Following a strong showing at the opening round of the season in Bahrain, where both Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg finished in point scoring positions, the WilliamsF1 Team are now looking to maintain the momentum at the second round of the Championship, the Malaysian Grand Prix, to be held at the Sepang circuit on Sunday 19th March. This year's event will be the eighth Grand Prix hosted by Malaysia at the Sepang track, located just south of the country's capital, Kuala Lumpur. The visually dramatic track, with its blend of wide, sweeping corners and fast straights, always promises compelling racing and a contest for both the drivers and the cars given the high ambient temperatures and humidity. Engines in particular will face a severe test having completed one race distance, as well as being new V8 technology.
With the Malaysian Grand Prix falling just one week after Bahrain, Mark Webber, Nico Rosberg and Alex Wurz all headed straight to Kuala Lumpur on Monday. Regarded as one of the most physically demanding races on the calendar, the drivers will spend the days in the lead up to Sepang acclimatising themselves to the high temperatures and extreme humidity common to Malaysia. Nico Rosberg will also be making an appearance on behalf of team sponsor, Oris, the premium timepiece maker, on Wednesday with a visit to the opening of their new store in the country's capital, while Mark Webber will be undertaking some physical humidity training.
Despite Nico Rosberg claiming the fastest lap and team mate, Mark Webber, securing the fourth quickest time of the Bahrain Grand Prix, the FW28 will benefit from several upgrades in Malaysia as part of an aggressive development programme that will continue throughout the season. As such, the team has developed aero upgrades for the cars' sidepods, as well as for the chimney winglets. The cars will also run with several revised mechanical components, all aimed at raising the overall competitiveness of the FW28s for the forthcoming Grand Prix.
A state of the art, purpose-built facility, the fluid design of the Sepang circuit lends itself to challenging racing. Each 5.543km lap of the 56 lap race poses specific technical challenges for the drivers and their engineers as they battle to create a perfectly balanced set-up to contend with the complex mix of corners, high speed directional changes and blisteringly fast straights. Although a characteristically smooth track, Sepang offers little grip so a high downforce configuration will be paramount in the cars' set-up.
As in Bahrain, climatic conditions will undoubtedly come into play this weekend and could potentially cause a lottery outcome in both qualifying and the race. The acute temperatures and high humidity levels, coupled with the constant threat of heavy downpours, will push the drivers and their cars to the limit. The oppressive heat in the cockpit will test a driver's physical and mental fitness levels to the extreme while they suffer an anticipated fluid loss of over a litre per hour during the race itself. The engines, which will be on their second outing, will also be put under intense strain in Malaysia. Although Sepang is not traditionally regarded as a power circuit, the time actually spent at full throttle being relatively low, containing oil temperatures in the drive train, while not sacrificing aerodynamic efficiency, is imperative for engine durability.
Mark Webber: "Malaysia is always a big test for the car and a big test for the drivers. Traditionally, it's a really warm race and the weather can be really inconsistent as well. The circuit is absolutely amazing, there are all types of corners, and it's a track I really enjoy driving a Formula One car on. It's the second race of the year, and I hope we can get another good result after the strong start we made in Bahrain."
Nico Rosberg: "I haven't driven at Sepang before so it's a new circuit I'm going to have to learn quickly, although I will do a few more laps in the practice sessions than in Bahrain in order to prepare myself. I've driven it on the simulator, though, and from that I think it's going to be a track I'll enjoy. It's going to be very hot out there, so it should be a good race for us and, in particular, for our tyres. By the time I get out to Malaysia, I won't have as much time to train as I'd like, and I have a marketing commitment for Oris on Wednesday, so I'll have to acclimatise quickly but I can't wait to get in the car again."
Sam Michael, Technical Director, WilliamsF1: "Malaysia has the highest average annual rainfall of all the circuits we race on, completely opposite to Bahrain, where we have just raced. With ambient temperatures reaching 40°C and high humidity levels, daily tropical thunderstorms are normal at this time of the year. High temperatures have an influence on car set-up, as well as tyre selection, because they usually cause higher degradation in lap times.
"Sepang has three slow speed corners and four straight sections, which reward engine power. There are also low drag levels. It is a challenging circuit for the drivers, with plenty of direction changes through medium to high speed corners. It is also clear from past races that overtaking is possible in a couple of places around the track. We will have a couple of aerodynamic improvements for the FW28 in Malaysia, the updates part of our planned development programme. Bridgestone will bring two different tyre compounds for us to choose from, which have been tested extensively. With the high speed corners, the loading will be quite high on the tyres so it's important to make the correct choice. Our qualifying and pit stop strategy will be interesting now we've seen the results from the new format in Bahrain, and it is bound to spring a few surprises again. We are going to Malaysia aggressively after the excellent performance of the FW28 at the last race and, with our partners Cosworth and Bridgestone, we intend to deliver."