The Formula One fraternity moves to Malaysia this week for round two of the 2006 World Championship. Following the season opening Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday, Team McLaren Mercedes arrives in Malaysia looking to build on the pace of the MP4-21 demonstrated at the Sakhir circuit.
With only four days between the Bahrain event and Free Practice in Malaysia, the team travelled straight to Kuala Lumpur’s Sepang circuit to begin preparations for the race, with the MP4-21s and other trackside equipment also leaving in the early hours of Monday morning, arriving in Malaysia on Tuesday 14th.
Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya are spending a couple of days in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore respectively, to start acclimatising to the hot and humid conditions of the Malaysian Grand Prix. Sea freight for the race left the McLaren Technology Centre on Friday 27th January and arrived at Sepang on Saturday 4th March, after a period in storage in Kuala Lumpur.
“My race in Bahrain showed that the MP4-21 is a competitive car, despite the heavy fuel load I had for most of the race compared to the cars around me, it was quick. I now want to get back on track in Malaysia and have a better qualifying session, so that I can improve on my finishing position in Bahrain.”
“Sepang is a track that sees car set-up compromised between efficiency at high speeds, for areas such as the start and final straights where we reach full throttle, and good grip for the slower corners, such as the complex at turns one, 14 and 15. Parts of the track are great to drive, such as the S complex and you need to really push through here to get a good lap time.”
“After Bahrain, I have been spending a few days relaxing and doing my fitness training in hot conditions. I will also focus on getting used to taking on a lot of fluid to replace what is lost through sweat. Dehydration affects concentration levels, muscle strength and endurance, and so I have been working with my trainer to avoid this. We also have to make modifications to the cars to cope with the heat, for example there will be larger air cooling intakes on MP4-21 for this race.”
Juan Pablo Montoya
“I am really looking forward to the Malaysian Grand Prix this weekend, Sepang is a track I love to race on and it suits my driving style. I am hoping that this will help me and the team to find a better set-up with the car than I had in Bahrain and that we will be putting more points on the board.”
“The wide track and its sweeping corners mean there are a few good overtaking chances, I guess the main opportunity is corner 15, but you do need really good traction to make the most of it. Other characteristics of the track are the gradient changes, including through the complex at the end of the first straight, and the different cambers. Of course the humidity is another major factor, Malaysia is a really punishing race physically. It gets so hot in the cockpit, up to 50 degrees centigrade and you lose a lot of fluid, up to four litres, during the race alone. The tropical climate means that it could rain at any minute, so that is always a bit unpredictable, particularly because when it rains in Malaysia, it really rains!”
Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren CEO
“It was an interesting start to the 2006 season in Bahrain, which gave us the first opportunity to understand how the new qualifying and tyre change regulations would operate in race weekend conditions, and to gauge our genuine competitiveness compared with the other teams. Of the latter, it was a reassuring race for Team McLaren Mercedes with the performance of the car meeting our expectations. Despite Kimi’s issue in qualifying and Juan Pablo’s handling concerns, we were able to take ten points from the weekend, which is a good basis to build upon.”
” We now move to Malaysia, where tyre wear is a key factor. Despite a smooth surface characteristic, the hard acceleration and braking points combined with the high track temperatures, which can reach 50 degrees centigrade, tends to punish the tyres. Our Michelins performed well in Bahrain, with the intensive development work conducted with the test team and Michelin over the winter to ensure we adapt back to short stints proving invaluable, and we hope this performance will continue at Sepang. After Malaysia, our test team will return to the track, at Paul Ricard in France, to continue their programme. This will include conducting the shakedown of chassis 4 of MP4-21, which we aim to get out to Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix.”
Norbert Haug, Mercedes VP
“We learned in Bahrain that the level of competition is higher than we have ever previously seen in this sport. A demonstration of this was the fastest lap times of the top seven drivers, which were all within just over four tenths of a second and the best lap times of the top ten drivers in qualifying all within about a second. We were quite pleased with the performance of our technical package and are now looking forward to the Malaysian Grand Prix.”
“The conditions at the Sepang circuit will be different from those experienced in Bahrain last weekend, as the race takes place in hot and very humid conditions with a chance of rain this time of the year. The track with a smooth, low grip surface is quite hard on the tyres as a result of the high surface temperatures. Close to 70 percent of a lap will be run under full throttle, so the track is quite stressful for the engines.”