2008 Malaysian GP Kuala Lumpur Preview

As the 2008 Malaysian GP, held on the Sepang Circuit at Kuala Lumpur, approaches, we are glad to get an official preview of the 3 crazy days to come. But before that, let me show you the official table of the events to take place starting from tomorrow:

- FRI Practice 1 -- 04:00 AM(GMT+2)
- FRI Practice 2 -- 08:00 AM(GMT+2)
- SAT Practice -- 05:00 AM(GMT+2)
- SAT Qualifying -- 08:00 AM(GMT+2)
- SUN Race -- 09:00 AM(GMT+2)


The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team has relocated to Malaysia this week for round two of the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship. Following Lewis and Heikki’s strong performances in Australia the team head the Constructors’ Championship with 14 points. Lewis and Heikki lie in first and fifth respectively in the Drivers’ table with 10 and four points.

The first Grand Prix at the Sepang Circuit on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur was held in October 1999. This year's race is the 10th Malaysian Grand Prix. The 15 bends of the Sepang Circuit, initially named after tourist destinations, have meanwhile been numbered in the conventional way.

The 2007 Malaysian Grand Prix saw the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team score the first victory of its partnership, with Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton finishing one-two. Heikki Kovalainen took his first point in Formula 1 at the event last year. In 2003, Kimi Raikkonen scored his first Grand Prix victory in Malaysia driving for the McLaren Mercedes team. Juan Pablo Montoya holds the record for the fastest lap. His time of 1:34.233 was set in 2004.

The Malaysian Grand Prix is one of the most physically demanding events of the season with extremely humid conditions and ambient temperatures reaching up to 40 degrees centigrade leading to a cockpit environment of over 50 degrees. This level of heat can lead to dehydration, which in turn can cause loss of concentration and performance. This can see the drivers lose up to 4 litres of fluid during the race. In order to stay hydrated, Lewis and Heikki will drink a fluid rich in electrolytes to replace the minerals and salts lost. The process of remaining hydrated starts before the race weekend to get the body used to taking on more fluids.


Following the performance of the team in Australia, what are your expectations going into Malaysia?

“The race at Melbourne was the perfect start to the season for me, although it would have been that bit better to have Heikki on the podium as well. As I said over the weekend, the MP4-23 felt fantastic and I do feel we can go quicker, but Malaysia is a tough race. We are going to Sepang aiming to get another great result, but it is likely to be hotter again so it will be a big challenge. There is not much we can do with the cars between Australia and Malaysia as there is so little time, but we will keep pushing hard.”

You enjoyed the race last year and had some great battles on track, what are the key characteristics of the Sepang circuit that lead to exciting racing?

“Sepang is a fantastic track, but the climate plays a major role making it very tricky for all of us, everyone is really on the limit and so is the car. The track is very high speed with some great overtaking opportunities, but in some places it is quite difficult to stay close enough to the car ahead. The Malaysian Grand Prix with our double victory last year was one of the best races of the season for the team, we had a great car and great pace. The race with both Kimi and Felipe was good fun, hopefully the race will be as entertaining again this year!”

Can you outline the physical preparations you have made specific to the heat and humidity of the Malaysian race?
“For Malaysia it is very difficult to prepare physically for the race, even more so this year, you cannot begin to imagine how hot it gets in the car. Last season we had the test session and a couple of weeks off so we were able to go to a hot country and train there to get acclimatised. This year we are going straight from Melbourne to Sepang, which gives us a couple of days to get used to the extreme heat. We have had a bit of a head start with the temperatures in Melbourne. The focus is always on making sure you are well hydrated, last year I was drinking up to four litres a day in the days building up to the race. It was the hardest race I have ever competed in last year, even with all that preparation and really trying to look after your energy beforehand.”

How are you spending your time between Australia and Malaysia?
“We don’t really have much time, I left Australia on Monday and flew straight to Malaysia. The focus in the early part of the week will be training and acclimatisation; this also includes adjusting to the time difference. We will make sure we are eating at the right time and so on. Otherwise, I have nothing else planned. The hotel is quite far away from the Kuala Lumpur, as it is located very close to the track, so I plan to stay in the city for a couple of days. I didn’t see it at all last year, so I will take a look around, try some Malaysian food.”


Following the performance of the team in Australia, what are your expectations going into Malaysia?

“My target is to build on the fifth position from Melbourne. We were really competitive all weekend, and I was making sure I kept relaxed and didn’t put any additional pressure on myself. I now have my first race with the team under my belt, apart from the safety car it went really well and we are now going to push harder in Sepang. The car was really quick and we now have to work hard to take that performance to Malaysia.”

