Following victory in Australia two weeks ago, Mercedes will again be considered favourites for this weekend’s Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix (Race: Sunday, 09:00 BST, live on BBC / Sky Sports F1).
Nico Rosberg (pictured) took the honours in the season-opening race at Albert Park, nipping past teammate Lewis Hamilton at the start and never relinquishing his lead thereafter. Hamilton and reigning four-time drivers’ champion Sebastian Vettel both retired early on.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo came second on the track but was later disqualified due to fuel flow irregularities. That decision resulted in McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen being promoted to a superb second place on his debut, with teammate Jenson Button third. It was an excellent start to the season for McLaren, who failed to secure a single podium finish during 2013.
Elsewhere, Valtteri Bottas gave some indication that the pre-season optimism surrounding the Williams team was well founded by recovering from a minor accident to work his way back through the field to fifth, while Nico Hulkenberg finished in a solid sixth place for Force India. Ferrari secured a double points finish but were a little slower than expected.
The Sepang International Circuit is a medium-to-high downforce track with a variety of corner types. The first couple of turns and the final hairpin offer the best overtaking opportunities. The circuit is hard on tyres and Pirelli have unsurprisingly opted for their medium and hard compounds for this weekend’s event. Most teams are likely to two-stop.
The weather is always unpredictable in this part of the world, but current forecasts suggest a good chance of rain and/or thunderstorms on Saturday and Sunday. What can be said with certainty is that the conditions will be hot and humid, which will pose more problems for the teams than the relatively mild temperatures in Australia.
Hamilton equalled Nigel Mansell’s British record of 32 career pole positions by heading the field in Australia and Mercedes are again likely to enjoy a pace advantage in Malaysia. With this in mind, it is probable that the battle for pole position will be fought between their two drivers.
Hamilton took pole position at Sepang in 2012 and has out-qualified his teammate in four of his last five races at the circuit, including last year, when he qualified two places ahead of Rosberg. He dealt well with the damp conditions in Australia, which could put him at an advantage if, as is likely, there is rain during qualifying.
Vettel has won this race in three of the last four seasons, but it would be a major surprise if he does so this weekend. Red Bull, like other Renault-powered teams, struggled with cooling issues during pre-season testing and despite Ricciardo’s promising showing in Australia it is unlikely they will be in contention for victory in the hotter climes of Sepang.
It was difficult to get a true gauge of the pace of the Mercedes in Australia, as Hamilton’s early retirement meant that Rosberg was not forced to explore the limits of the car’s performance.
Mercedes are, however, universally thought to have the quickest car in the paddock and will again be considered favourites for this weekend’s race. This has been recognised by the bookies, who are offering a best price of an unattractive 1/2 (with Ladbrokes) for either Mercedes to win.
Of the two Mercedes drivers, Hamilton should be considered favourite for victory on Sunday. He was aided by team orders in finishing ahead of Rosberg last year, but that was his second consecutive podium in Sepang and the fourth time in the last five years that he has finished ahead of his teammate of the time.
Hulkenberg was one of the most impressive performers in the second half of last season, securing six top 10 finishes in the last eight races of the year (10 in 18 overall), and began his 2014 campaign in a similar vein with a sixth place finish in Australia.
The German has previously shown himself to be excellent in changeable conditions and has also proved himself a reliable finisher over the last couple of years, having been classified in 90% of his last 40 Grand Prix. He has finished in the top 10 in each of his three previous visits to Sepang and can be fancied to replicate the top six finish he achieved in Australia.
Following the results of pre-season testing, in which reliability problems truncated the running of a number of teams, there were fears that no more than a few cars would make it through the Australian Grand Prix. In the end, not including the later-disqualified Ricciardo, there were eight non-classified drivers, leaving 14 finishers.
The hot and humid conditions in Malaysia will be much tougher on the cars, especially in regards to engine cooling, which was a major problem for a number of teams during testing. With the possibility of rain also looming, we would expect to see less than 14 finishers on Sunday.
F1 Malaysian Grand Prix Betting Tips
- Back Lewis Hamilton to take pole position @ best odds of 6/5 with Betfred.
- Bet on Lewis Hamilton to win the race @ best odds of 7/4 with Betfred, Paddy Power, Coral, Ladbrokes or Totesport.
- Back Nico Hulkenberg to finish in the top six @ 3/1 with Bet365.
- Bet on less than 14 drivers to be classified @ best odds of 6/4 with Stan James.