Garry Booton previews the Malaysian Grand Prix
As a rule, the Malaysian race tends to produce a different winner to the Australian Grand Prix. The main reason for this is the different challenges the circuit creates for drivers. Unlike Melbourne, the Malaysian circuit offers 2 long straights and an abundance of run off areas.
Although both cars and drivers have plenty of run off space, the Sepang can produce some of the hottest temperatures of the season, making this race a real challenge to drivers trying to stay fully hydrated during the race.
During the opener in Melbourne we saw a number of cars retire due to mechanical problems with the new engines, and you can expect similar issues in Malaysia this weekend. With a large section of the lap being driven at full throttle, combined with the high temperatures that are normal at this time of year in Malaysia, this could test the new V6 engines in a way they have not experienced so far.
So what can we expect from the second race of the season?
It is not surprising that Mercedes are still the front runners for this season, but the Red Bulls proved in the last race that when they iron out the problems they still have a fast car. At the same time McLaren proved that their car is reliable, and that both Button and Magnussen are going to be competing for podium positions this season.
McLaren boss Ron Dennis is confident however that Mercedes can be caught, despite Nico Rosberg winning in Australia by over 23 seconds. Dennis said that, “Clearly it’s going to be challenging for all the other teams to catch that sort of performance lead, but it will happen.”
The news from Red Bull is that Sebastian Vettel feels that they can build on what happened for them in Australia, stating that, “It was encouraging to see that our pace was better than we expected in Australia.”
Red Bull’s recovery has come in time for the Australian race, and after their disastrous winter testing they’ve been labelled as phenomenal by Toto Wolff after the pace set by Daniel Ricciardo who came second before being disqualified.
My thoughts on Sunday’s race is that if Mercedes can win pole and get in front from the start they will be the favourites to win. However, we all saw what happened to Lewis Hamilton in Australia when he had to retire due to engine failure, so there is still some sort of reliability issues with the Mercedes engine.
In fact the only team which had both their drivers come close to both sharing a podium was McLaren. The cars proved they were reliable during a race, and that they had the turn of pace to compete with the front runners.
But it is not all about the top teams, as Williams showed good pace and with Valtteri Bottas driving a great race to finish 6th, even after clipping a wall earlier and having to limp back to the pit lane. Bottas is convinced that Williams can start to live up to its pre-season hype in Malaysia.
Just like the Australian opening race, Sunday’s race is still hard to predict, as it could be won by any one of a handful of drivers.
How hard is this to predict? Well, my prediction is that it will be won by someone sat in a car driven by a V6 engine, and he could be in a Mercedes, a Red Bull, a McLaren or a Williams.