Preparation to the 2010 Formula 1 PETRONAS Malaysian Grand Prix

Unpredictable, a tough one to call in Sepang – Mokhzani Mahathir,
Chairman of Sepang International Circuit showing the trophy in final preparation
of Formula 1 PETRONAS Malaysian Grand Prix .
Picture courtesy of Sepang International Circuit.

29th March, Sepang : With two different winners at the opening two races of 2010 season that delivered two contrasting kinds of race, Round 3 at Sepang International Circuit (SIC) this weekend will be one that is very difficult to call, according to circuit chairman Datuk Mokhzani Tun Dr Mahathir.

“It will be a tough call as teams and drivers haven't found their ‘sweet spot’ yet,” says Mokhzani when asked on his reading of the 12th edition of the Formula 1 PETRONAS Malaysian Grand Prix this Sunday.

“The two races (in Bahrain and Australia) were completely different and so were the results. The pundits said Bahrain was boring and Melbourne was one of the most exciting they've seen in years,” he said, adding that it was even too early to say that there was already a trend in the championship race.

“It's still too early to say. No doubt the Ferraris and RedBulls are strong but Melbourne proved that you don't have to be in the front row to win the race,” he said in reference to Jenson Button’s sensational victory at Albert Park yesterday.

Seventh at the season-opener in Bahrain, the 2009 champion was first to change to slick tyres in Melbourne and reaped immediate benefits though Button’s gamble appeared to have backfired in his first lap out as he skidded into the gravel. But, as the track dried up and pole sitter Sebastian Vettel crashing out on Lap 26, Button took full control of the race to score his first win with McLaren.

Adding 25 more to the six points he collected in Sakhir, Button goes third in the championship standing with 31 points – six points behind Bahrain GP winner Fernando Alonso, who has 37 points. Felipe Massa, who won third in Australia and second in Bahrain, is second in the drivers’ world championship standings with 33 points.

But, as rightfully explained by Mokhzani, it is still early days especially with the 2010 season expanded to 19 rounds and the teams required to work under stricter rules this season in line with the cost-cutting measures stipulated by the world governing body. Malaysia hosts Round 3 from April 2 to 4.

While some of the race officials would already be making their way to Sepang, the race cars and team equipments would be arriving at the circuit from Melbourne beginning early tomorrow morning and unloading works starting immediately.

With possibility of rain quite strong in Sepang, Mokhzani said that it would make it even harder to predict on the race outcome. Over the past week, weather had been unpredictable in Sepang and the Meteorological Department has forecasted that there would be scattered thunderstorms throughout the weekend.

“(If it rains), tyre strategies will play a major role. I hope there's a sprinkling of rain instead of the torrent we had last year,” Mokhzani said in reference to the 2009 race which had an unprecedented 5pm start; but was marred with heavy showers; forcing an early stop and championship points for the eight top finishers cut by half.

Marking the 12th edition of the Formula 1 PETRONAS Malaysian Grand Prix, Mokhzani said that SIC had taken significant measures to increase the profile of the event including the promotion of the ‘I Love F1’ campaign to get the fans closer to the event.

“We've taken more positive steps towards getting the public closer to F1. The school childrens' pitwalk and getting the kids to interview the drivers is great. It was pleasantly surprising to find so many kids knew the names of the drivers especially Michael Schumacher,” said Mokhzani, who unveiled the winners’ trophies in Kuala Lumpur yesterday and witness the selection of the ‘young interviewers’.

The 2010 season would mark the return of Schumacher back to his favourite hunting ground in Sepang and many including F1 legend Niki Lauda believed that the seven-time world champion would shine on his return to the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Lauda, who returned from horrying injuries in 1976 to take the second of his three world drivers title in the following year, said Schumacher would be back in prime form; using the opening two rounds in Bahrain and Australia to get himself back into the groove.

Describing Schumacher’s sixth placing at Sakhir as a perfect start, Lauda pointed out that with limited time on the new race car and coming from a lengthy absence away from the championship, it would take time for the Mercedes GP PETRONAS driver to find his old form.

Second by choice at the inaugural race in 1999 which was won by his Ferrari team-mate Eddie Irvine, Schumacher was a winner in Sepang in 2000, 2001 and 2004. In his two opening races with Mercedes GP PETRONAS this season, Schumacher was sixth in Bahrain and 10th at the Australian Grand Prix, whose race was spoiled by a first corner incident at the start of the race.

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