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The Malaysian Grand Prix Preview (27-29 March 2015)

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Lewis Hamilton took pole position, fastest lap and the race win in Melbourne


The Malaysian Grand Prix takes place at the Sepang International Circuit in Kuala Lumpur this weekend, where atmosphere and humidity always lead to a heated race weekend. This is the second round of the 2015 World Championship and you can expect to see drama, excitement and rain! Although Mercedes might be tipped as pre-race favourites after their dominant display in Australia, you’ll be pleased to know that in the last five seasons, only once has the winning margin been greater than five seconds!

The headlines from Melbourne

Lewis Hamilton starts 2015 in the same way he finished his Championship winning campaign of 2014- by taking the chequered flag on Sunday afternoon and leaving the rest of the grid, including team mate Nico Rosberg, scratching their heads. The win means that the Brit has now won seven of the last eight Grand Prix’s and is clearly in the form of his life, laying down one dominant performance after another. The frustration of Melbourne 2014 was well and truly put to bed as he left Australia with a seven point lead this time instead of a 25 point deficit.

Only 11 cars manage to finish the race after a multitude of drivers fail to make the start or are forced to retire later on. Fernando Alonso was ruled out weeks ago, but his replacement, Kevin Magnusson, failed to complete the formation lap and thus, make it to the grid. Daniil Kvyat suffered the same fate in his opening race for Red Bull. Valtteri Bottas was under doctors orders not to race after injuring a disk in his back in qualifying, whereas Manor Marussia were absent throughout the whole race weekend.

Sauber claim 14 points on first weekend after recording none in the whole of 2014. Despite all the off-track histrionics surrounding the Giedo Van der Garde court case, the team struck back in the best possible fashion with an unexpected 14 point haul. In fifth place, Felipe Nasr became the highest placed debut driver for Sauber, just nipping ahead of Kimi Raikkonen’s sixth place debut performance at the same track in 2001. In eighth place, Marcus Ericsson recorded his best ever finish, as well as becoming the first Swedish points-scorer in F1 since Stefan Johansson finished third at the 1989 Portuguese Grand Prix.

Vettel gets on the podium on Ferrari debut after finishing 30+ seconds behind the two Mercedes. The Melbourne Grand Prix wasn’t a classic and it’s unlikely to feature in Vettel’s top ever drives, but the German would have been pleased to get his Ferrari home for their first podium since Hungary last year. In the other Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen had also looked set for a strong points finish before being forced to retire after a wheel wasn’t fitted properly during his second pit stop.

As for our predictions for Melbourne? Well a first lap pile up didn’t quite come about and Vettel didn’t win the race, but he did take advantage of the mass retirements to finish on the podium. Daniel Riccardo was pretty quiet, finishing sixth in the end, but he was still full of smiles, so the glass is half full! Maybe we’ll be more sensible this week…

F1 and Finance are intrinsically linked, unfortunately

It has been another difficult couple of weeks in Formula 1. While the entertainment on the circuit in Melbourne was far from scintillating, the off-track drama has been making all the headlines. With Sauber’s three driver palaver and the announcement that Germany will now be absent from the 2015 calendar, F1 is dangerously close to becoming a farce. And yet again, the talking point is money.

Since Sauber’s considerable achievements on the track in Melbourne, we have learnt that they have agreed an out-of-court settlement with Giedo van der Garde, leaving Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson to battle it out for the rest of the season. Although Sauber have financially remunerated van der Garde in exchange for ripping up his contract (in the region of £11m), clearly no amount of money can compensate shattered dreams, as the Dutchman made perfectly clear when issuing this statement on Facebook:

“We have reached a settlement with Sauber and my driver contract with the team has been ended by mutual consent. As a passionate race driver, I feel sad and am very disappointed. I have worked very hard my entire career, ever since starting with go-karts at the age of eight, to live my dream and become a successful Formula One driver. I had hoped at last to be able to show what I am capable of, driving a car for a respected midfield team in the 2015 season. This dream has been taken away from me and I know that my future in Formula One is probably over.”

But the most disappointing news to come out this week, was the announcement that the German Grand Prix had been cut from the Formula 1 calendar for 2015. The Nurburgring was contracted to host this year’s event, but the owners (who have recently changed hands) have refused to pay the hosting fees. Hockenheim, who hosted the race last year, were asked to step into the breach, but track officials failed to agree terms with F1 commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone, presumably as they did not feel they had enough time to prepare and make the race (scheduled for 19 July) commercially viable.

This situation leaves the German Grand Prix absent from the F1 calendar for the first time since 1960 and now means there are only 19 races on the schedule. That, partnered with the financial woes of Manor Marussia, Sauber and Caterham in the recent months has somewhat tainted the image of this historic sport. Surely there must now be a financial restructure from top down that enables teams and tracks to participate if they are eager to contribute. This is F1 though and often money and politics win out, so don’t hold your breath.

The Malaysian Grand Prix

The Sepang International Circuit has been a regular fixture in the Formula 1 schedule since 1999. Over the last eight years, only five men have won the race, all of whom happen to be world champions and will line up on this Sunday’s grid. Since 2007, the winners have been Lewis Hamilton (2014), Sebastian Vettel (2010, 2011, 2013), Fernando Alonso (2007, 2012), Jensen Button (2009) and Kimi Raikkonen (2008). Can Nico Rosberg, Daniel Ricciardo or maybe Valterri Bottas break the mould this weekend, will Lewis make it two in two years or can Sebastian Vettel add to his three previous wins?

Sepang is one of the most technical circuits in Formula One, with tight, twisting corners and long, wide straights that make it as complex as it is enthralling. There are also two DRS zones that allow for plenty of overtaking opportunities and with variable weather conditions, action is guaranteed. Nevertheless, with the humidity, driving an F1 car around Sepang is like sitting in a sauna for two hours, so drivers have to battle the physical demands as well as the track itself. This also poses an almighty challenge for the mechanics who need to make sure their car makes it through such testing conditions.

Predictions

Malaysia is the home race for Petronas and in 2014, Hamilton was dominant, winning from pole as Mercedes’ took their first one-two since the 1955 Italian Grand Prix. After seeing their dominance in Melbourne, it is safe to assume that only reliability issues can stop Mercedes and Petronas having another successful weekend. We think Nico Rosberg will improve on Australia and take pole, but Hamilton is unstoppable in his current mood, so expect him to be on top spot come the anthems.

Two drivers that will be absolutely champing at the bit are McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Williams’ Valtteri Bottas. Both were prevented from racing in Melbourne due to medical advice, but have been given the go ahead for Malaysia. Alonso will be itching to get back in the car, despite having to watch Jenson Button limp over the line in 11th place in Melbourne. He was the only race finisher not to pick up any points and it is hard to see how the new McLaren-Honda combination will threaten the top 10, let alone the podium for quite some time.

Bottas will have a point to prove after Massa beat him here last year, whilst ignoring a team order to let him pass. Both Williams’ drivers will be strong contenders for that final podium position, but we also know that Vettel is really strong at this track. Our tip is for Bottas though this weekend, with his team mate narrowly behind.

What will be interesting is seeing the comparative pace of Sauber when all the teams start functioning at full capabilities. Lotus did not record a finish at all, while Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren and Toro Rosso all only managed one finish each in Melbourne. Our feeling is that the bubble might burst in Malaysia with Sauber just missing out on the points in race two. Let’s hope we see Manor Marussia make their debut as well and they will be over the moon if either of their cars make it across the finish line.

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