Malaysian Grand Prix Preview: Mercedes Still Ones to Beat

Malaysian Grand Prix Preview: Mercedes Still Ones to Beat

by March 29, 2014 0 comments

Photo Credit: Mercedes AMG Petronas

SEPANG, Malaysia — Round two of the 2014 Formula One season kicks off tonight at the Sepang International Circuit with the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Throughout the heat, humidity, and precipitation that have greatly effected the teams throughout the weekend thus far, the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team have shown to be the most dominant team in the paddock for the second round in a row. Both F1 W05s driven by Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton have been at the top of the speed charts throughout the entire weekend, leading all three free practice sessions as well as taking the pole position for Sunday’s race with Hamilton behind the wheel.

For Rosberg, more points are to be gained in Malaysia to add on to his current seven-point lead over McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen; for Hamilton, points are needed – period. After a retirement in Australia over an issue that was revealed this week to be a hairline split on a rubber tube within the engine compartment, Hamilton’s focus is 100-percent on earning some points towards both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships.

“For myself and for the team the priority is to try to bag as many points, collectively, me and Nico,” Hamilton said. “I think we have a great opportunity, we’ve got a great car and the team’s just performing fantastically right now, so fingers crossed we both see our way through to the finish line.”

The works team’s greatest competition comes from Scuderia Ferrari, who have been right up there with the Mercedes in terms of pace through the entire race weekend. The script has flipped from Melbourne for the Italian team, Kimi Räikkönen has led the charge for the team thus far in Sepang whereas Fernando Alonso was the quickest of the two in Melbourne.

The Finn believes that the team has made progress on the car since the opening round of the season, stating on Friday that he is feeling more comfortable with his F14T.

“This was definitely a positive day and I had a better feeling compared to Friday in Melbourne,” Räikkönen said. “I was more comfortable with the F14T today and even if we had no problems whatsoever, we know there’s still a long way to go and a lot to do.”

Both Ferraris have qualified in the top-six for Sunday, being outperformed by the pair of Mercedes and both Infiniti Red Bull Racing cars.

It’s been an upward battle for the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel since the start of the year – power issues plaguing the team in pre-season testing, fuel-flow issues disqualifying Ricciardo in Melbourne. Both drivers are looking for redemption for a disastrous Australian Grand Prix and both have the pace to challenge for a podium on Sunday.

Vettel, who qualified second on the grid five-hundredths of a second slower than Hamilton, is feeling optimistic ahead of his seventh Malaysian Grand Prix and believes he has the ability to take the fight to the Mercedes.

“I think we always have a chance to beat everyone, that’s why we’re here,” Vettel said. “Obviously, as I said, in terms of a package I think they [Mercedes] have the most competitive package. Lewis isn’t digging around, equally, Nico is doing a very good job. It’s difficult to beat them on the day but it’s not impossible. It would be quite sad to wake up in the morning thinking you can only finish second or fifth or eighth. We’re here to win.”

The team heads into the Malaysian Grand Prix with a bit of a cautious approach despite the need to obtain as many points as necessary, additional fuel-flow issues were picked up on during Friday’s practice sessions.

After turning in the strongest performance as a pair last week, McLaren’s Magnussen and Jenson Button seem to have lost a bit from their terrific effort in Melbourne. While they have closed the gap in terms of pace, they seem to have done so less than the competition. Both McLarens were near the top of the charts throughout Melbourne but slipped a bit in Sepang from the second free practice session on.

In the third free practice session, Magnussen did not complete a lap while Button did a slow circuit of the track over 25 seconds off of the session leader’s pace. Magnussen would ultimately qualify in eighth position while a bad tire call for Q3 relegated Button to a 10th-place grid position.

Fellow Mercedes-affiliated team Williams-Martini Racing have their work cut out for them on Sunday. Neither Felipe Massa or Valtteri Bottas turned in a great qualifying effort as Massa qualified 13th while Bottas will start the race from the 18th position following a three-place grid penalty for impeding Red Bull’s Ricciardo in Q2.

Bottas will start from outside of the top-14 for the second time this season. Last race, Bottas was able to drive his way up through the field not once, but twice, the potential is certainly there for him to replicate his drive from Australia in Malaysia. Massa, on the other hand, is looking to gain some points for his new team after he was taken out in a first-lap first-corner incident two weeks ago in Melbourne.

In dry conditions, the Williams FW36 looks fast for this weekend; if we are to see rain during this year’s Malaysian Grand Prix the team may be in trouble if we are to go off of their performance in qualifying.

This year’s Malaysian Grand Prix should give us a better look at who the dominant teams for this season might be. With the higher ambient temperatures, power units, tires, and drivers alike will be pushed to their very limits. We know from Australia and through the early stages of the weekend that Mercedes thus far are the car to beat, however, with the threat of rain and the threat of reliability issues being ever-present they could be knocked off their pedestal. If this is to happen, there are many contenders lying in wait to stake their claim of top spot of the podium.

For American viewers, the Malaysian Grand Prix will air early Sunday live on NBCSN with coverage beginning at 4:00a.m. ET.

Kyle Pokrefky
Follow Kyle Pokrefky on Twitter at @KPokrefky

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