Preview of Round 2 of the 2014 Formula One World Championship brings us to Kuala Lumpur for Malaysian Grand Prix, held at the Sepang International Circuit.
Malaysia is a stunning country and I always enjoy coming here. The fans are fantastic and it also forms one of three home races for the team alongside Germany and Great Britain. We have some exciting events planned with Petronas during the days building up to the race weekend so it will be a busy week but a lot of fun. I finished second on my Formula One debut here in 2007 and have been on the podium at the last two Malaysian Grands Prix but I’ve yet to win here. It would be amazing to stand on the top step at one of our home races and I’m looking forward to bouncing back after a tough weekend in Australia. Although it was not the result we were hoping for, every setback is a chance to learn more about this new car, which is important as they’re incredibly complex machines. I know the team at Brackley and Brixworth is pushing harder than ever and I’ll be doing the same.
The Malaysian Grand Prix is the home race for Petronas so it’s always a busy and exciting weekend. Sepang holds some great memories for me too as I achieved my first podium for Mercedes here at the start of the 2010 season. Normally the weather is seen as the biggest challenge here but this season is different, with reliability the focus of everyone’s attention. Of course, it will still be hot, humid and probably wet at some stage too, so it should be a fascinating weekend. Australia was the perfect start to my season, but it also highlighted that we’re not 100% there yet in terms of reliability. We’ve had two weeks before this race to identify all the things that we can do better, so hopefully we can bring both cars home for a good result this weekend and continue our strong start to the year.
Toto Wolff, Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport:
We head to Malaysia looking forward to an exciting week: not just at the circuit, but off track as well with Petronas. This is the third time we have worked together to bring Formula One to the streets of Kuala Lumpur and it is a great opportunity to bring our Malaysian fans closer to their team. As one of our home races, we are extremely motivated to get a good result here. The first race in Australia left us with mixed emotions. Neither of our drivers put a foot wrong all weekend but unfortunately only one came away with the result he deserved. We know that reliability will be crucial to this long season and we have been working hard to improve the situation for the race in Malaysia. We made a solid start to the year in Melbourne, but we are very aware that not one percent of effort can be dropped if we are to remain competitive.
Paddy Lowe, Executive Director (Technical):
While we were pleased to come away from Melbourne with a win, we were also left with plenty to think about. As is to be expected with such new technology, we are learning more about the car with every lap. This inevitably brings more problems to the surface, all of which require careful management. Our priority has therefore been to arrive in Malaysia in better shape mechanically than we left Australia. This race presents a very different set of challenges in terms of both the climate and the demands of the circuit layout. Sepang is a permanent race track which is generally a lot more differentiating of the cars; particularly with regard to aerodynamics. As always, reliability and endurance will be crucial, but we believe this venue will provide a more accurate representation of the relative pace between teams. It should be an interesting weekend.
In the Cockpit
Lewis on Sepang:
Sepang is a fantastic circuit and it’s always an exciting challenge here with the heat and humidity. During my first race here in 2007 I didn’t have a drinks feed available during the race, so by the end I was totally exhausted and had lost about four kilos in weight! As a driver it’s a weekend you have to be well prepared for physically, as it can be very easy to lose concentration towards the end of a long race in these conditions. Then there’s the rain which, when it comes, is just incredible. In a matter of minutes you can find yourself at the centre of a monsoon, which adds to the challenge.
The first corner comes at the end of a long straight, so you have to pick your braking point carefully to avoid overshooting the turn. This leads into another slow corner, with the pair of them seeming to go on forever. Turns 5 and 6 are high-speed and fantastic to drive; similar to the Maggots / Becketts section at Silverstone but with slightly more space between each corner.
You need a little lift going into Turn 5 to get the front end turned in, good balance on the power through Turn 6 then onto the brakes for Turn 7. There’s a bit of a bump as you power through Turn 8 before easing the car over to the right-hand side of the track for Turn 9. A good exit from this corner is important but an even better one is required from Turn 11, as this is crucial to carrying good momentum through the high-speed Turns 12 and 13. Picking your braking point correctly for Turn 14 is both tricky and essential. Getting it wrong can prove costly, as this leads down the second long straight of the lap and into the final corner; one of the best overtaking opportunities.
Nico on Sepang:
Straight after one of my personal favourites at Albert Park, Sepang is another circuit that I really enjoy. The track layout is great to drive and has a bit of everything thrown in: long straights, fast corners, hairpin turns and good places to overtake. Turns 1 and 15 are the key corners for this, but it’s the high-speed ‘S’ section between turns 5 – 6 that really pushes the driver.
The weather is always a factor through the weekend, with big chances of a monsoon arriving at least once per day. In the past few years this has usually happened in either Qualifying or the Race. It mixes things up nicely and makes for exciting racing, which is great fun on track and also for the fans watching at the circuit or at home. The conditions this weekend will also be much hotter than in Australia so it will be a good opportunity to see how the cars perform in such a different climate.
On top of dealing with the rain, the biggest challenge from a driver’s perspective is coping with the heat and humidity. This is one of the things we have to train for over the winter: ensuring that we can cope with these conditions both physically and mentally right up to the chequered flag.