2015 Malaysian Grand Prix: Weekend Preview

Unfortunately, events of the 2015 season thus far have been largely negative. Following an admittedly underwhelming curtain raiser in Australia, the sport is in need of an exciting weekend to bring the campaign to life. Fortunately, Malaysia has the capacity to deliver, with the Sepang International Circuit playing host to this weekend’s race which should be littered with storylines. Fernando Alonso and Valtteri Bottas look set to make a return, the circus heads to a more representative track and Nico Rosberg looks to bounce back from his disappointment down-under. Certainly plenty to sink our teeth into.

512px-Sepang_f1

The Facts

  • Sunday’s race will be 56 laps in length.
  • The Sepang International Circuit first hosted the Malaysian Grand Prix in 1999, with Ferrari’s Eddie Irvine taking the spoils.
  • Along with Irvine’s win, Michael Schumacher won at Sepang in 2000 and 2001, meaning that a Ferrari driver stood on the top step for all of the first three Malaysian Grand Prix.
  • The country’s tropical climate means that the race has often been affected by monsoon rainfall. In 2009, the race was red-flagged and due to fading light conditions, did not restart. Half points were awarded.
  • In 2013, the venue played host to the famous Multi-21 debacle between Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber – I’m sure you know the story…

Rewind 12 Months

The 2014 Malaysian Grand Prix weekend saw yet another rain affected qualifying session, on the back of the wet session in Albert Park, two weeks previous. However, the outcome was the same, in that Lewis Hamilton recorded pole position, but this time with Sebastian Vettel joining him on the front row.

Much like this season’s Australian Grand Prix, the race was largely underwhelming. Hamilton stamped his authority on his teammate, waltzing to a comfortable victory at the head of the first of many Mercedes 1-2’s in 2014. Meanwhile, Daniel Ricciardo suffered an unsafe release which came back to haunt him in Bahrain, while the Williams duo faced rare friction when Felipe Massa was told that “Valtteri is faster than you,” – I’ll bet that certainly brought back some bad memories for the Brazilian.

Fernando Back In The Game

Despite the typically sublime effort by all the guys and girls at Albert Park to put on a world class show, the on-track action did miss a certain sparkle. With so many drivers not making the start-line, it is hardly surprising. The absentees were certainly missed – perhaps none more-so than Fernando Alonso.

McLaren’s star man should be back in the car this weekend. The mystery surrounding his testing accident remains unsolved and I doubt that his appearance in tomorrow’s press conference will change that fact. For me, it would be best in the sport erases that particular incident from it’s mind and looks at the positives of one of its leading lights being back on the grid. A timely return, if ever there was one.

However, I highly doubt that Alonso will perform any miracles in the MP4-30 this weekend – and by miracles, I mean a result within the top ten –  a sign of how much work McLaren have to work on. Is Fernando up to the challenge? Of course he will be. Many would cite him as the best driver to seat in sub-par machinery as he will always extract every last drop of performance out of his equipment.

Renault SPORTing A Frown

Red Bull and Renault’s relationship is heading into its rockiest patch yet. This particular story is an extended article waiting to happen, so I will keep this segment brief – the partnership needs to start moving forward.

It was not so much the result as the performance in Australia which was most concerning. The RB11 was well off of the benchmark set by the W06 and even in the hands of the tenacious Honey Badger, could only manage P6 and lost out in a race-long tug-of-war with a Sauber – piloted by a rookie who missed out on FP1 no less.

Malaysia may have been the scene of one of Red Bull’s more convincing performances in 2014 and even had Sebastian Vettel suggesting that they would soon close the gap to Mercedes in the post race interviews. However, with the Renault powertrain reportedly 100bhp down on the Mercedes and with the Ferrari equivalent seemingly close to the technical pioneers, I am concerned that Ricciardo and Kvyat will lose too much time on the two long straights, which book-end the lap.

Having said that, if you read into Renault’s rather ‘punchy’ statement released yesterday, the RB11 will not only lose time on the straights but also in the corners due to below-par “chassis performance.” I imagine the atmosphere will be decidedly frosty in the Red Bull garage this weekend.

Prediction Corner

A shocking 19 points was the sum total of my predictions made on Autosport’s GP Predictor last time out, which ostensibly means that whatever I write in the next few sentences will NOT happen. But I am a resilient chap and therefore I will endeavor to make more accurate predictions this time around.

Hamilton’s confidence in Australia was clear to see and while ‘the show’ could probably do with a Nico Rosberg victory, I cannot see past the Brit for glory this weekend. This purple patch is fast becoming the best of Hamilton’s career.

Elsewhere, I look forward to seeing the Ferrari and Williams battle once again, particularly because I anticipate that Lotus could potentially challenge the aforementioned two. Neither Pastor Maldonado nor Romain Grosjean had an opportunity to show what their car could really do in Melbourne and they could be an outside bet for a top five finish.

Be sure to keep track of all my opinions across the weekend, with analysis being posted on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Image Credit: “Sepang F1” by Eriang87 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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