Kimi Raikkonen may have cruised to victory in last weekend’s Australian Grand Prix but the ‘Iceman’ may not have it quite as easy in the Malaysian heat with the second race of the year likely to throw up a completely different set of results, especially if it rains.
Raikkonen’s win was built on a solid start and the perfect use of a two-stop strategy as Lotus was able to run two stints of over twenty laps on the medium tyres on an unusually cold track even as rivals struggled with graining and degradation and had to stop thrice.
Malaysia, on the other hand, is one of the hottest races on the calendar and its layout, featuring several high speed corners that ask a lot of the tyres, will be a step into the unknown for teams who have so far run in cool conditions over winter testing and the Australian GP.
Looking at last season, when Raikkonen came close to winning the Bahrain GP, Lotus would seem to be the car to beat this weekend, particularly if the weather stays dry, as it appears to have inherited its predecessor’s ability to look after its tyres. However, rivals are also likely to run Lotus a lot closer as the heat allows them to switch tyres on quicker and avoid the graining many of them suffered in the last race.
“In Australia we didn’t have a normal weekend and I’m not sure that everyone got the chance to put the right set-up on their cars — especially for the race,” Raikkonen’s team boss Eric Boullier said in a team preview. “So let’s see if we have a normal weekend in Malaysia. That will be the test. I’m sure it’s going to be a little tougher for us, but I’m sure we’ll put in another very strong performance,” he added.
Trying times for tyres
The result in this race, like the last, is once again likely to hinge on tyres and teams will devote today’s practice to understanding how they behave in the Malaysian heat. But what teams will also be working into their strategies following today’s sessions is the likelihood of rain. The Malaysian Grand Prix is notorious for its fickle weather and late afternoon showers are common.
The race was abandoned in 2009 and was halted for nearly an hour last year.
With humidity building throughout the day, the race can often start in torrential rain only for the track to dry out enough for drivers to be able to use the dry weather tyres and clever strategy can often turn an underdog into the top dog as witnessed with Fernando Alonso last year.
Judging by the pace Lotus displayed last time out, it is difficult to bet against them being in contention this weekend. But with teams stepping into the unknown in terms of how the new Pirelli tyres will cope with the heat and the ever-present threat of rain, a Raikkonen win is far from certain.
“Last year we were pretty good when it was hot and actually it was better for us, but obviously we haven’t run in these kind of conditions and the winter has been very cold, so I have no idea,” Raikkonen said at Sepang. “But if it’s anything like it was last year we should be pretty okay, but we have to wait and see how it goes,” he added.