Formula 1

Malaysian Grand Prix 2010: Preview

5 Mins read

It was rain and a decent track in Melbourne that provided Formula 1's much needed excitement after the bore of Bahrain. This weekend we move on to Malaysia, which boasts a wide track and long straights to encourage overtaking. Early reports also suggest we will get some rain… and lots of it!

As any native of Kuala Lumpa will tell you (apparently), early evening rain is a certainty at this time of year. It won't just be a light drizzle either – it'll be a tropical downpour. The teams and the media had to contend with torrential rain, thunder and lightning earlier today at the track, and more of the same is predicted over the weekend.

Last year, the powers that be in Formula 1 moved this race from the traditional early afternoon start time to the late evening, to allow those valuable European viewers to get up later.

The result was completely farcical. A downpour of monsoon proportions midway through the race effectively turned the cars into rudder-less boats, and racing had to be suspended as drivers were flying off the track in all directions. When the red flag appeared, all who had remained in the race sat on the pit lane for what seemed like hours while television crews tried to fill airtime. Eventually the rain eased, but night was falling and it was too dark to resume.

Button was in the lead when the race was stopped, and took the victory. The top eight drivers only scored half points as the race was stopped after just 31 laps.

Obviously Formula 1 hasn't learned its lesson from last year and with qualifying and the race starting at 16:00 local time this weekend, the weather is likely to play a big part. Indeed, we could get a qualifying session similar to the one at Interlagos last year, and a race which lasts any distance between zero laps and the full 56 that have been scheduled.

If Bernie really wanted to help UK viewers he wouldn't have put the first race of the season on Mother's Day, the earliest race of the season in Australia on the weekend the clocks go forward, and the third race over the Easter weekend, when family commitments come into play for a lot of us. Something to consider when devising next season's calendar I think.

Anyway, assuming we do get some racing this weekend, which drivers and teams have got something to prove, and who will be standing on the top step of the podium in Sepang?

Jenson Button won here last year, and got many plaudits in Melbourne for calling the correct tyre strategy. If rain does come into play on Sunday, he will be hoping to pull another decisive pit call out of the bag as he aims to establish himself as the best Brit in F1.

Lewis Hamilton had a pretty disastrous weekend in Australia off and on the track, despite being the most exciting driver come race day. After his run-in with the law on the Friday night, his poor qualifying on Saturday, and then his mild hysterics over the team radio on Sunday, he will be hoping to put in a solid performance around Sepang. Hamilton finished seventh in 2009 after qualifying twelfth, but has a much better car compared to last year's dismal McLaren.

Michael Schumacher is another driver who has a lot to prove in Malaysia. He was again out-qualified and beaten by his teammate in Australia, and his comeback is proving a little disappointing. His car is lacking performance compared to Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren, but the seven-time world champion should still be beating Nico Rosberg. Schumacher and others have said he will need time to get back to his best, but if this form continues, everyone will start asking questions of the German.

Schumacher has won this race three times before and would have easily won the inaugural Malaysian Grand Prix – his first race back in 1999 after breaking his leg – but gave victory to then teammate Eddie Irvine, who was fighting for the driver's championship. Speaking to the BBC earlier this week, the German had high hopes for race day. “A podium is what I envisage here,” said Schumacher. “The track is a big challenge but maybe some rain at the right moment will help.”

Fernando Alonso is the second most prolific F1 driver around Malaysia with two victories, one for Renault in 2005 and the other in 2007 when he was at McLaren. Ferrari seemed to be behind the pace of Red Bull and McLaren in Australia, and the Spaniard will be expecting a return to the race-winning competitiveness they showed in Bahrain.

Alonso will also be hoping to get the better of Felipe Massa. The Brazilian is the only driver to be on the podium in both of the opening two races and is still determined to show that he has the upper-hand over the double world champion on the other side of the Ferrari garage.

Red Bull converted two front row grid positions into just two points in Melbourne. Another reliability issue while leading the race ruined Sebastian Vettel's weekend, and Mark Webber had a mad race which was completely ruined when he ran into Hamilton. Despite starting the weekend as the team to beat, Red Bull again failed to deliver again, and they are in danger of throwing away another championship, just as they did last year.

Adrian Sutil has two top ten grid slots to his name in 2010, but no points. In contrast, teammate Tonio Liuzzi is yet to make it into Q3, but has two consecutive point's finishes. Team principal Vijay Mallya wants both of his Force India cars to finish in the top ten on Sunday and is aiming for the team to be 'the best of the rest' behind the big four.

Like Liuzzi, Rubens Barrichello has been steadily collecting points and Williams have said they still have performance to eke out of the FW32. Nico Hulkenberg was taken out on the first lap in Melbourne, and is still yet to see the chequered flag in Formula 1.

Renault had a surprise second place finish in Australia, but Kubica will surely need the tropical downpours of Malaysia to have any hope of finish on the podium two races running. Vitaly Petrov, the Russian rookie, will be hoping for an incident-free race.

Sauber and Toro Rosso haven't impressed anyone so far this season. Jaime Alguersuari made headlines last weekend for holding up Michael Schumacher and Sauber looked impressive in pre-season testing, but otherwise it seems both teams are just trying to avoid the embarrassment of falling behind any of the new teams.

Lotus continues to impress as the best of those new teams, and will be hoping to get both cars to the finish at what is their home grand prix. The first signs of the teams luck wavering was seen in Melbourne when Jarno Trulli failed to start the race, but they are still comfortably ahead of Virgin and Hispania. Karun Chandhok finished Hispania's first race in Australia, albeit five laps down.

Virgin still has a fuel tank too small to get them to the end of the race, although it has been other problems preventing them finishing so far. Nick Wirth could be the only person in F1 hoping for a repeat of last year's mid-race rainfall.

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