Malaysian Grand Prix: McLaren preview Sepang weekend

Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday 12 March 2014

The sweltering heat and humidity of the topics provide the gruelling backdrop to the Malaysian Grand Prix, round two of the 2014 FIA Formula 1 World Championship.

The drivers have to endure cockpit temperatures in excess of 50 degrees Celsius, but there’s no let-up on-track as Sepang’s fast corners and open spaces encourage overtaking and hard racing.

Add the high probability of a rainstorm into the mix and you’re left with a tantalisingly unpredictable weekend.

Sepang Facts & Stats

Sepang was the first grand prix circuit to be built by German architects Tilke GmbH. It was commissioned in the mid-’90s by former Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Doktor Mahathir Bin Mohamad, who viewed it as an integral part of Malaysia’s quest to become a fully industrialised nation by 2020. The circuit is located 5 km from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, and 60 km from downtown KL.

The track hosted its first grand prix in 1999, since when it’s become a firm favourite of the drivers, who enjoy its undulations, fast corners and numerous passing places. However, the combination of high-g corners and extreme cockpit temperatures makes this race one of the toughest of the year for the drivers.

The 5.543 km track has several features that make it stand out. It’s very wide – 22 m in places – and has the second longest run of the year from the grid to Turn One. To be quick at Sepang, a car needs good high-speed balance, a trait that prompts the usual trade-off between downforce and straight-line speed, which is particularly useful along the circuit’s two main straights, each more than 1 km long.

As was the case last year, Pirelli are taking their orange Hard (Prime) and white Medium (Option) tyres to the race. These are the two hardest compounds in their dry-weather range. However, as was the case in Melbourne two weeks ago, the teams can expect to use the Intermediate and Wet tyres as well – such is the unpredictable nature of Malaysia’s tropical climate.

McLaren has a good record at Sepang, the highlight coming in 2007 when Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton finished first and second in the 56-lap race. Jenson Button scored the first of his 50 podiums at Sepang in 2004 and he has won the race once, in 2009. Kevin Magnussen will be tackling the circuit for the first time.

Eric Boullier, McLaren Racing Director: “The fact that we are leading the constructors’ championship is a testament to the underlying strength and hunger of the organisation: in Melbourne, we didn’t have the strongest car, but we were able to manage the race superbly: we executed perfect strategies on both cars, Jenson and Kevin each drove faultlessly, and our engineers and mechanics made sure our cars operated with only minimal problems across the whole weekend.

“The aim for Malaysia will be to consolidate the position we currently have: we need to close the gap to the front, and we’ll be pushing aggressively on the development front to ensure that the upgrades we bring to this race do just that. But speed counts for nothing without reliability, and our focus will be to ensure that we stay on top of things to ensure that we operate both cars across the weekend without any problems.

“Equally, back at MTC, we’re pushing hard to ensure that the supply chain from factory to track is further refined: ours is a battle of constant development; and while we’ve seen one team emerge at the front, it’ll be the constant, iterative developments that will upset the order.

“We’ve got some productive programmes in the windtunnel, and our aim now is to turn these projects to reality as soon as we possibly can – this is where the championship fight will be won or lost.”

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