Thursday, 2 April 2009

Malaysia - or Melbourne revisited

So the paddock and press arrive in Sepang, and start talking about the race ahead. Well, almost. As per Formula 1 ritual, they in fact are discussing stewarding decisions from the previous race (both Vettel's grid penalty, and the overturning of Trulli's penalty, without appeal and the disqualification of Hamilton, fo rmisleading the stewards).

Firstly, I'll re-reasses my predictions from the last race. By the previous scoring method (one point for each named driver appearing in top 8, 2 points for any correctly placed) I now score:
Thursday: 5/16 (4 drivers, Alonso correctly placed)
Friday: 6/16 (5 drivers, Alonso correctly placed)
Saturday: 3/16 (3 drivers, none correctly placed).

Now, how about some views on this weekend?

Firstly, the weather. Storms and heavy rain are predicted, and some are anticipating a premature red flag, due to poor visibility (either through the rain, or the darkness after rain delays proceedings). This favours weaker teams, as it reduces the significance of their lesser cars. It also favoured experienced drivers (or those who specialise in the wet, I'll name Button, Barrichello, Vettel, Sutil, Heidfeld and Webber as drivers who have taken advantage of poor conditions before). It should also favour those teams who have experience driving this year's car in the rain (all bar Toro Rosso, Force India and crucially Brawn).

Good wet-weather drivers, great tactician (Ross) but no wet weather practise. Hopefully, they'll be able to take advantage of Friday practise to get accustomed to the handling of their car in wet conditions. If it is dry, then the race is theirs. If it is wet, it will probably be theirs anyway.

Now second in the championship thanks to their "3rd and 4th" finish in Melbourne. They have some experience of their car in the wet, and Glock did well in such situations in testing. Should be well placed, and might well match their Melbourne form, barring accident or further penalties.

Thrid in championship thanks to Fernando. Will suffer greatly here, but storms may provide Fernando with the chance to put in a virtuoso performance. Nothing else will save them from a zero-point weekend.

Showed good pace last weekend, and may be able to take better advantage of it, now that they have put a race weekend behind them. Should score points, assuming they finish, and will almost certainly be in the front 3 rows on the grid.

Toro Rosso:
Joint fourth (technically fifth) in the table after their fortunate double-points finish of last weekend, they will be hoping for an equally chaotic race to further their chances of scoring points. I still feel the team is favourite for 9th place in this year's standings.

Last year they were atrocious in the wet, but Kimi has performed well before. They will have a very tough weekend ahead of them if they want to score more than a few points. Any less, and there will be outrage in the Italian press.

It will be interesting to see whether Heidfeld uses KERS again this weekend. It wasn't all that useful for him last weekend, but might prove crucial in chaotic wet situations. Should put one car in the top 6, and probably both in the top 10 in qualifying. They will also expect points for both cars, supposing again that they finish.

Many eyes will be on them as controversy yet again flies around Lewis and the team. They know that this will be a tough weekend on the track, and today's news won't help them to focus.
However, on a wet track, Lewis can amaze crowds, and stands a good chance of ending on the podium or in the wall. If it is dry, neither car will score.

Red Bull:
Very fast last weekend, I expect one of the cars to be light-fuelled to try and start from the front row (on softs if there is no rain). Both drivers are good in the wet, especially Vettel, so this could be their weekend (a win even, if anything happens to Brawn).

Force India:
With the greatest will in the world, rain, chaos and dodgy stewarding decisions are the only chance Force India have of featuring this weekend.

So, now for my Thursday predictions:

Win - Jenson Button
2nd - Rubens Barrichello
3rd - Sebastian Vettel
4th - Robert Kubica
5th - Lewis Hamiton
6th - Timo Glock
7th - Kimi Raikkonen
8th - Mark Webber

This supposes rain, and accidents wiping out some of: Heidfeld, Massa, Trulli and the Williams cars. Let's see if Friday practise will change my views - I'll let you know tomorrow.

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