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Malaysian Grand Prix
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Can Ferrari continue their domination?
The Malaysian GP switches from the final race of the season to the second. In fact it is less than 5 months since we saw the Formula 1 cars at the Sepang circuit. Last year Michael Schumacher won his 9th race of the season and his 4th in row. If he wins again at Sepang, it will be his sixth in a row.
The first race in Australia saw Ferrari dominate with McLaren struggling while Jordan BAR and Williams appear to be steadily closing the gap. The rest of the field seem to be far behind although the performance of the Sauber team was impressive. We also saw the effect of two tyre companies competing with lap times slashed by over 2 seconds and the cars setting times that are faster than the slick days. Unfortunately, we also witnessed another death as a result of a high speed crash. Safety marshal Graham Beveridge was killed by flying debris from Jacques Villeneuve's BAR which crashed into the wall at high speed. The FIA are very concerned about the significant increase in speed as a result of the 'grippier' tyres and also ensuring that marshal and spectator safety is improved.
Several teams conducted test sessions in Europe with Ferrari testing at Fiorano, McLaren at Magny Cours and Williams, Jordan, Benetton, Arrows and Jaguar testing at Silverstone. Most of the teams where concentrating on setup for Malaysia as well as testing their traction control systems that will be legalised in time for the Spanish GP.
The second race of the season shouldn't see much difference in the
performance of the teams especially that a lot of time is spent travelling.
Ferrari therefore are expected to continue their domination unless they
suffer reliability problems.
Ferrari: They have dominated the Australian GP and had it not been for the poor start of Rubens Barrichello, they would have finished in 1st and 2nd. One area of concern is their reliability. They suffered a number of problems in Melbourne and had an engine problem during testing last week.
Reliability 7.5/10 - Speed 9.5/10
Drivers: Michael Schumacher could win his 6th race in a row and reliability aside, it seems that nothing can stop him as it is unlikely that McLaren will make up ground that quickly. If it rains during the race, Schumacher will still shine although with Williams on Michelin tyres, Juan Montoya could be the one who shines in the rain.
Rubens Barrichello showed some brilliance on Friday practice in Australia but car problems on Saturday seemed to have got to him. He started badly in the race and fought with Frentzen and Coulthard finishing 3rd. He appears to be more comfortable in the Ferrari but can he take it to Michael ?. A top 3 finish is expected if he starts well.
McLaren: Improved their finishing record in Melbourne with a finish in 3 years. Mika Hakkinen still had a mechanical failure. Their pace is not as fast as Ferrari and they struggled during qualifying. The team tested at Magny Cours last week and will be hoping to close the gap on Ferrari here although 2 weeks seems too short for that
Reliability 6.5/10 - Speed 9.0/10
Drivers: Mika Hakkinen needs to finish and possibly win if he wants to avoid the early season slump he had last year. In Australia he was close to Michael Schumacher during the race before he retired. He is the only driver capable of challenging Michael at this stage. A win is possible but unlikely unless Michael struggles.
David Coulthard struggled in qualifying in Australia and that affected him for the race. He managed to finish second though and that could be a sign that he is indeed determined to challenge for the championship this year. If he improves his qualifying position then he could do well. A top 3 finish is possible.
Sauber: The surprise of the Australian GP. They have capitalised
on the failures of the other teams and managed to finish both cars in the
points. Nick Heidfeld finished in the points on his first race with
Sauber, something he failed to achieve in a whole season at Prost. Kimi
Raikkonen managed to finish 6th in his first ever F1 race. Something Peter
Sauber described as a 'miracle'.
Reliability 8/10 - Speed 7.5/10
Drivers: Nick Heidfeld could repeat the performance of
Melbourne but will need a few failures ahead of him if he is to finish 4th
Kimi Raikkonen will be tested to the limit in Malaysia as he will
need to be super fit with 100% concentration as the humidity takes its
Jordan: They were clearly faster than BAR in qualifying in Australia but during the race they were not as strong. Trulli retired while Frentzen lost a battle with Barrichello and ended in 14th place before managing to crawl back to 5th. They still have reliability issues to sort out but once they do that they could be the first to start knocking on the doors for Ferrari and McLaren.
Reliability 6.5/10 - Speed 8.5/10
Drivers: Heinz Harald Frentzen lost out to Rubens Barrichello forcing him into a spin and losing several places. If he manages to avoid any clashes and his car proves reliable, he could mix it with Coulthard and Barrichello. A top 4 finish in Melbourne is possible.
