Formula 1 heats up on and off the track this weekend as the drivers take to tropical Malaysia.
With only 6 races left on the calendar, the Malaysian Grand Prix may prove pivotal in the championship battle with Lewis Hamilton looking to re-gain momentum and overturn an 8-point deficit to team-mate Nico Rosberg.
Stung by a series of mechanical failures and poor starts, Hamilton fell 42-points behind Rosberg earlier in the season only to discover some form and lead the championship. But a series of victories for Rosberg and a disastrous outing in Singapore has left the Englishman needing a strong result in Malaysia.
This won’t be so easy at the challenging Sepang track – a circuit where teams must balance long straights, sweeping corners, newly laid asphalt and changeable weather conditions.
The track became a fixture on the Formula 1 calendar in 1999 and has witnessed some classic moments, including the race where Vettel defied team orders to overtake Webber.
While the circuit features a mix of twisting corners and two long straights at the start and end of the lap, it is the grip level and temperatures on everyone’s mind.
Sepang was re-surfaced about six months ago and it remains to be seen how the grip levels will be affected. On top of this, the overbearing heat makes it tough on both drivers and cars. The engineers face the challenge of cooling the engines and managing tyre degradation, while the drivers will need to race through temperatures that reached as high as 64 degrees last year and handle the threat of tropical thunderstorms.
“The Sepang circuit poses a tough technical challenge for our mechanics and engineers, who have to strike a delicate compromise between efficient cooling, aerodynamic performance and balance, so Friday running will be important initially in order to assess the impact of the new track surface on the car and the re-profiling of some corners,” said Eric Boullier from McLaren.
For the drivers and the teams, there’s still plenty up for grabs.
At the front of the pack, Hamilton will be giving his all to get maximum points at a fast circuit well suited to the Mercedes.
“I have no idea if the momentum will swing back to me or when it might,” said the reigning champion.
“But we still have six races left, so I just have to keep giving it my all and hope for the best. That’s all you can do as a sportsman.”
“It’s going to take some good results to get back in front and stay there – but I’ve had plenty of those in the past, so there’s no reason to think they won’t come back to me again. Sepang is my first shot at it and I’m really looking forward to getting out there.”
Further back, some drivers have an eye to their future and are racing for a spot in 2018. Rumors abound that Renault are actively looking in the market for a new driver and Palmer’s position is precarious. But the Englishman remains focused and is “pumped up” for Sepang.
The Malaysian Grand Prix will start at 15:00 local time and will run over 56 laps.