Malaysian GP - A physical and mental chess game
Sepang, 24 March – The temperature and tension are both rising at the Sepang circuit outside Kuala Lumpur, as the second round of the world championship is now only one day away. Today’s qualifying session had plenty of excitement and more importantly for Scuderia Ferrari, demonstrated a slight improvement in the performance of the F2012. When one is competing against equally resourceful teams, also striving to move forward then, for that improvement to be visible proves it is a true step in he right direction. All things are relative and a slightly better F2012 translates into ninth and twelfth on the time sheet as opposed to twelfth and sixteenth in Albert Park last Saturday. Once again it was Fernando Alonso who was quickest of the Prancing Horse drivers, but timewise, Felipe Massa is now closer to his Spanish team-mate.
Yet again, the grid made a refreshing change from the scenario we had got used to back in 2011. Just as in Melbourne, the front row was a McLaren lockout with Lewis Hamilton taking his second consecutive pole, with Jenson Button alongside him. The second row sees Michael Schumacher record his best ever grid position since making his F1 comeback at the start of last year. Alongside him is Mark Webber in the Red Bull. Fifth fastest was this year’s most famous returnee, Kimi Raikkonen. However, the Finn’s Lotus needed a gearbox change which has cost him a five place drop to tenth. Therefore the reigning world champion, Sebastian Vettel will start from fifth and it’s worth noting he opted to contest Q3 on the harder Pirelli tyre. He has the other Lotus of Romain Grosjean alongside him. Fernando will therefore find himself on the outside of Nico Rosberg in the second Mercedes. Felipe shares his row with the Williams of Pastor Maldonaldo.
So early in the season, predicting any sort of outcome for tomorrow is very difficult. The only certainty is that the Malaysian Grand Prix is always one of the toughest challenges of the year: if it’s dry then the heat is physically and mentally draining for drivers and team personnel alike, not forgetting the tyres that will degrade in dramatic fashion. If it rains, then it will be a case of choosing the right moment to switch from slicks to rain tyres and make the right call as to whether intermediates or extremes are required: an eye on the sky and another on the track are needed to second guess the rain gods and avoid making too many stops. If the rain eases off, then there’s the reverse problem of knowing when to risk the return to dry weather tyres. All in all it will be a physical game of chess and the two Ferrari knights on their black stallions will be hoping to make the right moves and score as many points as possible.