I arrived in Malaysia a few days ago, having stayed a while in Australia, on Hamilton Island. I decided to stay in this part of the world so as to be used to the local time zone, given we now take on two races in the Far East, first in Sepang and then in Shanghai. It’s important to get used to the weather conditions, especially here where the temperatures are around the 30 °C mark and, much more significantly, it’s very humid. I have done some sport, because it’s essential to keep training: in this race you lose a lot of liquid and it’s very tough driving in these conditions, so you need to be on top form to tackle the weekend properly. Being 100% ready in this respect can make all the difference on Sunday afternoon as even on a mental level, this race is very special.
The fact that the weather can change so quickly here makes the preparation work for the various phases of work on track more stressful. Suddenly it can go from sunshine to a short sharp shower and you need to be prepared for every eventuality. It’s not just a problem for us drivers, as its affects the whole team: in some cases you need to be ready with a plan B or C, or even maybe a D for all the various scenarios!
Luckily it’s not all been work, as I was able to have some fun too which is good as it helps you unwind at such a busy time: from the start of testing there hasn’t been much of a break in this bit of the season.
I stayed in touch with the engineers, via email and phone. We re-examined the way the weekend had gone in Melbourne and we discussed our preparations for here in Sepang. We know we have to improve our performance level, but we are equally aware that in the end, the race result was not such a disaster. We will have a few minor updates on the car, but nothing very significant, or the sort of thing you could say would be the key to take a leap forward in performance terms. I believe we must stay concentrated on our own work and try to understand how to get all the potential out of the 150° Italia and I’m sure there’s plenty to come. Before we achieve that, it’s pointless standing here making predictions about how the weekend will turn out. We just have to tackle it one day at a time.
My happiest memory of Sepang circuit goes back to my first ever pole position, which I secured on 22 March 2003. Neither myself, nor my team, Renault, had expected that sort of result on Saturday morning, but come the end of qualifying, we found ourselves with both cars on the front row. It was a very happy moment and I can still clearly remember how the afternoon went, then the dinner and Sunday morning, when I was thinking about what would happen in the race. Every time I come back here, I think of that weekend, at the happiness of taking pole and the feeling of trepidation going into the race. I did not win, as later happened in 2005 and 2007, but I was still third and so managed to jump up on the podium for the first time. It was definitely a weekend to remember for a long time!