Malaysian Grand Prix 2013: Preview

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Rain stopped the 2012 race for an hour and is a constant threat in Sepang (Photo Credit: ferrari.com)

Rain! In Formula 1 it is a word that excites fans, burdens strategists, and gives hope to drivers toiling in the midfield. However, as was shown again on Saturday, too much precipitation causes nothing but frustration.

Just one week on from the first F1 qualifying session to be split over two days, the circus heads to a venue where the weather is far less predictable and more than capable of causing a problems. For round two this weekend, we head to Malaysia.

Few who were in Sepang last season will forget the torrential rain that caused an hour long disruption to the race. Some teams chose to erect tents around their cars on the starting grid as thunder and lightening surrounded the circuit.

Thankfully the race did restart, and Fernando Alonso was the surprise winner in a Ferrari that was some way off the pace in the dry.

The climate of Malaysia, and the desire to hold the race late in the evening to satisfy European television audiences, means that rain – heavy rain – is always a distinct possibility at this race. It will give an extra air of predictability on Sunday, not that one is needed.

Kimi Räikkönen got his season of to the perfect start yesterday by pulling off a two-stop strategy to take victory in Melbourne. The Finn was not exactly a surprise winner, but many people will have ranked the chances of Sebastian Vettel or Alonso, or possibly even Lewis Hamilton, higher than Räikkönen’s before the race. This highlights that, like last season, many cars are capable of winning races on their day, and with rain thrown into the mix, it’ll be hard to predict the Malaysian Grand Prix victor.

The Australian Grand Prix gave a lot of interesting talking points. The lack of pace at McLaren was certainly one, and the Woking-based team are likely to be preying for rain in Kuala Lumpur, and possibly the next few races, as they work on some hasty fixes for the MP4-28.

On the flip side, Mercedes carried their strong pace from testing into qualifying in Melbourne and, while Hamilton slipped down the grid on race day, the team are still performing far better than many would have expected at the end of last season.

Red Bull looked as though they were going to run away with the 2013 championship at various times over the past weekend and, if Vettel had won the race in Australia, many people would now be saying the title was a forgone conclusion.

But was it just the wrong call on stately that cost the German in Melbourne, or do the likes of Lotus and Ferrari actually have cars hat can challenge the RB9 on pure pace? Malaysia, if it stays dry, could give us a clearer picture.

Further down the field, there is more intrigue. Adrian Sutil showed what the Force India could do, so they will definitely be a team to watch at the Sepang International Circuit

The Sauber, in the hands of Nico Hülkenberg at least, also looked competitive. The German qualified 11th, just ahead of Sutil, but was prevented from taking part in the race for safety reasons after the team found a fuel problem on his car. Hülkenberg would surely have been in contention for points if reliability issues had not reared their ugly head – perhaps he will score some on Sunday.

Like McLaren, Williams also look to have big problems with their new car. Barely a handful of laps would pass without seeing Pastor Maldonado or Valtteri Bottas scampering across the grass of Albert Park as they struggled to keep the FW33 under control. It seems unlikely that a fix will be in place by the weekend, so the frustration will likely continue.

And finally Marussia: they looked to have the measure of Caterham throughout the Australian Grand Prix weekend, and looked closer to the midfield than before. Jules Bianchi particularly impressed, and it will be interesting to see if the team can carry this form into Malaysia.

All in all, there is a lot to look forward to this weekend as we find out more bout the relative pecking order, and look for the title contenders to emerge. Let us just hope that the rain does not stop play.

Timetable (all times GMT)
Friday 22nd March
Free Practice 1 02:00 – 03:30
Free Practice 2 06:00 – 07:30
Saturday 23rd March
Free Practice 3 05:00 – 06:00
Qualifying 08:00
Sunday 24th March
Race 08:00
Coverage (UK)
Live: Sky Sports F1 HD, Highlights: BBC One, Radio: BBC Radio 5 Live / 5 Live Sports Extra


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