McLaren: We’ll arrive in Malaysia with less scope to improve our fortunes

Sergio Perez

Sergio Perez leads Jenson Button

Sepang was the first all-new Formula 1 circuit to be designed by Tilke GmbH, the company responsible for the construction of eight of the 19 tracks on the 2013 calendar. It is located alongside from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, 60km from Kuala Lumpur itself.

The track has hosted a round of the world championship every year since 1999, making it the oldest of the new breed of government-funded circuits on the calendar. It’s popular with drivers and engineers alike, largely due to the variety of corners around the lap. The fast sweeps in sector two are a great test of aerodynamic performance, while traction and braking are vital through the slower sections.

The two DRS zones in this weekend’s 56-lap race will be located along the two longest straights, making Turns One and 15 the most obvious overtaking opportunities. The run from the start line to Turn One is 660m, the second longest in F1, and it’s sure to create plenty of action on lap one.

If the race is dry, the heat and humidity will make this race one of the toughest on the calendar for man and machine; if it rains, as it did last year, survival will be key. McLaren has won this race twice, in 2003 and ’07, and both of our drivers have good records at Sepang. Jenson scored his first F1 podium at the track in 2004 and he won the race in ’09; Checo finished second in the race last year.

Car 5: Jenson Button
“Australia was obviously a tough weekend and, despite getting the maximum out of the car, it’s still clearly not where we want to be. There’s a lot of work to be done but we all know that this team won’t stop working until they get it right. For this weekend, I don’t think we can expect an improvement in our fortunes, but the thing about Malaysia is that it can be so unpredictable – particularly with the later start time on Sunday afternoon, which tends to see late-afternoon showers fall. We saw that last year, when Fernando won, and we know that the unpredictable weather can make it a lottery for everyone. That’s something that could play into our hands – I do enjoy driving in changeable conditions, and would love the challenge of being able to run competitively in a car that we all know is not quite capable of challenging for victories yet.

Car 6: Sergio Perez
“Last weekend’s race was a difficult one for everybody on the team, but it’s shown us exactly what we need to do to close down the gap to the leaders. This weekend in Malaysia will be about trying to maximise the package we have while knowing that it’s not going to be enough to allow us to fight for overall victory. Still, we know what we have to do – and I know that everybody within the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team will be working incredibly hard to bring performance to the car. That may not happen in Malaysia, as it’s so soon after the Australian Grand Prix, but we know it’ll start coming soon. For me, Sepang holds many happy memories – I had one of the best races of my career there last year where I was able to push Fernando for victory until the closing laps. It’s a fantastic circuit, really fast and demanding. It would be great to pull off another unexpected result for the team this year.”

Martin Whitmarsh, Team principal, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
“Clearly, our performance in Australia last weekend was not up to our high expectations – and we have been working tirelessly to bring additional performance to MP4-28. But the short turnaround between rounds one and two of the championship means that we’ll arrive in Malaysia with less scope to improve our fortunes. This weekend, however, will provide us with additional opportunities to understand our car’s behaviour and to increase our understanding of the package. Nonetheless, the Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix brings its own unique challenges; it’s one of the most physically demanding races of the year – for both the drivers and their machinery – and the race will be tough for all competitors. Both Jenson and Checo have gone well at this circuit in the past, and both put in excellent performances throughout the weekend in Australia, so I’m sure they’ll once again be pushing the car to its limit.”

A McLaren 50 classic moment: Malaysian Grand Prix, 23 March 2003

Following David Coulthard’s victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, Kimi Raikkonen maintains McLaren’s 100 percent record at the start of 2003. His emphatic victory at Sepang is also his maiden Formula 1 victory.

New qualifying regulations introduced in ’03 require the drivers to start with the same fuel load that they ended qualifying. As was the FIA’s intention, the rules mix up the grid: Fernando Alonso starts from pole position, with Coulthard fourth and Raikkonen back in seventh.

Kimi’s progress in the race is helped by a first corner incident that removes two of his main rivals. Michael Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya are forced to pit on lap one after damaging their front and rear wings in the melee, resulting in Kimi leapfrogging up the order to fourth in his MP4-17D.

When Coulthard retires on lap two with an electrical problem, the Flying Finn is up to third and he seizes second a lap later when he scythes past the Sauber of Nick Heidfeld. He then sets about closing the gap to Alonso up front.

After qualifying with more fuel than the Renault driver, Kimi stays out five laps longer and emerges from the pits ahead. He’s never headed thereafter, coming home 39s ahead of Rubens Barrichello. It’s win number one for Kimi and win number 137 for McLaren.