Lewis Hamilton, left, and Nico Rosberg greet fans ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang. Picture: Fazry Ismail / EPA

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Five talking points ahead of this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix:

*Can Hamilton stop the rot?

With just six races left Lewis Hamilton needs luck to swing to his side of the Mercedes garage to stop Nico Rosberg opening up a sizeable world championship lead. Rosberg is eight points clear after a hat-trick of wins that saw Hamilton have to fight from the back of the grid to third in Spa, suffer an awful start from pole at Monza and be dogged by mechanical issues in Singapore.

Hamilton will be comforted by the fact that Rosberg won the first four races of the season to open up a 43-point lead, only for Hamilton to claw it back.

"We have a good car. We've got to have a good weekend," said Hamilton after Singapore. "We've come from 43 points down so theoretically eight points isn't anywhere near as steep as that."

But he acknowledged that Rosberg was flying at the moment. "Nico's been performing fantastically well. I expect him to continue like that so I've got make sure that I do the same."

*Singing in the rain

Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo could be forgiven for performing a little rain dance in the Sepang paddock this weekend after pushing Rosberg all the way in Singapore. Ricciardo admitted that Singapore's twisty, 23-turn street circuit had represented his best chance of a first victory of the season, at least under cloudless skies.

"I think in dry circumstances this was our best shot," he said, after finishing half-a-second behind the championship leader in Singapore. "We'll get a downpour somewhere and that'll hopefully throw a few curveballs and we can get the victory we're after."

Rain suits Red Bull's high downforce set-up, tempers Mercedes' power advantage and can bring that 'curveball' in the shape of a safety car intervention. Ricciardo will also be encouraged by the current weather forecast, which gives an 80 percent chance of rain on Sunday.

*Hard choices

Searing temperatures and the unknown quantity of a newly resurfaced 'green' track make tyre-wear key to this race. Mercedes suffered in 2015, having to make an extra stop compared to the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, who then cruised to victory when Hamilton was unable to close the gap on the slower, hard tyre.

This year the cars have the option of a third compound to choose from, 'soft', as well as 'hard' and 'medium'. All the teams have opted for more sets of the quickest 'soft' tyre. But they are also required to use the slowest 'hard' tyre for a stint at some point during the race, which could make for some interesting strategies.

Throw in 'full wets' and 'intermediates', should the 56-lap race be affected by Malaysia's tropical storms, and all could be won or lost in the pit lane.

*Ferrari will fight to the finish

Vettel's victory at Sepang in 2015 was his first for Ferrari and ended a 35-race drought for the Italian team. Further progress seemed assured as it tried to close the gap on Mercedes, but the team has gone backwards this year, with no victories thus far and a suspension failure in Singapore relegating Vettel to the back of the grid.

The team took advantage of the Singapore qualifying woes by burning some grid penalties to equip Vettel with a new power unit, and he drove superbly to finish fifth. There are further upgrades to come, giving Vettel renewed hope of ending the season on a high.

“I think going forward we have confidence, there are some bits coming still," Vettel said. "We're here to fight and that's what we're going to do."

*Max's magnificent seventh

It was in Malaysia in 2015 that a 17-year-old Max Verstappen came of age by qualifying his Toro Rosso in an impressive sixth position on the grid in the wet, and then overtaking the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo on his way to seventh place and a new record as Formula One's youngest ever points-scorer. Now installed as Ricciardo's team-mate since the Spanish Grand Prix, which the teenager won, don't bet against him going even better this year, especially if the heavens open once again.


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