Formula One arrives in Malaysia this weekend for round two of the 2014 World Championship, at the Sepang International Circuit outside Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia is already a country under the global spotlight for all the wrong, tragic reasons – but with storms forecast for the duration of the GP weekend a thrilling race on Sunday promises to provide a brief but welcome respite.
Nico Rosberg and Mercedes dominated a fortnight ago in Melbourne and would have surely scored a 1-2 had Lewis Hamilton not been eliminated from the race with a cylinder failure; Williams likewise should have proven their closest challengers, but Felipe Massa succumbed to an accidental assault from Kamui Kobayashi at turn one while Valterri Bottas blundered on his way to 5th place when he scraped along one of the Albert Park circuit’s notorious barriers.
With Sepang rewarding cars with a perfect aero balance to tackle the long straights and high speed sections, Merc’s F1W05 looks set to reprise its role as leader of the pack, while constructor’s championship leaders McLaren have conceded that they have work to do in order to win races; Racing Director Eric Boullier claimed earlier in the week that pacesetters Mercedes and Williams have ‘between half and three quarters of a second’ over the rest of the field in normal conditions.
But with thunderstorms set to blight the weekend conditions look like being anything but normal.
When rain strikes in Malaysia it is often sudden, sharp and an incredible game-changer – look at the 2001 and 2009 races if you struggle to believe me. While both drivers expected to win eventually triumphed in those respective seasons, the rain had a similar effect to a lottery and provided some of the most thrilling entertainment of the year.
Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification from the Australian Grand Prix stands until Red Bull have learned the result of their appeal scheduled in April, though the odds stacked against the Austrian team and the unfortunate Aussie seem insurmountable. Red Bull’s main defence seems to be they believe they were in the right and everyone else is wrong; not an attitude that is going to sit well with the FIA who had already warned them of the dangers of running a faulty fuel feed monitor.
In amongst this it has been almost forgotten that Red Bull made a huge step forward in Melbourne relative to their dire testing form a mere fortnight earlier. From struggling to complete a lap, Ricciardo not only seized a front row position but raced strongly – forgetting the slight advantage the technical faux pas gave him – and showed there is inherent and startling speed contained within the RB10. They could be a force in Malaysia, and reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel depserately needs to get back to the front soon if he is to challenge for that fifth world title.
Watch this space.