Next up on F1’s tour of the Far East is Sepang, near Kuala Lumpur – home of the Malaysian Grand Prix. We hope you’ve packed your brolly because it could be a wet one. Here are five things we’re excited to see in Sepang…
Does Lewis have an answer to Nico’s current hot streak?
Whilst we’d all love to see another team in the mix for this year’s title, the intra-team battle between Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg has never been closer, and never more intriguing. After a dominant middle part to the season, many thought the season was over as a contest and that Nico Rosberg couldn’t possibly fight his way back into contention. But as his performance in Singapore demonstrated, he can be very difficult to beat when is on-form.
This weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix offers up another tantalising head-to-head fight between the championship contenders and Hamilton said this week he has no idea if or when the momentum will swing back in his direction. One thing’s for sure – he can’t afford to have too many more weekends like he had in Singapore.
Can Ferrari regain the advantage in their fight with Red Bull?
In last year’s Malaysian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel was the class of the field as he took his fourth Malaysian victory and his first ever as a Ferrari driver. Repeating that this year will be tricky, as Ferrari are yet to reach the top step of the podium in 2016. They’re currently locked in a tense battle with Red Bull and after missing out on a podium finish in Singapore, they’re now fifteen points behind them in the constructors’ championship.
Most teams have now switched their attentions fully onto next year’s car, but Ferrari have opted to bring aero updates this weekend as they try to move back ahead of Red bull in the championship. Mercedes will start the weekend as firm favourites, but they’ll be keeping one eye on the battle right behind them.
Sepang’s predictably unpredictable weather
As we’ve witnessed several times in the past, the weather in this part of the world can change very, very quickly. I’ve been to Malaysia myself, and it’s not uncommon for the weather to go from hot and humid to a full-on tropical thunderstorm in just a few minutes – especially in the afternoon. Back in 2009, we experienced one of the absolute worst downpours in recent memory and that year we were also treated to the now famous “Felipe baby, stay cool!” line as Rob Smedley tried to calm an animated Felipe Massa on the grid.
At the time of writing this, the forecast predicts showers throughout the weekend and a 50-60% chance of rain during the race. There’re a few teams up and down the pit lane that thrive in wet conditions, and Ferrari, in particular, may see it as an opportunity to snatch a race win away from Mercedes this year.
The return of GP2 and GP3
After a one-month break, the GP2 and GP3 championships resume this weekend as the fight to reach the F1 grid draws closer to its conclusion. In GP2, Red Bull protégé Pierre Gasly leads series rookie Antonio Giovinazzi by just ten points and has been hotly tipped to graduate to the Toro Rosso team next year, possibly as a replacement for the under-fire Daniil Kvyat.
In GP3, Ferrari academy driver Charles Leclerc looks to have the championship sewn up with a commanding lead over second place man Antonio Fuoco. There’s plenty of British interest on the GP3 grid too, with Jake Dennis, Jack Aitken, Matt Parry, and Jake Hughes all with a chance of reaching the podium this weekend.
Jenson Button’s 300th Grand Prix start
Last, but by no means least, our very own Jenson Button will reach the milestone of 300 Grand Prix starts this weekend. It may actually turn out to be his final Malaysian Grand Prix, and if it is, he’ll have some fond memories of this circuit when he eventually hangs up his helmet. He scored his first ever F1 podium here back in 2004 and repeated the feat two years later with another third place finish.
His best result here came during his title-winning year with Brawn when he took pole position and won a shortened 31 lap race, after torrential rain and fading light brought out the red flag. We may well see the rain again this year, but unfortunately, we’re unlikely to see a farewell JB win!