Is it that time already?

With Singapore’s Marina Bay Street Circuit growing ever smaller in Formula One’s mirrors, the industry turns its sights to Sepang International Circuit, the purpose-built Formula One race track outside Malaysia’s capital city of Kuala Lumpur.

Constructed in an astonishing 14 months, Sepang was the first Formula One track noted designer Herman Tilke built from scratch. When the 5.543 km (3.444 mile), 15-turn circuit opened on 9 March 1999 it was considered revolutionary, with modern facilities and a unique design.

Two massive straights bookended by tight corners are signatures of the track. It’s a twisting layout that challenges the drivers and their engineers. The track’s width encourages numerous overtaking opportunities, but the incredible speed that can be attained on the straights is actually restricted by the fast, flowing corners as teams sacrifice outright speed for aerodynamic grip and balance.

This places extremely high loads on the tyres. Heavy braking increases the load, as drivers spend 17 per cent of their lap under braking. Add an abrasive track surface and high ambient temperatures and you get a cauldron of punishment for the four tyres carrying the driver and the car beneath him.

It’s why Pirelli has brought the hardest tyre compounds in its range to Malaysia – the P Zero Orange hard, the P Zero White medium and the P Zero Yellow soft – a combination that was last seen in early July for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone Circuit.

But with weather often impacting practice, qualifying and the race, expect to see Pirelli’s Cinturato Blue full wet tyre and Cinturato Green intermediate tyre at some point during the race weekend.

Torrential rain storms are a frequent occurrence at the Malaysian Grand Prix as its tropical environment and mid-afternoon start time conspire for unwieldly conditions. This was especially evident in 2009 when the race was forced to end after only 31 laps as rain inundated the track. This prompted the FIA to award half points to the drivers participating, the first time half points had been awarded since the 14-lap Australian Grand Prix in 1991.

And again…

2016 Singapore Grand Prix, Sundayyy

 

Nico Rosberg today took his 22nd career victory – his first at the Marina Bay Street Circuit and eighth of the 2016 season so far on his 200th Grand Prix start. Lewis Hamilton produced a battling drive to claim P3 – his 50th podium finish since joining the Silver Arrows in 2013. Mercedes-Benz stalwart Bernd Marylander also marked his 300th race as official Formula One Safety Car driver.

Rosberg (273) leads the Drivers’ Championship by eight points from Hamilton (265) in P2. MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS (538) leads Red Bull (316) by 222 points in the Constructors’ Championship.

Nico Rosberg: “That was a fantastic weekend! In the past the Singapore track has not treated me so well, so this win is a very special one and an even more emotional one for me. The weekend started perfectly with a good qualifying session. Then, I had a good start and was able to keep the Red Bulls and the Ferraris behind me – both of which had beaten us comfortably last year. It was a bit tight at the end after Daniel (Ricciardo) did a clever pit stop timing wise. If I would have also pitted I would have come out behind him because I was stuck in traffic on my in-lap, so we chose the best strategy to stay out and a big thanks to the team for that.

“It’s great that we learned from our mistakes last year and won at what is clearly a Red Bull track. This shows the competence and strength of our engineering group. I look forward to Malaysia now – but first I will definitely celebrate this win tonight!”

Lewis Hamilton: “A difficult day and a difficult weekend. At one stage it looked like I might even miss out on the podium but fortunately it didn’t work out that way. It was an okay start. I didn’t lose any ground which is a good thing after the last one. But then I was struggling so much after the Safety Car went in. The brakes were near critical temperature for most of the race, so I kept having to back off to cool them down. I then ended up making a mistake and ran wide which let Kimi past. Fortunately, with the car a bit lighter, I was able to bring the temperatures down, push a bit more on fresh tyres and get back past him in the stops.

“Pace and strategy weren’t the issue – it was all down to the brakes. I was just watching the leaders pull away right from the start, so P2 was the maximum today. If that’s the worst weekend of the year, I’ll definitely take it. These things are sent to try us and now I’m just looking forward to the next one and a chance to give it another shot. I need a couple of strong weekends to get back to where I need to be.”

Nico edging ahead?

Nico Rosberg today took his 21st career victory – his 1st at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza and seventh of the 2016 season so far. Lewis H completed a 4th Silver Arrows 1-2 of the season. He leads the Drivers’ Championship by two  points from Nico Rosberg (148). MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS (498) leads Red Bull (290) by 208 points in the Constructors’ Championship.

