Sepang Scrutiny: Fabric of the competition to be tested
Although the ‘breakthrough’ Formula-E competition is still not without its sceptics, the element of unpredictability is a massive pull factor for racing fans. It is for this reason that the profile of Formula 1 is believed by some critics to be in serious jeopardy. In the week following a hugely predictable Mercedes 1-2 in Melbourne, representatives from rival teams have expressed contrasting opinions regarding the competitive future of F1.
On the one hand, Mercedes AMG executive director Toto Wolff remains confident that the sport will stay competitive, as closest rival Ferrari adapts to the ‘advent’ of V6-dictated contests. However, in stark contrast to this optimistic stance, Red Bull (not for the first time) went as far as to threaten a withdrawal from F1 in light of the continued disparity.
Technically, the Sepang circuit provides a sterner test than Melbourne, with as much demand for precision and composure as there is for brute speed. Although this in itself is an ‘equalising’ element against the might of the W06 car, the contrasting qualities of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg as Mercedes teammates will undoubtedly keep the competition at bay yet again.
While Nico Rosberg is an opportunist on the track, with a calculating approach to racing, Lewis Hamilton’s brave and direct style will work well on the straights. For this reason, the smart money is always on Hamilton to make it two from two next Sunday, but what of the other contenders?
Although Red Bull’s despair at the domination of Mercedes appears to be well-justified, they rightly pride themselves on good development rates and there is nothing to suggest they can’t enjoy a more productive race in Sepang. Certainly, if given the luxury of a W06, last year’s third-placed driver Daniel Ricciardo could make a genuine title challenge. The Australian failed to finish the 2014 Malaysian Grand Prix and his positive character may spur him on to better fortunes this time around. With a great emphasis on ‘heat training’ as part of his preparations, Ricciardo is our tip for third.
A good bet for a points finish in Sepang is Lotus driver Romain Grosjean, who finished 6th in the 2013 event that was only his second Malaysian Grand Prix. Although the team had a traumatically short race in Melbourne, there has been an increased effort by Lotus to prepare for the erratic weather conditions that can affect races. Furthermore, an encouraging performance from Lotus in Melbourne’s qualifying rounds indicates a unified construction team moving in the right direction.
On an unforgiving track where mistakes often prove to be costly, there is no room for complacency from the more ‘celebrated’ of construction teams. The weather conditions in Sepang are a test of a driver’s physical endurance like no other in F1, so a few surprises are to be expected.