Malaysian GP Preview: Relationship Problems

After what I described as a conservative 58 laps from the Formula 1 circus in Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix, we now turn our attention to making sure all 20 runners at least make the start for the second round of the championship set to take place in Malaysia this weekend.

It was perhaps the most talked about element preceding the season opener just two weeks ago; the lack of cars actually out there racing. Hamilton and Rosberg were making it look like Formula Mercedes, whilst everyone else coasted through with the occasional bit of action or ding-dong from what now must be the fifth on-track duel between former teammates Jenson Button and Sergio Perez.

Of course a noticeable absence during the race was Fernando Alonso, who makes his return this weekend after spending the last month recovering from his crash in testing, in which he sustained a concussion after hitting a concrete barrier side-on at 89mph.

Thursday_Malaysia_3_F1WeekendsInitially details about the crash were not fully explained by McLaren. Of course they had limited data to work with, but they insisted that it was a case of the car being sensitive to the crosswinds that were present during that day of testing – something other drivers also complained about.

However in todays press conference Alonso was quick to point out that it wasn’t a strong gust of wind that made him lose the car but rather a steering problem. “Even a hurricane will not move the car at that speed” said Alonso, who seemed adamant that McLaren’s explanation was – as expected – a bit far fetched.

What is clear though is that Alonso’s recollection of what went on isn’t as inaccurate or scattered as one might have thought. He was quick to denounce the rumours that he woke up in hospital thinking it was 1995, going on to explain how he switched off the ERS unit so the approaching marshals could touch the car. “I was perfectly conscious at that time” he said.

We’ll probably never understand the circumstances of the crash given the limited amount of data cars can capture and feedback given from Alonso, but this total denial of what was previously stated by McLaren is never the less the first strain on the rather turbulent relationship between Alonso and Woking.

Elsewhere we have Red Bull looking to recover from their shocking display of pace throughout the season opener, after the team publicly lambasted Power Unit supplier Renault for giving them an engine which to all intents looks like a step backwards from last year.

As explained yesterday the punch and counter-punch mentality being adopted by the two parties – with Renault’s Cyril Abiteboul hitting back at Adrian Newey by calling him a liar – is only going to result in a similar culture to what happened at Ferrari last year under the helm of Luca di Montezemolo. Having restructured over the winter its a case of role reversal for the two top teams, with Ferrari being best of the rest and Red Bull looking rather average.

How long is it before we see the soft drinks company pick up the pace again and challenge both Williams and Ferrari for that precious last spot on the podium. They know from their wins last year that it is crucial for them to be on a similar level of pace as Maranello incase the two Merc’s suddenly run into trouble, but if Renault are talking about not being able to deliver them a race-winning Power Unit until next year, you have got to wonder whether they have the patience given their cut-throat mentality about business.

Both Abiteboul and team principle Christian Horner are set to appear in the team principles press conference tomorrow after Practice Two, which should be worth watching since I’m sure they’ll be given questions with regards to their recent spat along with Red Bull’s threats to quit the sport amid their poor performance.

As for the race itself, Mercedes will be looking to impress in front of main title sponsor Petronas which likely means another race where they lap most of the field, with Rosberg also likely looking to beat Hamilton this time out. In fact we had a revelation from Rosberg today in the form of him using a women’s sanitary towel in his helmet to stop sweat from dripping down his head into his eyes. Cunning ingenuity one might say, if not slightly bizarre.

Thursday_Malaysia_F1WeekendsElsewhere I think Ferrari still see their nearest rival as Williams, who have openly said that they have fallen behind them over the winter. Although with Bottas back in their car it should help their cause having only had one man to fight their corner in Melbourne. Customer team Sauber look like they may impress again, although it will be interesting to see how a full grid of cars – if we get it – effects their performance since they didn’t need to pass too many to pick up some good points at round one.

McLaren are expecting to be at the back of the field again as they gather more data in their engine development quest with Honda. I think it will be a sorry sight when Alonso gets lapped by Hamilton and Rosberg, assuming he makes it to the grid without blowing up.

And finally Manor look set to take to the track for the first time in 2015 this weekend, after firing up their engine properly today in the garage as well as facing pressure from Bernie Ecclestone, who apparently wants the team to pay their freight costs to Australia after they failed to take part in any session during the weekend due to their software issues.

Many have said that they don’t expect Manor to race this weekend either, instead just taking part in Practice as they continue to sort out their problems. Although they could return to the grid China, we said last time out that German media don’t expect to see them take part in a full race weekend until Bahrain. We’ll see what this means for Manor in due course, although their future in the sport will look troublesome if they don’t at least make steps forward on track this weekend.

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