Nico Rosberg: “It means so much to me to win here at Monza. The crowd were unbelievable over the entire weekend and especially during the podium ceremony. This win is incredibly special for me and standing up there and singing with thousands of people gave me goosebumps. The race went perfectly for me and after a good start I was able manage the gap between myself and the car behind. Our car has been amazing this weekend and I extend a massive thank you to the whole team. I’m looking forward to Singapore, which was our weakest race last year. Hopefully we’ve learnt lessons from 2015 and we’ll come back even stronger!”

Lewis Hamilton wasn’t as ebullient: “It’s tough to take when you lose a race because of such a poor start. From there it was just about managing the tyres during the first stint and I was delighted to get back up to second after the first stop. I kept pushing as hard as I could and came within 15 seconds of Nico when we crossed the line. I’m happy with my performance this weekend but after such an incredible qualifying day yesterday it was disappointing to be unable to capitalise. I’m sure we’ll work on what happened at the start between now and Singapore.”

Shame about the boys

Felipe Massa has certainly announced that he will retire from Formula One at the end of the 2016 season, after 14 years. Not sure about Mr Button who I thought would be off to finish his career at Williams.

The 35-year-old Brazilian is in his third year with Williams, having joined the team in 2014, and is due to celebrate his 250th Grand Prix start at his final race in Abu Dhabi this year. Felipe scored three podiums and one pole position on his way to seventh in the drivers’ standings in his first season with the team, helping Williams climb to third in the Constructors’ Championship. Two further podiums followed in 2015 as Felipe finished sixth in the Drivers’ Championship and the team retained third place in the Constructors’. He is currently ninth in the 2016 championship.

Felipe made his F1 debut with Sauber back in 2002, scoring his first points in just his second race. He was signed as a test driver by Ferrari for 2003, before returning to Sauber for two further years alongside his testing duties with Ferrari. This relationship paved the way for Ferrari’s driver academy which was launched in 2009.

Felipe graduated to a race seat at Ferrari in 2006, alongside seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher. Felipe took the first two of his 11 career victories that season, finishing third in the world championship. He came close to winning the 2008 World Championship with Ferrari, leading the standings with just half a lap of the final race of the season to go, until Lewis Hamilton climbed enough places to claim the title.

Felipe stayed with Ferrari up until he joined Williams in 2014, with his 139 starts for the Scuderia making him the team’s second-longest serving driver ever, behind Schumacher. He remains one of the most popular drivers in Formula One, especially so in his native Brazil, and in Italy following his 11-year stint with Ferrari.

However, it’s not so clear about Jenson Button. On the face of it Stoffel Vandoorne is replacing him. Jenson is sticking around and keeping race fit. In my view he’s still a contender, so what’s going on? Perhaps it’s all about the marketing. Who knows…

Back to business in Belgium

Those toiling within the globe-trotting FIA Formula One World Championship earned a three-week reprieve following the German Grand Prix in Hockenheim. The mandated summer shutdown allowed crew members to reacquaint themselves with their families and recharge prior to the stretch run of this year’s 21-race calendar which resumes on 26 August with the Belgian Grand Prix at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

Measuring in at 7.004 km (4.352 miles), Spa is the longest venue in Formula One, outdistancing the series’ second-longest track, the 6.003 km (3.730-mile) Baku City Circuit by 1.001 km (.622 of a mile, keep up!).

As well as its length, Spa is known for its reputation of being a driver’s track, thanks in large part to the addition of the signature Eau Rouge and Raidillon corners in 1939 which created a fast and sweeping uphill, left-right-left combination that drivers view with reverence and attack with gusto.

Spa has hosted Formule One since 1925, with this year’s Belgian Grand Prix serving as the venue’s 49th grand prix. The 19-turn circuit is a favorite of Haas F1 team drivers Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutiérrez. Before securing his most recent podium when he finished third in last year’s Belgian Grand Prix, Grosjean clinched the 2011 GP2 Series title at the venerable track. And Gutiérrez, with two Formula One starts at Spa, has enjoyed some fine drives in the wet when he visited the circuit during his junior career in GP2 and GP3.

A wet track is common at Spa, but it’s also common for other portions to be completely dry, as its vast layout means late summer showers can drench some parts of the track while leaving others untouched. Slicks obviously won’t work in the wet, and intermediate tyres and full wet tyres obviously won’t work in bone dry conditions. It’s a conundrum that has often greeted drivers at the Belgian Grand Prix.

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