Jarno Trulli appeared quicker than Frentzen in practice in
Melbourne but in qualifying he was a lot slower. During the race he
retired with engine failure. Lets hope that his bad luck doesn't continue.
Williams: The only team not to finish in Australia. Ralf Schumacher was hit from behind by Villeneuve while Juan Pablo Montoya retired with a blown engine. Before their retirements, they were running strong but it appeared that under heavy fuel load, both BAR and Jordan were quicker. In Malaysia rain is a high possibility and Michelin appear to have an edge over Bridgestone in that area so we could have a surprise.
Reliability 6.5/10 - Speed 8.0/10
Drivers: Ralf Schumacher appeared strong in Australia and will be determined to score some points here. He won the first round against his new team-mate and wants to ensure that he continues that way. A top 6 finish is possible in Melbourne.
Juan Pablo Montoya An engine failure robbed him of a points finish. Still that would have been due to the many failures in front of him. He needs to improve his qualifying if he wants to get closer to his team-mate.
A top 6 finish is possible in Malaysia.
Benetton: Both of their cars (almost) finished the Australian GP but being 3 laps down ? Not Benetton one would say. They appear to have slowed the engine down so that it doesn't blow up but as a result they were slower than Minardi. Don't expect any significant changes here. They might still finish but they'll be a few laps down.
Reliability 6.5/10 - Speed 3/10
Drivers: Giancarlo Fisichella was outqualified by his new team-mate
Jenson Button but when you are 3 seconds off the pole time, it doesn't
become as important. He will need to be patient this year as the
development on the car will never be quick enough.
Jenson Button will be in a similar situation to Fisichella. He
needs to be patient otherwise this year could have a negative effect on
BAR: In qualifying they didn't appear strong but in the race Villeneuve was all over Ralf while Oliver Panis drove a strong race to finish 4th only to be penalised later for passing under yellow. The team suffered a setback as a result of Villeneuve's crash and that could have a negative effect on them depending on how Villeneuve performs in Malaysia.
Reliability 9.5/10 - Speed 8/10
Drivers: Jacques Villeneuve had a horrific crash in Melbourne and as a result a marshal was killed. Villeneuve is not new to crashes and he survived similar crashes in the past and bounced back on the same weekend. This time though, a marshal was killed and it will have a much stronger impact on him. He needs to recover in time for Malaysia because his performance will affect the team. He is a strong character though. A top 6 finish is possible.
Olivier Panis Finished an impressive 4th in Melbourne before being penalised. He was faster than Villeneuve in the practice sessions and under a tenth slower in qualifying. He will continue to push Villeneuve. A top 6 finish is possible.
Arrows: They were off the pace in Australia with Verstappen qualifying in 15th place. The car did appear to be reliable though but since they are using an engine that will not have significant development throughout the year, they will have to rely on other cars failing in order to score points.
Reliability 7.5/10 - Speed 5/10
Drivers: Jos Verstappen tried his best in Australia but the car
Enrique Bernoldi spun on his own in Australia. I don't expect him to do much better in Malaysia where driver fitness and concentration is more important than in Australia. Finishing the race would be a good result.
Jaguar: Both cars finished the race in Melbourne which is proof that the car is reliable. But fast it is not. The first half of the season appears to be a difficult one for Jaguar.
Reliability 9.0/10 - Speed 5/10
Drivers: Eddie Irvine tried his best in Melbourne but the car
didn't help him
Luciano Burti appears to be one of those drivers who crashes their cars often. He spun, crashed and went into the gravel several times in Australia. He could finish but he could crash out.
Minardi: Having managed to finish one car must be a great achievement for the team. Not only that but they have finished ahead of Benetton. It is likely that they will continue that way in Malaysia.
Reliability 6.5/10 - Speed 3/10
Drivers: Fernando Alonso proved that he is a future star
despite being the youngest driver on the grid.
Tarso Marques is another pathetic driver. Alonso outqualified him by over 2.5 seconds. The stewards allowed him to race despite not qualifying within the 107% but his car failed him during the race. Had he stayed on he would have been a real mobile chicane. Not finishing could be beneficial to the other drivers.
Prost: They were expected to do better in Australia but it appears that those fast laps in testing were indeed PR laps!. Their reliability is still questionable and they are not as fast as Sauber despite using the same engine.
Reliability 6.5/10 - Speed 5/10
Drivers: Jean Alesi managed to finish in Australia this year
but he needs a better car if he wants to finish in the points.
Gaston Mazzacane managed to qualify just under a second slower than
Alesi so that must be impressive!.