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).
Mar 29, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
F1 will continue to visit the Sepang International Circuit until 2018 after a deal was signed on Sunday.
Mar 29, 2015, 12:52 PM EDT
Graham Rahal breaks up the Penske juggernaut and leads IndyCar warmup at St. Petersburg.
Mar 29, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
All three drivers sanctioned by the stewards for misdemeanors in today’s race.
Mar 29, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
Red Bull endures a miserable day in Malaysia, scoring just three points in total.
Mar 29, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
Simply finishing the race must go down as an incredible achievement for Manor.
Mar 29, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Did a mistake in Q1 on Saturday cost Lewis Hamilton a chance to win the Malaysian Grand Prix?
Mar 29, 2015, 7:15 AM EDT
Breaking the record by over two years, Max Verstappen cemented his place in the F1 history books in Malaysia on Sunday.
Mar 29, 2015, 6:30 AM EDT
Ferrari team principal oversees his first victory since taking the helm at Maranello.
Mar 29, 2015, 5:56 AM EDT
German driver didn’t expect his challenge to Ferrari in Australia to be taken up so quickly.
Mar 29, 2015, 5:36 AM EDT
British driver humble in defeat after losing out to Vettel and Ferrari in Malaysia.
Mar 29, 2015, 5:19 AM EDT
German driver claims a superb win in Malaysia in just his second race for Ferrari.
Mar 29, 2015, 4:46 AM EDT
Ferrari claims its first win since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix as Vettel perfects his strategy to win at Sepang.
Mar 29, 2015, 2:34 AM EDT
Fuel system problem sidelines the Briton on Sunday for Manor.
Mar 29, 2015, 2:15 AM EDT
Join us on NBCSN and Live Extra for all of the action from Malaysia as Lewis Hamilton goes in search of another race win.
Mar 29, 2015, 2:00 AM EDT
Lewis Hamilton will lead the grid away at Sepang on Sunday.
Mar 28, 2015, 9:01 PM EDT
It was a double dose of Force in Saturday’s final rounds of qualifying for the sixth-annual NHRA 4-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C.
Mar 28, 2015, 7:46 PM EDT
Roundup of the rest of Saturday’s action from St. Petersburg.
Mar 28, 2015, 7:20 PM EDT
NBC Sports Group’s “Off the Grid” digital series hits Mexico City, set to premiere on March 31.
Mar 28, 2015, 7:11 PM EDT
Simona de Silvestro happy to be somewhat disappointed with 11th in IndyCar qualifying at St. Petersburg.
- Emotional Vettel revels in first victory for Ferrari 4
- Vettel claims shock win for Ferrari in Malaysia as Mercedes pays for strategy mistake 7
- NHRA: C. Force, Todd, McGaha and Arana Jr. qualify No. 1 for 4-Wide Nationals eliminations 0
- Teaser clip: F1 on NBC’s “Off the Grid” hits Mexico (VIDEO) 1
- Power on pole in Penske top-four sweep of St. Petersburg qualifying 1
- One spectator killed, others injured, at VLN Endurance event in Germany 4
- Hamilton delighted after claiming 40th career pole (VIDEO) 3