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Mercedes heads to Sepang as favourite

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IOL mot pic mar28 F1 Sepang Hamilton 1

Reuters

Heat and humidity will be a factor at Sepang; here the Mercedes crew cool down Lewis Hamiltons brakes as the car is pushed into the garage on a trolley after the first free practice session for the Malaysian Grand Pix. Picture: Edgar Su

Johannesburg - After winning the season-opening Australian Formula One Grand Prix two weeks ago, Mercedes-Benz looks to maintain its form at Round 2 in Sepang, Malaysia this weekend.

Sepang is a very different type of circuit to the one on which Nico Rosberg took a fairly straightforward victory, so the jury’s still out on whether Mercedes is the season favourite as per the prevailing opinion. Where Melbourne’s street circuit is characterised by slow corners, Malaysia’s is a high-speed circuit with more emphasis on aerodynamic performance, which could bring other teams such as Williams, McLaren, Ferrari and Red Bull to the fore.

The Malaysian Grand Prix is a firm drivers’ favourite, with a combination of long, high-speed, straights and tight-corner complexes that make this one of the most technical circuits on the F1 calendar. The intense heat and humidity will also test the cars’ cooling systems, which are critical to the new power units and energy recovery systems, and the high probability of a rainstorm makes for an unpredictable weekend.

QUESTION MARK

Red Bull, which was written off by many pundits following its pre-season testing woes, appeared to stage a remarkable comeback in Australia when new sighing Daniel Ricciardo finished second, only to be subsequently disqualified for an illegal fuel-flow rate.

Red Bull has appealed the decision, blaming a faulty sensor, but until the hearing on 14 April, it’s likely the team will run an FIA-approved fuel-flow sensor - which places a question mark on its performance.

Four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel will be happy to just finish the race, after his early exit from Melbourne with mechanical issues.

CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDER

McLaren looks to be a championship contender after a disastrous 2013 season, and leads the Constructors’ standings after the respective second and third places – in the wake of Ricciardo’s disqualification – scored in Australia by rookie Kevin Magnussen and old-timer Jenson Button.

“Australia was a really motivational race for the entire team - even though we still have work to do, it feels like we’ve turned a corner, and that we have a racecar we can definitely work with this year,” said Button.

Williams also seems like a team ready to relive former glory days after setting the pre-season lap charts alight and scoring fifth in Melbourne with Valtteri Bottas.

‘Much work to be done’

Ferrari had a relatively disappointing season opener with Fernando Alonso placed fourth and Kimi Raikkonen seventh, and the team admitted that there is much work to be done. The scuderia can at least take heart that both of their cars finished the race, which had more than its normal share of mechanical retirements as F1 ushered in a new hybrid-powered era of 1.6-litre turbocharged V6 engines paired to energy-recovery systems.

One race into the season, the new engine regulations have so far had a mixed response.

While the hybrid power units have created some unpredictability in the pecking order, many fans are put off by their relatively muted sound which is a far cry from F1’s traditional high-revving wail. - The Star

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