You scored your first Grand Prix point at Sepang last year; does the track layout suit your driving style?
“I hope so! I think your driving style has to suit all the tracks if you want to be winning races and fighting for the Championship. I consider Malaysia last year my first proper race in Formula 1, so I have some good memories from there. It is a very interesting track, very wide with some great corners. It is a cool place to go and I am looking forward to the race.”

What are the key areas you have focused on in training prior to this race and how will you manage the conditions over the weekend?
“The main process is getting your body used to the heat, and we were able to start that in Melbourne as the conditions were pretty warm, so it was another step up in the heat. When we are training we try to stay out in the heat and keep hydrated. We also focus on my diet, what I am eating and when. I am working very closely with my trainer and the team doctor to ensure I am fully prepared.

How are you spending your time between Australia and Malaysia?
“I flew out to Kuala Lumpur on Monday, I visited the city last year, so I went straight to the hotel to focus on my training. It will be much the same as just outlined, staying out in the heat, which for me coming from Finland is very unusual. We have 40 degrees but it is always minus not plus!”


What are your thoughts going into the second race of the 2008 season?

“It was an encouraging start to the season for the whole Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team, however naturally we are not resting on our laurels. The race in Australia demonstrated clearly how competitive the 2008 season is and therefore we need to continue to push forward and develop our performance across the board. Both Lewis and Heikki were fantastic throughout the weekend and they will push even harder in Malaysia. The team has won many Grands Prix during the past ten years but, frankly, we haven’t won enough titles. We feel it is time we put that right and the drive is there in every member of the team to try and achieve this.”

Can you please outline the specific preparations the team takes for the Malaysian Grand Prix, from both a personnel and car perspective?
“Obviously the dominant factor of Malaysia is temperature and humidity. Dealing with people first, it is imperative that all members of the team from the drivers through to the mechanics are hydrated to allow them to perform at their maximum. The McLaren Lab team work with the drivers to ensure that during the course of the weekend they remain hydrated and in peak physical condition. In the race itself we take measures to ensure there are sufficient fluids on board the car for the drivers, but still whatever you do it is still very tough environment for everybody in the team to operate under those conditions. With regards to the car, the cooling is all important and ordinarily the design team don’t like to have excessive cooling on the car because of the performance costs. Heat is a big factor on drivers and cars, whilst you also have the humidity that makes it harder on the drivers, but not on the car. As it has turned out, Australia this year was a pretty severe test of cooling for both driver and car. Ordinarily Malaysia has been the first hot race, but this year we have benefited from the experience of the high temperatures in Australia.”

With only a week between the races, is it possible for the team to make any developments to the cars?

“The timeframe does allow for various minor modifications as we respond to the circumstances after Australia. The calendar this year will see the first large scale set of upgrades at Barcelona. We are planning to have a significantly revised aero package and a range of other components on the car, and it is likely to be the same for the other teams. It is a pretty difficult start to the year. We have transported cars, equipment and people to Australia and then three and a half days later, we have to have shipped everything quarter of the way round the globe. It is a tough start for the year and we are geared up for the intensity of it.”


How have the Mercedes-Benz engines been transported to Malaysia?

“The engines Lewis and Heikki used in Friday’s Free Practice in Melbourne were installed in the two MP4-23s on Sunday evening after the race and were brought to Malaysia with the cars. They will be used again in Friday’s practice in Malaysia. The engines from qualifying and race which will be used again at the Sepang Circuit on Saturday and Sunday, have been inspected and certified and were shipped in special boxes.

What are the challenges for the engines in Malaysia and how have they been prepared?
“With ambient temperatures like in Australia of 40 degrees Celsius, or even above, and a very high humidity, the Malaysian GP will be a real challenge for the entire technical package and for the engines in particular, because they will be used for the second race weekend in a row. In these difficult conditions, almost more than two thirds of a lap in Malaysia will be run under full throttle. As the engine rules allow only minor changes, there is no special preparation for the Malaysian race. Only the intake trumpet length can be changed if the ambient conditions in Malaysia warrant it. Any other potential changes required must be done with the permission of the FIA, and under FIA supervision. This would only be in exceptional circumstances apart from routine preparation work. “

What is key for a good lap time at the Sepang Circuit?

“In Sepang we will race with medium to high downforce. We need good grip for the slower corners, such as the complex at turns 14 and 15, to reach the best possible speed at the following straights. Under braking as well as with the fast direction changes, stability is crucial. Although the circuit allows a good rhythm, it is quite challenging for both drivers and cars. The width of up to 15 metres allows partially different racing lines, which also makes overtaking possible. Even after our first victory I do not see us in the role of favourite in Sepang. We will focus on continuing to improve our technical package and thoughts of a win or of the role of being favourite will distract us.”

How is the balance of power after the first Grand Prix?
“It would be a big mistake to underestimate Ferrari after Australia and we definitely won’t do that. For sure we had a head start and we all work hard to keep this advantage in the forthcoming races, but our competitors will not try less hard.”

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