Thrill to the spectacle of racing in Malaysia as the Sepang circuit heats up once again. Hugh Ujhazy looks back at the 2013 season, and offers his take on what’s to come in this year’s races.
Barely had the dust settled on the 2013 Formula One season than thoughts headed into 2014. Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull were king of the mountain for another year, chalking up nine straight race victories and a fourth
In truth, 2014 was never going to be easy. New engines lead a raft of new regulations, a musical chairs session of driver changes, and a calendar that drops races in Korea and India while adding events in Russia and Austria.
Some things haven’t changed, of course. L’enfant terrible, Sebastian Vettel, returns in his customary seat with a new wing man in the person of Daniel Ricardo. Mark Weber may have gone on to Porsche, but the Australian part of Red Bull remains strong with Mr Ricardo. Mr Vettel’s trademark end of race donuts have now been legalized, so there will be even more smoking rubber on the track.
With the engine capacity changing to 1.6-litre turbocharged V6 units, all the teams have only limited time to get their “package” right in the lead up to the opening race. Expected to be quieter than their V8 cousins from seasons gone by, there is no expectation that speed or spectacle will diminish this year. If the pre-season testing results are anything to go by, we may even see some engine failures littering the field during 2014.
A Glimpse Back, A Look Forward
Mercedes failed to shine in 2013 and, deprived of team mentor Ross Brawn, will be looking for early results from their star driver, Louis Hamilton. A weak season last year plagued with mechanical problems and tire problems is hopefully behind him and he will be seeking a strong finish before leaving the tropics to head up to Bahrain.
There’s also no hiding from the fact that the 2013 season was an unmitigated disaster for McLaren. Without a single podium to celebrate for the entire season, the Woking-based team experienced its worst season in Formula One since 1980. McLaren abandoned hopes for 2013 and concentrated its efforts on the 2014 car. With two supercars debuting in short order in 2013, re-establishing racing credentials is critical for McLaren this year, as it is for their star driver, Jenson Button.
The shape of other teams has also received a shake-up. The Finnish racer Kimi Raikkonen now sits beside Spain’s two-time world champion, Fernando Alonso, in the Ferrari lineup. With both drivers known for their laser focus on winning, the shared livery will do little to cool the competition between the two. An acknowledged weak car last season and lackluster results have pressures running high on the prancing horse.
Off To The Races
Formula 1 in Malaysia lives at the Sepang International Circuit, right beside the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The Malaysian Grand Prix is one of the most demanding and technical circuits of the Formula 1 racing calendar. Appreciated by motorsport fans and F1 enthusiasts, this is a hot ticket in March.The track, like the airport, is approximately 60km south of the city, so cars, buses, and taxis are the preferred access methods. If you are driving, do make sure you arrive early to avoid delay due to traffic congestion around the site.
Designed by German designer Hermann Tilke, the Sepang course shares characteristics seen in tracks in Shanghai, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, and Austin, Texas. The main circuit is just over 5km in length, with long sweeping corners (15 in total) and two long straightaways where cars can exceed 300km per hour.
For the best view of the race, try for seats in the K grandstand. Sited at the end of the start/finish straight, the cars leap off the start line to thunder down to the first turn before braking at over five Gs to take the snaking bends of turns two and three. The panoramic views from this location easily beat the much pricier seats located along the front straight as they allow spectators a fuller view of the race.
Last year’s race in Sepang was touted as the turning point for Red Bull and the race that helped Mark Weber make his exit from F1. The close-fought drama between the number one and number two cars in that race ranks as a highlight of a season which turned into a procession of victories for Vettel. Drivers from Mercedes, Ferrari, Lotus, and Force India will be looking for a repeat of that battle this year, with the outcome bending in their favor.
Sepang is only the second race of the year. The street circuit in Melbourne limits the extent of a full-out battle between the front-running teams. So, as the cars get unloaded onto the circuit, Sepang will be the first port of call for full-on racing on a custom built F1 circuit.
The Weather Factor
Notorious for its unpredictable weather, Sepang is also a trial for drivers and their cars. Typically, practice and qualifying sessions remain hot, humid, and dry. It’s only on the race afternoon at 3pm on Sunday, it seems, that the heavens teeter on the brink of downpour. With the races at this track having a spotty history of being stopped due to the weather, the worst nightmares for the re-designed cars, freshly minted drivers and teams only beginning to gel early in the season, would be a race that gyrates from wet to dry.
For those of us in the stands watching the F1 circus in all its glory, variable weather can only make the show more riveting. The racing team of Tony Fernandez, Caterham racing, will once more field the British racing green cars it has become renowned for. Though still off the podium, the rule changes, new engines from Renault and a new driver line up provide acres of opportunity for the team to push its way forward through the field.
The 2014 season is limited to only 19 races, down from the 22 last season. With fewer races in the calendar, the urge to lay down early wins will be intense. Malaysia will be the psychological key to dominating the first half of the season. If Red Bull can deliver on the promise of an aggressive launch in Australia and Malaysia, they can surge ahead over the big name factory teams.
F1 drivers reach places the rest of us can only dream of, allowing us to take part in something exceptional. Sitting in the stands at Sepang in March, watch with wonder as the distant high-pitched engine whine rapidly shifts from a toothacheinducing intensity and slows to a corner
before flashing off into the distance.
See you there in late March. Bring earplugs.
2014 Formula 1 Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix. Sepang International Circuit, March 28-30. For tickets: www.tickets2gp.com
Source: Senses of Malaysia March/April 2014
Read more Formula One Stories: Formula 1 to Roar Into Malaysia This March!
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