Heat. Real heat. Wear four-layer fireproof overalls, fireproof underwear, a helmet and a balaclava, in cockpits where temperatures will top 60C and drive at speeds approaching 200mph for around an hour and forty minutes, and you will know what real heat is.
Formula 1 comes to Malaysia this weekend, and the return of Fernando Alonso has taken up a lot of attention: Questions are still being asked about his accident in testing that excluded him from starting in Australia two weeks ago, and Alonso’s story most definitely does not square with that from his team.
Alonso insists there was a problem with the steering in his car, and McLaren have added new sensors to his car to measure steering, as they picked up no data from his crash to suggest a problem. Button says he’s happy there’s no issue, and the fact he managed to drive a full Grand Prix in the car helps to underline his confidence. But it’s all reminiscent of when Alonso was last at McLaren, in the tempestuous season when he partnered Lewis Hamilton. McLaren have been left looking foolish, again prone to making misleading statements, being just downright obstructive, and again at odds with Alonso.
All this might be less important were their cars performing in a way which might put their drivers at the top step of the podium. But as they introduce the new Honda engine, they’re well down the field – Button was the only driver to finish the race who did not score points in Australia, and first practice times placed them 16th and 17th, with only the Lotus of Roman Grosjean buffering them from the last-placed Manor cars.
In summary, this does not look like a focused and happy team, and they have a mountain to climb to make the cars competitive, although practice times show they are now competitive with the Force India cars.
Mercedes dominate once again – but rivalry loses them P2
After some problems with his car which excluded him from first practice and 30 minutes of the second session, Lewis Hamilton came back in style to put in the fastest time in P2, just ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, then Nico Rosberg. A number of drivers struggled for grip in cornering, and there were a few spins and excursions into the gravel throughout practice.
In qualifying, the story was familiar, with one big surprise being Kimi Raikkonen’s exclusion from the top 10, after rain made a quick first lap time at the start of Qualifying 2 a necessity. He was caught in traffic throughout his lap, and was nudged out.
The Manor cars will only run with permission from the stewards, and the McLarens are just in front of them along with a disappointed Felipe Nasr in the Sauber. Following Kimi, the starters outside the Top 10 include Maldonado, Hulkenberg, Perez and Sainz.
The top 10 has a new look at the pointy end, with Vettel splitting the Mercedes, largely thanks to Hamilton and Rosberg blocking each other’s progress as they lined up their final run in Q3. The end result was that neither improved their times on a drying track, and they gifted the second position on the grid to Vettel. Youngster Max Verstappen gained a stunning P6, 11 places up the grid from his team-mate, and just behind the two Red Bulls.
Behind them, Massa, Grosjean, Bottas and Ericsson make up the rest of the Top 10.
Mercedes will want to have a quiet word with both drivers as they basically spoiled each others final qualifying and let the competition in – not exactly great teamwork. In comments afterwards, both notably failed to refer to the incidents and blabbed on about other factors, a sure sign that they know they made a mess of it. If this kind of behaviour spills over into the race, they could both find themselves sitting in the gravel and then watching Ferrari gain a one-two finish.
About the Weather
There is a regular event in the late afternoon in Kuala Lumpur in March. It rains. And oh, does it rain – it comes down in stair rods. The current weather forecast is for storms and rain – but forecasting is always difficult here. One thing is for sure – if it does rain, it could change the shape of the race entirely, with the wet weather 2015 tyres as yet untested, and the ability of drivers like Button and Perez to out-perform the field in changing conditions where grip is hard to find. It’s for this reason the race start time is an hour earlier than that for qualifying – but it’s still a factor that could completely change the race.
Tyre wear could also be a big factor, with the abrasive nature of the Malaysian track and the high temperatures expected. Already in practice, the Ferraris seem to be kinder to their tyres in long runs, so this may give them an edge over Mercedes in the race. It’s likely we will see three stops for fresh rubber in this race from most teams – unless of course the skies open and we get rain.
My prediction for the Podium in Malaysia
I expect it to be Rosberg, then Vettel and Ricciardo – with Hamilton having a mechanical failure. I predicted the podium correctly last time out – and if you can guess the podium 1-2-3 correctly, you could be on the receiving end of a £50 iTunes, Google Play or Amazon Voucher. Just enter our F1 FVL Podium Winners Competition here.