10 Things To Watch For At Sepang

Date published: March 25 2015

And off they go to Sepang for the Malaysian Grand Prix. Andrew Davies looks at the important things ahead of the race.

* Although the Constructors' title looks as bolted on as it did for Ferrari in 2002, Nico Rosberg needs to bounce back from the defeat of Melbourne and start attacking Lewis Hamilton. In 2014 Lewis had one of his most dominant wins in Malaysia and so Rosberg needs to get under his skin… without incurring the wrath of Toto Wolff. Strategy on a ‘high deg’ circuit where sudden rain is always a possibility may be his best bet if he is to slow down the Hamilton juggernaut.

* Some of the no-shows for the Australian Grand Prix should be at Sepang for the Malaysian Grand Prix. Marussia-Manor flew back to the UK from Australia to continue working on their car and getting it to talk to the computer systems on the pitwall and in the garage. Boss John Booth is confident that they’ll be up and running this time round. Nobody’s doing the, 'have you tried turning it off and turning it on again' joke any more.

* Valtteri Bottas has confirmed that his back issue is no longer a problem and that he should be able to get out of his Williams-Mercedes in the mandatory time. What has not been confirmed is Fernando Alonso’s race participation. El Nano will be at Sepang where he will undergo further tests (Thursday) before he is given the all-clear to race. He has been able to remember enough about the Barcelona testing accident to say that the steering "went heavy" but many remain unconvinced that that was the true cause of the accident. Kevin Magnussen is on standby.

* The weather for Sepang should be pretty constant. A constant threat of thunder, lightning and downpours mixed in with fierce sunshine, high humidity and temperatures around 33C. It’s the same on all three days, with probable downpours around 4pm. Kimi’s ice creams will be on standby.

* With the high temperatures and high humidity, drivers have to arrive early and acclimatise to the conditions, as Daniel Ricciardo is well aware. "I think once you're in the car it's hard, the work is done before getting in it. Hydration is really, really important and keeps you cooler. The more hydrated you are, the more your body dispatches the heat. And do some heat training before the event to make it feel like it's not as hot, but once you're in the car, it's like a sauna and you can't get out of it."

* At the first race of the season Red Bull boss Christian Horner was already moaning about engine equality and this week Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul has pre-empted any further whingeing by declaring that his engine ‘won’t win a race this season’. Along with Cyril’s announcement was the ‘dig’ that the engine manufacturer had been bounced into some ill-advised shortcuts – presumably by the Red Bull team – and that they hadn’t worked out. Watch to see if this story plays out some more in the paddock.

* Unlike Albert Park, Sepang has some of the most abrasive asphalt and a number of fast corners that take a lot of energy out of the tyres. Couple this with high track temperatures and you can see why Pirelli have chosen the two hardest tyres in the locker: P Zero Orange hard and P Zero White medium. "We should see a return to at least two stops per car in Malaysia," predicts Pirelli motorsport boss Paul Hembery, "perhaps more if the weather gets in the way. Wear and degradation is traditionally very high in Sepang, so managing the tyres and the strategy carefully will be key to success."

* The high temperatures will do nothing to ease the troubles of the already-too-hot McLaren-Honda, which struggled to keep cool even in the temperate climes of Melbourne. The Malaysian GP is often the hottest of the year with the track temperature reaching towards 50C. Jenson Button sounds like he’s been spending too much time with his boss, Ron ‘Ronspeak’ Dennis. Talking about the achievement of pushing the McLaren MP4-30 to go a race distance in Melbourne… "getting to the chequered flag has meant that we’re now armed with much more data about our package and we can learn a huge amount from it."

* The heat will also be the toughest physical test ever faced by rookies, Felipe Nasr, Carlos Sainz Jr, Max Verstappen – and if they make it to the end, Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi. GP2 races don’t equip drivers with the stamina to face an arduous F1 race distance, let alone in extreme conditions at a track where there are some very fast, high-G corners. And at the same time they’ll have to watch out for tyre wear…

* Finally, Lotus will be looking to break their duck of race laps completed in 2015. In Melbourne the Enstone team were packing up the garages on Lap 2, without Romain Grosjean or Pastor Maldonado having troubled the timesheets. Pastor is bubbling with confidence right now – "we are not that bad" he enthused.

Andrew Davies