need to make sure we get the most from our KERS system at the start of the race as there is a long run to the first corner where it should make a big difference." - Fernando Alonso

With at the very least, showers in the region, the race promises to throw up some more surprises as we continue to establish the 2009 pecking order. It should be a good race.