Sepang: Heat, humidity and horsepower…
20 March 2013 – Kimi Räikkönen’s victory in Australia certainly turned a few heads, with the Finn delivering a master class amid a plethora of questions about the pecking order. Five teams all capable of winning races? Not quite, but we’re still in line for a thriller of a Formula 1 season. And now, with the paddock rolling on to a hot and humid Malaysia, we should get an even clearer picture of the performance ladder.
Räikkönen was back to his best in Melbourne. Although Lotus found itself a little off the pace in qualifying, the situation changed on Sunday afternoon. The E20's impressive tyre management has clearly carried over to 2013, with the E21 showing even stronger capabilities in this area. While Räikkönen’s rivals were struggling to cope with three stops, he made a two-stop plan work and enjoyed ‘one of the easiest victories’ of his Formula 1 career. An ominous message for his rivals, perhaps?
Let’s travel back 12 months. Fernando Alonso struggles to ninth on the grid in a troublesome Ferrari, 1.3 seconds adrift of pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton. Fast forward 24 hours and the unpredictable weather kicks in, with the Spaniard taking full advantage by storming to victory. We could see some real surprises if the heavens open again on race day.
One team banking on this factor is McLaren. While the likes of Räikkönen, Alonso and reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel got their title bids off to a strong start, the Woking-based squad is in a less-than-ideal position. I will put my hands up. I was definitely too positive about the team’s chances ahead of the season opener, but their struggles have even surprised former driver Lewis Hamilton, who played a key role in the development of the MP4-28 until he signed his Mercedes contract in September.
Another outfit hoping for a vast improvement in performance is Williams. While Force India surged ahead in the expected midfield battle with a double points finish in Melbourne, the Grove-based team endured a Q1 exit and a one-car, non-points result. During practice it evaluated two aero packages, but clearly took the wrong direction. Ahead of Malaysia, Technical Director Mike Coughlan says a better setup route has been discovered with a view to scoring points. Only time will tell on that one.
In all areas of the grid, we have a fascinating Formula 1 campaign on our hands. Will Vettel, Alonso and Räikkönen be the trio at the top of the standings once again? Can Webber and Massa get back on terms with their team-mates? Is McLaren able to right the wrongs of its MP4-28 and join the lead battle? Will Force India keep Sauber and Williams at bay? And, is Marussia in with a genuine shot of casting Caterham aside? We will be one step closer to finding answers to all of these questions in Malaysia.
There are also two DRS zones at the venue for the first time... I can’t wait.