Mar 26, 2014, 9:57 AM EDT
Often one of the hottest Grands Prix, the Malaysian Grand Prix is an early-season challenge and massive departure from the season-opener in Australia.
Unlike the concrete confines of the city park circuit in Melbourne, the Sepang International Circuit is the first of the year’s Hermann Tilke-designed circuits, a track with unlimited runoff, long straights into tight hairpins, and a series of sweeping mid-gear corners.
The test at Sepang is to master all of them while the ambient temperature hovers in the 90-degree Fahrenheit mark, with track temperatures anywhere from 130 to 140 degrees.
This week is no different. Ambient temperatures are expected in the low 90s and there’s a 60 percent chance of rain for both Saturday and Sunday.
Some surprises have popped up in the races where rain has interrupted the heat flow. The race began in mixed conditions last year and caught Fernando Alonso out, but Alonso was able to take an at the time mid-pack Ferrari to a win here in the rain in 2012 by holding off a charging Sergio Perez in his Sauber.
Jenson Button’s 2009 win in Malaysia came when the race was cut short by rain, and awarded half points.
Every year in the last five but Alonso’s triumph in 2012 has seen the eventual World Champion win this race – besides Button in ’09, Sebastian Vettel has had the race his way in all of 2010, 2011 and most recently and controversially, last year in the infamous “Multi 21″ scandal with Red Bull teammate Mark Webber.
But prior to that this race featured a wild card of different winners.
Vettel’s 2010 win made it five different winners in as many years, with five different teams. Button’s Brawn-Mercedes (2009), Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari (2008), Alonso’s McLaren-Mercedes (2007) and Giancarlo Fisichella’s Renault (2006) were previous winners of the event before then.
Alonso’s 2005 win, then with Renault, propelled his first championship charge. Raikkonen won his first career Grand Prix with McLaren in 2003. Michael (2004, 2001, 2000) and Ralf Schumacher (2002) and Eddie Irvine (1999) can also count themselves as Malaysian GP winners.
Taking all that into account, Malaysia this time around is not the easiest to predict.
Yes, Vettel has scored three of the last four wins at this circuit but the Red Bull is not the car of choice at the moment – strange as that is to write. But a Vettel win now would probably rank with his initial Grand Prix victory, 2008 at Monza with Toro Rosso, on the surprise scale.
Mercedes may have the car to beat but neither Lewis Hamilton nor Nico Rosberg have won at its sponsor’s home Grand Prix.
McLaren? They haven’t won since Button triumphed at the 2012 curtain-closer in Sao Paulo, and a Kevin Magnussen victory this early in his career would certainly be something to remember.
What about Ferrari? Six times a winner here but a 2014 victory for either of Fernando or Kimi would fall along the lines of Alonso’s 2012 win, in a case of man overachieving in his machine. Their pace seems slightly suspect in comparison to the Mercedes-powered cars.
And what of the sleepers, a Williams or a Force India for instance? Williams showed it had the chops at Melbourne and Felipe Massa will no doubt be keen to avenge his first lap disaster Down Under, while Valtteri Bottas looks to build on his storming driver. Force India’s Perez and Nico Hulkenberg are definite points contenders with perhaps more to gain from a strong qualifying effort.
Like at Melbourne, we don’t have a great idea of who will win for the first of the new car/new era races at a Tilke-designed track. And that should only add to the intrigue of this week in Malaysia.
You can see the Malaysian Grand Prix this weekend on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra at 2:00 a.m. ET (FP2, Friday 3/28), 4:00 a.m. ET (qualifying, Saturday 3/29) and the race 3:30 a.m. ET (Sunday 3/30).
Jul 4, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
The coinage of a new term took place at Silverstone on Thursday thanks for Force India’s owner.
Jul 4, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
Both Ferraris will start behind Williams for the first time in 2015 on Sunday.
Jul 4, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
The Red Bull driver will start tomorrow’s British Grand Prix from tenth place on the grid.
Jul 4, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
A lively GP2 race sees Sirotkin claim his first win in the series ahead of Rossi and championship leader Stoffel Vandoorne.
Jul 4, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
Dutchman admits to NBCSN that he thought he would easily make it through to Q3 in British GP qualifying.
Jul 4, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
Massa will start tomorrow’s British Grand Prix from third place on the grid ahead of Williams teammate Valtteri Bottas.
Jul 4, 2015, 9:47 AM EDT
Hamilton thanks fans for support as over 100,000 come out for qualifying on Saturday at Silverstone.
Jul 4, 2015, 9:05 AM EDT
Hamilton edges out Rosberg for top spot in Q3 on Saturday at Silverstone.
Jul 4, 2015, 7:45 AM EDT
Can Lewis Hamilton storm to his eighth pole position of the 2015 Formula 1 season on Saturday at Silverstone?
Jul 4, 2015, 6:02 AM EDT
British driver back on top at Silverstone as Rosberg suffers another gearbox problem.
Jul 4, 2015, 4:45 AM EDT
Rosberg looks to make it a clean sweep of practice sessions on Saturday morning.
Jul 3, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
Sirotkin claims his first pole in the GP2 Series on Friday ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne and Richie Stanaway.
Jul 3, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
Foust seeks another win, Speed looks for bounce back from tough Daytona at MCAS.
Jul 3, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
The street and road course specialist gets his first taste of an oval in Iowa this week.
Jul 3, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
Wolff finishes eight-tenths of a second behind regular Williams driver Felipe Massa in FP1 on Friday.
Jul 3, 2015, 1:22 PM EDT
British driver switches back to the old setting on his Mercedes after struggling in the past four races.
Jul 3, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
Raikkonen hits back at questions about his motivation as rumors of a possible driver change at Ferrari begin to circulate.
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