More Malaysian preamble

April 1, 2009

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the first Malaysian Grand Prix.  It increasingly looks like a marker post for the future of Formula 1, the first stage in the expansion of the sport into the East.  More importantly, though, it has usually provided some good, interesting racing, which is all that really matters.  As is my wont, I’ve decided to crunch some hard stats about the Malaysian Grand Prix.

2004

Date: 21.3.2004.  Weather: Hot, dry and sunny.  Pole position: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) 1m33.047.  Fastest race lap: Juan Pablo Montoya 1m34.223  Race winner: Michael Schumacher, from Juan Pablo Montoya and Jenson Button (BAR Honda).

Notes: The second round of a World Championship completely dominated by Michael Schumacher and Ferrari.  The German won the first 5 races of the year and thirteen in total to win his 7th World Championship.  As you might expect from such a season, the race win here was very much a foregone conclusion, although there was some extra spice for British fans as Jenson Button scored his first ever podium finish in a Grand Prix.

2005

Date: 20.3.2005.  Weather: Hot, dry and sunny.  Pole position: Fernando Alonso (Renault) 3m07.672 (2 lap aggregate).  Fastest race lap: Kimi Räikkönen (McLaren Mercedes) 1m35.483  Race winner: Fernando Alonso, from Jarno Trulli (Toyota) and Nick Heidfeld (Williams BMW).

Notes: All change, with Michael Schumacher a distant 13th on the grid after practice problems in a largely uncompetitive Ferrari.  The 2005 rules, with no mid-race tyre stops allowed, also played havoc on the field as cars demolished their rear tyres in the heat, making for some exciting and unpredictable on-track dices.  One such battle saw a waning Giancarlo Fisichella passed by Nick Heidfeld for the final podium spot, only to tangle his Renault into a scrap heap with Heidfeld’s teammate Mark Webber at the next corner.  At the front, Alonso was serene.  Behind him, Toyota scored their first podium finish.

2006

Date: 19.3.2006.  Weather: Hot, dry and sunny.  Pole position: Giancarlo Fisichella (Renault) 1m33.840.  Fastest race lap: Fernando Alonso (Renault) 1m33.803 Race winner: Giancarlo Fisichella, from Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button (Honda).

Notes: With Ferrari again slow to start the season, Renault again dominated the Malaysian Grand Prix, this time with Fisichella in control of the race, for once having the measure of Fernando Alonso, who qualified only 7th but came through quickly.  Jenson Button scored the reformed Honda team an early podium finish, but was never realistically on terms.

2007

Date: 8.4.2007.  Weather: Hot, dry and sunny.  Pole position: Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1m35.043  Fastest race lap:Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 1m36.701 Race winner: Fernando Alonso (McLaren Mercedes), from Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari).

Notes: An engrossing McLaren versus Ferrari showdown.  The red cars had the best of the practice, lining up 1st and 3rd.  However, on the run down to the first corner, the McLarens got amongst them.  As Alonso scampered off to his first win for McLaren – the team’s first, too, since Japan 2005 – Lewis Hamilton, in his second Grand Prix, served notice that he was going to cause the major players all kinds of trouble.  His determined and ultimately successful dice with the Ferrari pair, coupled to a fastest lap, made certain Formula 1 had a new star driver.

2008

Date: 23.3.2008.  Weather: Hot, dry and sunny.  Pole position: Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1m35.748  Fastest race lap:Nick Heidfeld (BMW Sauber) 1m35.366 Race winner: Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari), from Robert Kubica (BMW Sauber) and Heikki Kovalainen (McLaren Mercedes).

Notes: The bad blood between McLaren and Ferrari was still flowing under the surface from the fractious 2007 season.  Last year, the McLaren duo of Hamilton and Kovalainen were penalised for blocking other cars during qualifying, losing five grid places each.  Making hay, the Ferrari team had a largely untroubled run to race victory, although a one-two finish was lost after Felipe Massa lost control and spun into retirement at the fast double right-hander round the back of the circuit.

2009…

As I said yesterday, it’s hard to see any real changes in the order of the cars from Melbourne.  However, the field are so closely matched that subtle areas where one car is better than another or one driver is a particular Sepang enthusiast could realistically pay dividends.  KERS will no doubt be important on race day, with the two long straights joined together by the tight final corner.  Expect, too, the extravagant front wings to be flying into the first corner on the first lap.  Seeing as it’s not rained properly since 2001 during the race, that’s long overdue.  It’s perhaps made more likely by the start time, moved back to the early evening to better suit European TV schedules, as it was last weekend in Australia.  It’s also a traditional time for a decent-sized tropical evening downpour.  I think we could be in for another exciting Grand Prix race.

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