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Ferrari Dominant, Or Will They Be?  
14 March 2001 Volume 3 - Issue 5  

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Although the teams have had a taste of hot and humid weather already, race day temperatures in Melbourne were quite moderate. Sepang (in Malaysia) is guaranteed to be hotter and consequently tougher on the cars.

The race is also one of the longest in the season so reliability is going to be a problem for all teams.

With high track temperatures and tight corners (especially the two after the paired grandstand straights) tyre wear and reliability will also be a major issue. If tyres last here they will last anywhere.

I am expecting to see much higher downforce configurations than Melbourne as the track has a lot of slow corners (of the 14 turns, 12 will be negotiated below 160km/H(100mph) and of those 5 below 130km/H(80mph). Average speed will be relatively low although I suspect that we will see cars exceeding 305 km/H on the two grandstand straights.

If it rains it is likely to bucket down. In that case we will get the opportunity to see if one of the two tyre manufacturers have an edge in the rain.

Sepang will be harder on cars as there are several slow corners before and after short straights. Gearboxes and transmissions will be strained and brakes will be taxed.

The two grandstand straights will be the most favoured areas for overtaking although there are two other straights (approaching Longkawi and Berjaya corners) that may also offer opportunities if very sticky tyres are used.

It was hard to tell, from the recent race in Melbourne, if Ferrari have compromised mechanical grip for aerodynamic grip in the design of their new car. They seemed very nimble (Barrichello was not but that may just be due to damage to his front suspension when he came together with Frentzen) so I suspect that they have not. The Ferrari looked well balanced and should be well suited to the tighter Sepang circuit.

Although I still believe that McLaren are capable of closing the gap to Ferrari I am not sure that they will this early in the season. They seem to be reliable enough (although with both teams it is hard to judge after only one race) and can afford to focus on getting faster.

Once McLaren have closed the gap to Ferrari they will have another hurdle to overcome: The Brawn/Schumacher factor. There is no doubt in my mind that Brawn is by far the best strategist in F1 today. Not only can he plan a race but also has a second sense that tells him what the outcome of changes to the plan during races will be. Being able to make those decisions on the fly has to be tempered against the ability of the driver and that is where Schumacher has an uncanny ability. He can consistently deliver regardless of how audacious the request.

Michael Schumacher has to be the favourite for Sunday. He is consistently faster than team-mate Barrichello and at present the Ferrari seems unbeatable.

Barrichello could also be fast. If he stays out of trouble at the start he may bring it home in second place again.

There is, of course, a chance that Barrichello could be even faster and win the race. I doubt it. Barrichello seems to have the ability to be very fast when it does not matter (like all of the practice sessions) and just not get it right when it does matter.

Hakkinen, who is recovering with his family from his rear end interlude with the tyre wall in Melbourne, is my favourite for second. He may not have the flair of Michael Schumacher but he is a very consistent driver, once he gets used to his car. It appears that he is not suffering from the early season setup and adaptation problems that he had in the past. In Melbourne he was very fast.

Coulthard, like Barrichello, seems unable to convert his very real ability into consistent race wins or strong point finishes. He could be brilliant, but on the other hand it could be an ordinary day for him. Hard to pick.

The rest of the group have not yet settled down. The Williams, Jordan and BAR teams are all pushing for that third fastest car slot and it is far from being decided. Ralf and Villeneuve did not get a chance to show what they are capable of after that 5th lap that ended in tragedy. Ralf seems fully recovered but it looks as if Villeneuve is, understandably, finding it hard to come to terms with the freak accident and his role in it. Taking into account the equally tragic accident that claimed his father's life this is easy to understand.

The Malaysian Grand Prix has the potential of confirming Ferrari's dominant position as well as establishing a pecking order in the second, best of the rest, group.

A friend also pointed out that Raikkonen and Alonso are well worth watching as they not only proved to be fast but also consistently so in Melbourne. For drivers with little overall experience they are impressive.

Enjoy the race.

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