Before getting on to what I’ve been doing in the lead up to the Malaysian Grand Prix, I wish to express my great sadness at the death of Gustavo Sondermann, killed as a result of a terrible accident which happened last Sunday at Interlagos, during a pick-up race, run as part of the Brazilian Stock Car championship. I knew him well and our fathers are friends: I feel great pain at his loss and definitely, all my thoughts are with him and his family at this difficult time. It would be nice if I could get a good result next Sunday in Malaysia which I could dedicate to him.
I have just arrived in Kuala Lumpur, having spent the days since the first Grand Prix, back home in Sao Paolo. I made the most of my time there, with family and friends, because after the Chinese Grand Prix, I will be based in Europe until the later stages of the championship. I have kept in touch on a regular basis with the engineers in Maranello, so I know I can expect some changes on the car when I get inside the cockpit again on Friday. No one at Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro was satisfied with our overall performance, nor the final result of the Australian Grand Prix and much work has gone into understanding why that race did not live up to our expectations and then to plan how to move forward this weekend.
Here in Malaysia for the second race, there will still be a lot of unanswered questions as we start practice, because if you compare Melbourne with Sepang, the difference is as clear as black and white. The Melbourne asphalt is not very abrasive, the temperature is cool, the track is more of a city track, even if it is a real race circuit and the corner types are very different. Sepang is very hot, it’s a proper race track, with a lot of high speed sections, fast corners and many changes of direction. Then from a physical point of view the difference is also obvious: driving Albert Park is very easy and you get out of the car at the end of the race feeling completely fresh, whereas in Malaysia you lose a lot of fluid and lose weight and generally it is much more demanding. For all these reasons, I expect to see a completely different performance from our team and from our car.
With the moveable rear wing, the situation will be interesting here, because for the moment, the plan is to be allowed to use DRS during the race on the straight in front of the pits, but at Sepang, the straight that runs back the other way is actually longer. It is also true that it would offer a higher chance of overtaking. So, we are waiting for the final decision from the FIA to see if we use DRS on the front straight, the back one or both. The right decision could make the race more interesting for drivers and the spectators too. Personally, I am not sure that allowing DRS on both straights is the best option, because I think it might actually make overtaking too easy. You have to get the right balance between helping the chances of overtaking and having almost too much passing. At Sepang, the two straights follow one another, so if you are quicker than the car ahead, you might not even try and pass on the first straight, preferring to get well prepared and as close as possible, before then having a simple overtaking move on the second straight.
Looking at the weather here, it seems inevitable that we will have the usual heavy showers at some point every afternoon, which will be interesting. So far, I have just had one day of testing on Pirelli rain tyres, at the Jerez test back in February, which is not enough to have a good understanding. We will have to be well prepared for any eventuality and it will be an interesting experiment seeing how the tyres work in both very hot and very wet conditions. This will therefore be a very important weekend for Pirelli after what was a relatively easy debut for them in Melbourne.
As a driver, there is not much you can do to deal with the hot conditions, but honestly, if you are fit enough there is not much else you need to do. I have tried various methods, such as soaking my overalls in cold water before the start. Whatever you do, this is going to be a tough race: it’s not just the hot conditions, because it is the humidity that makes it unpleasant. For example, we have raced in Bahrain in an ambient temperature of 40 degrees, but I did not even sweat in the car because there in the desert it is a very dry heat. In Malaysia the problem is the humidity which makes you suffer more, losing body fluids, which then affects your strength and your concentration. No matter how fit you are, you suffer more at this circuit than at others. At least the time I spent in Brazil was useful as it was very hot there too. Last year, we made a strategic mistake in the wet qualifying at Sepang and I started twenty first on the grid, eventually making it up to seventh at the end of Sunday’s race and we will be working hard to avoid a similar error: like I said, the key in Sepang is to be ready for anything.