Malaysian GP Preview
So much happened on Sunday, that it was almost impossible to digest but one thing is clear, Lewis Hamilton is the man to beat in 2008. The superbly-talented Brit has taken it up a step this season and got himself in the best position in Melbourne, out in front and away from the carnage.
The reality is if there hadn't been so many safety car periods in that race, Hamilton would have won by nearly a minute such was his pace when the race was going at full tilt. While a few drivers managed to make ground in short bursts, they were unable to seriously challenge the new prince of F1 racing.
Reliability is everything in F1 and McLaren looks the most reliable vehicle on the grid at the moment with Heikki Kovalainen picking up three points for fifth last week. The Finn also produced the fastest lap in the race in a solid debut for his new team. However, he did make a last lap error, missing an upshift and allowing Fernando Alonso, the man he switched with over the off-season, to get past him.
Considering all in the paddock believe it's going to be a battle between McLaren and Ferrari, it wasn't a good start to the season for the Prancing Horse. Felipe Massa found more trouble than the early explorers before his car finally gave up on lap 29, and the Brazilian had plenty of food for though after an erratic drive.
Kimi Raikkonen looked nothing like a world champion in his efforts in Melbourne, twice going off the track as he struggled to get used of a car without traction control. His car also gave up the ghost, but he still managed to get a point after Rubens Barrichello was disqualified. It is the first time that both Ferraris have failed to complete full distance since the 2006 Australian race.
BMW Sauber appears the main threat to the top two after Nick Heidfeld finished second in Melbourne and Robert Kubica crashed out in unlucky circumstances. Kubica has grown immensely as a driver in the off-season and was unlucky not to get pole, let alone be taken out by Kazuki Nakajima in the race. It's hardly a surprise that this team is the challenger to the top two given they were the third best team of last year.
Nico Rosberg's first podium was a great way for Williams to kick off the year, but there must be concern about the issues they suffered early in race weekend. There also must be concern about whether Nakajima is up to the task after his silly error cost both he and Kubica points. He was penalized ten spots on the grid for this weekend's race for that infraction.
It's a similar story over at Renault, where Fernando Alonso appears set for a season as a lone wolf. Nelsinho Piquet made so many rookie errors on the weekend that it's hard to see him getting up on the pace until at least mid-year. As long as he doesn't take out his team-mate, all should remain calm in the Renault garage.
It's not so calm at Red Bull, with David Coulthard fuming after being taken out by Massa and Mark Webber miffed at his total lack of luck. There were good signs in terms of pace in Melbourne but reliability will again be all important.
All of the remaining teams would have been busy putting their cars back together after such a tumultuous weekend, and there will be a few racing against time, particular at Toyota after Timo Glock's car was destroyed.
Alonso has won in Malaysia twice before, once in a Renault in 2005 and last year for McLaren. In between Giancarlo Fisichella won in a Renault, while Raikkonen is the only other current driver to win this race, for McLaren in 2003. In a positive sign for those at McLaren, the team went one-two here last year after Massa faltered from pole.
Given the way Hamilton dominated the opening race and the fact McLaren performed so well last year, it would be hard to go against the Woking-based outfit. But if Ferrari is going to be competitive, they have to show improvement here.
Sepang Track Preview
Having hosted its first F1 round in 1999, the 5.548km, 15-turn track that was built in the Malaysian city of Selangor with fast racing in mind also hosts Moto GP, A1 Grand Prix and other Asian motorsports events.
Designed by German Hermann Tilke, who has also been responsible for fellow 21st century circuits at Shanghai, Bahrain and Turkey, Sepang is uniquely known because the back straight and main straight are separated only by a hairpin turn.
Also known for its sweeping corners, with 10 right-hand turns and five left corners, the only real criticism of the circuit from those who drive on it is that the surface is a little uneven. That is perhaps explained by the high humidity that is a factor in Malaysia and the fact the track was built where there was once a swamp, which may be causing the surface to slowly sink over time.
The main track can also be divided into two, with the north circuit that virtually includes the first half of the main track 2.71km in length and the south circuit that covers the second half 2.61km long.
The other factor sure to play a part over the weekend is the weather, with the high temperatures and humidity making life tough for all involved, from the mechanics to the riders themselves.
The run from the grid is quite long and at the start of Sunday's race there is sure to be plenty of jostling of positions as the drivers go from 300kmh to 75kmh into turn one. The track continues to bend sharp right, before a second turn back left through second gear.
The cars then open up through a sweeping turn three, taken at around 240kmh, up to close to top speed into a tight right-hander, taken in second gear at around 110kmh which ends sector one.
The long s-bends of turn five and six are taken at around 250kmh before its back up to 300 down a short straight. There is the double kink of turns seven and eight, another short straight before a wicked left-handed hairpin which has the driver back in double figures on the speedo and at the end of sector two.
Sector three starts with two long left-handed turns, 10 and 11, which flow into two high speed corners, 12 and 13. Turn 14 swings back right and into the second longest straight on the track. By the end of this section, the drivers are at full speed before the final left-handed hairpin, Turn 15, which is taken at around 85kmh, brings them back onto the home straight again. Australian GP
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