While there is the usual excitement and sense of anticipation regarding Sunday’s Malaysia Grand Prix, it seemed very much like business as usual in the Sepang paddock. Engineers and mechanics were going about their tasks almost as if these new Formula 1 cars had been around for a long while and were not just at their second race. However, like a swan gliding across a lake, beneath the surface there’s frantic activity.
While the two F14 Ts may look substantially the same as they did in Melbourne last weekend, appearances can be deceptive: since the opening round of the season, every bit of data from the Albert Park weekend has been analysed, so the Scuderia Ferrari engineers in Maranello could look at ways of fine tuning all the systems on the car, with the aim of extracting some more performance, as well as continuing to work on its all-important reliability factor, here in Malaysia.
On track today, of the two Prancing Horse drivers, it was Kimi Raikkonen who had the better day, completing 50 laps, as against 43 for Fernando Alonso. The Finn was second fastest in both sessions, one of only three drivers to break the 1 m 40 barrier. The other two were Nico Rosberg fastest for Mercedes and reigning champion Sebastian Vettel third for Red Bull. Fernando was fifth this afternoon, behind the other Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton.
Fridays are extremely busy, even more so than usual with these new regulations, so it was useful that both Prancing Horse cars ran reliably throughout the three hours of track action, allowing for plenty of laps, which always equates to plenty of data. One key aspect of F1 we had not experienced in Australia was tyre degradation, but here in Malaysia, where drivers have the Hard and Medium compounds, the former making its first appearance, that is going to play a significant part here, because of the track temperature and the high speed turns that load up the tyres.
Kimi Raikkonen: “This was definitely a positive day and I had a better feeling compared to Friday in Melbourne. I was more comfortable with the F14 T today and even if we had no problems whatsoever, we know there’s still a long way to go and a lot to do. Our programme concentrated on car set-up and on testing the compounds that Pirelli has brought here. The handling seemed to be good even if, as we found on the race simulation, we will have to pay very close attention to degradation, which is particularly high here. Now we will spend the evening carefully analysing all the data we gathered over the day, to try and work out how to improve.”
Fernando Alonso: “We are on a learning curve, which is not unusual for the start of a championship and, to find out how competitive we are, as usual we will have to wait until Saturday and Sunday. Usually, Friday is a very confusing day, because everyone is working on their own programmes, but this year it’s even more the case because of all the new elements. Everything went well, with no reliability problems and we managed to do a fair number of laps, enough to get a good understanding of the tyres, which will be a very important factor here because of the high temperatures. The Hard compound seems to stand up better over a long run, but it’s still too early to talk about qualifying and race strategy. For now, the only thing one can be sure of is the need to do everything to perfection.”
Pat Fry: “Although the Friday work hasn’t changed, the number of variables on which we need to concentrate has increased compared to previous years. Among the many parameters that require particular attention are the management systems of the new power unit, especially in terms of its reliability. That’s what we focused on this morning, while in the session just finished we went through the usual set-up work, trying to adapt the balance of the car to the characteristics of the Sepang track. The tyres are harder than last year, but they still come under a lot of strain from lateral loads in the fast corners and so managing their degradation will be a key factor. Even if we are just a few thousandths off the top of the time sheet, as usual on Friday, it’s impossible to give any real assessment. The actual pecking order will only be seen tomorrow in Qualifying.”
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