The pace of life in Formula 1 is relentless and just a couple of days after packing away the two F138 cars and all the equipment required to run them, Scuderia Ferrari is already hard at work at the Sepang circuit on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, preparing for the second round of the World Championship, the Malaysian Grand Prix. A positive, if hot and sticky atmosphere reigns in the garage, because thanks to a second placed Melbourne podium for Fernando Alonso and a fourth place for team-mate Felipe Massa, the team heads the first published Constructors’ classification of 2013. In fact, the two Ferrari men made the journey from Melbourne to Malaysia together on Tuesday and are now acclimatising to the torrid climate that will characterise this second round of the World Championship, with some physical training. “The first Grand Prix weekend of the season in Australia was a positive one for us as we had previously stated that our objective was to finish on the podium and that target was achieved,” confirms Team Principal Stefano Domenicali. However, there is no room for complacency as nothing in terms of a pit lane hierarchy is set in stone. “We have witnessed a weekend that was very unusual, with qualifying on Saturday and Sunday delivering a snapshot of the order that proved to be completely different come Sunday evening after the race,” adds Domenicali. “But, it was important to see both our drivers deliver strong performances, as it provides a great basis on which we can build a competitive season and I’m pleased for both of them. Seeing Ferrari heading the Constructors’ Championship is a great reward for the people who have been working so hard, both here at the track and back home in Maranello. But it’s only the first step in a very long season and now is the time to analyse and evaluate all the data from Melbourne in order to be immediately ready for this coming weekend in Malaysia.”
The Melbourne circuit is unique in many ways and Domenicali is well aware that this coming weekend will throw up a sharp contrast in terms of the challenges that await the teams. “Sepang is a very different track and our plan is to make the most of the package that we have,” maintains our Team Principal. “We need to wait and see how our car will behave in what is a totally different environment: the track will make different demands on the cars to the ones we experienced in Australia, with a change in track surface and the unique weather conditions, very hot and humid, will also impact on everyone’s performance this weekend. We know what is required here and we will need the usual compromise in terms of downforce levels to deal with both the tighter section and the two long fast straights.”
The 5.543 kilometre track can be characterised as medium to high speed, while the track surface itself is very abrasive. It puts the tyres under a lot of strain, which is why Pirelli has selected the Medium and Hard compounds for this weekend. In the cold of Melbourne, the teams saw signs of cold weather graining, whereas in the heat of Sepang, heat-induced degradation will be the order of the day, while the high speed turns generate high lateral loads on the tyres too. As Domenicali mentioned, the aero set-up has to be a compromise to deal with a mix of slow and fast sections, and when it comes to the mechanical set up, the Sepang kerbs are low and forgiving, so a stiff and low car is called for. Cooling, if not a problem, is at least a consideration, although with two long straights, the brakes get given a chance to cool down. Physically, the conditions are demanding and that goes for the crew in the garage as much as for the drivers. And let’s not forget the tropical downpours, which have frequently added some unexpected spice to this race.
In the ever-changing world of Formula 1, past history counts for little, but nevertheless, the Scuderia can take heart from its Malaysian track record. To date there have been fourteen Grands Prix at Sepang and the Prancing Horse has won six of them, more than any other team, dating back to Eddie Irvine’s victory in the maiden event in 1999, and going through to Fernando Alonso’s win last year. On that occasion, the Spaniard started from eighth on the grid, the lowest position that has ever ended in victory here. It was his third Sepang win, the first two coming with other teams in 2005 and 2007. Whatever happens on Sunday, this will be a special weekend for the man from Oviedo, as it marks his two hundredth appearance on the grid of a Formula 1 Grand Prix.