Gloom and doomers were proved wrong at the Australian Grand Prix a fortnight ago, where we witnessed a reasonably interesting Formula One season opener with more finishers than predicted. Now it’s time for a very different scenario as teams head for the heat, humidity and fast straights and corners of the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang.

Yes, the Malaysian race is one of the toughest on the calendar. The heat and humidity can be stifling, which makes the weekend tough for everyone. The drivers lose more than 6 pounds in sweat and the pit crew gets no respite from the heat in their fireproof overalls.

The track layout is popular with drivers and engineers alike. It was the first to be designed by Hermann Tilke and stretches 3.4 miles in length. Ground temperatures can exceed 122 degrees F (50 degrees C) during the hottest part of the day, which combined with a rough track surface means tire degradation is quite severe.

The other key point is the high lateral demands imposed by the circuit, with the most challenging sequence of corners being turns five to seven and turns 12 to 13. And if all of this wasn’t enough, torrential rain can also be a problem. Some rain is predicted for Sunday’s race.

The track surface at Sepang is well-known for abrasive asphalt. To cope with these demanding conditions, the two hardest tires in the range have been nominated: P Zero Orange hard and P Zero White medium. Of course, the full wets will also be on hand.

This is the race where last year Red Bull Racing's Sebastian Vettel ignored team orders and overtook teammate Mark Webber to win the race, despite both of them being told to manage the last few laps. Vettel’s new teammate Daniel Ricciardo has shown that he’s got the skill to become a top driver, so hopefully we won’t see any drama this year. Ricciardo already suffered a setback at the previous race in Australia, losing his second place finish because of a fuel sensor issue.

Going into the weekend, Mercedes AMG’s Nico Rosberg sits on 25 points in the Drivers’ Championship while McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button have 18 and 15 points respectively. In the Constructors’ Championship, McLaren leads with 33 points versus the 25 of Mercedes AMG and the 18 of Ferrari.


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