NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: Malaysian Grand Prix Preview And Formula 1 News

After having a week off to digest the Singapore Grand Prix, Formula 1 returns to action this weekend and the newly repaved Sepang International Circuit for the Malaysian Grand Prix.  With Nico Rosberg having won the last three races and now taking the lead in the championship by eight points, the driver’s battle remains close.  Whether or not Rosberg has found his early season mojo or is just capitalizing on opportunities in front of him, it doesn’t seem to matter.  Most pundits still see Lewis Hamilton finishing atop the standings at the end of the year.

Hamilton may be the better driver.  Hamilton also has the three-time champion pedigree.  Rosberg, however, isn’t having such a bad year, with a series-leading eight wins.  The question about Rosberg isn’t what he’s accomplished thus far but rather about his mentality and whether or not he has what it takes to continue keep Hamilton arrears.  

In fact, criticisms with Rosberg say that he’s won some of the races only because Hamilton made a mistake, or that Hamilton’s team let him down.  That’s to say that Rosberg has not shown any prowess behind the wheel and that he is merely lucky.  Of course, Rosberg has also shown foolishness on the track with his wide moves, notably tangling with Hamilton at the Hungarian Grand Prix.  

What really matters is that with six races to go, the driver’s championship is far from decided.  Though the championship might be more entertaining if both drivers weren’t racing for the same team, or a third driver was closer in the points, it doesn’t mean that it won’t be compelling.  Or everyone should hope.  

Odds & Sods

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Jenson Button enjoying his 300th F1 race weekend at the Malaysian Grand Prix. (Photo: Sutton Images)

Jenson Button may be ‘taking the year off’ next year, but McLaren is making sure to fete the former world champion in style before he takes a break (retires from the sport).  The Malaysian GP will mark Button’s 300th start in the sport and his team took the time to recreate an English pub and encourage others to celebrate the mark.  While some critics have felt that Button should have left the sport sooner, he’s been a stalwart on track and a great ambassador away from it.  Little commemorations such as this one should help to bring attention to a driver who has often been rather understated.  

Sergio Perez continues to be a name bandied about with regard to silly season.  Currently with Force India, Perez has frequently stated that he may be on the move.  His backers have much to do with such talk but that is not the core of the story.  What is fascinating about this story is that Perez is limited in his options.  With the top seats all confirmed, those being with Ferrari, Mercedes, and Red Bull, the question that arises is: just where would Perez want to go?  

Force India is currently fourth in the constructor’s championship, showing that they are a solid team.  It’s not like moving to Renault or Williams is going to do much to change his chances for wins.  Now, however, there is word that Perez may be in play at Haas-F1 Racing, which would take Esteban Gutierrez from one of their cars.  The move may be a step down but the bigger part of the equation is getting Perez into the Ferrari family, with whom Haas-F1 is aligned.  The hope there would be that Perez might then be considered for the seat that Kimi Raikkonen will likely vacate at the end of 2017.  

The FIA made a rules adjustment during the off week regarding how teams may try to work around engine use stipulations.  As it stands now, once a team has hit their allotted number of five engine component parts, the team incurs a ten-place grid penalty for each part.  While a driver then may find himself with a 30-spot penalty like Fernando Alonso does this week, the team has added fresh inventory to its arsenal.  Lewis Hamilton essentially stocked himself up for the rest of the season when the team kept introducing new engine components at Spa.

To battle this kind of workaround, the new rule states that only the last component introduced can be used at subsequent races without a further penalty.  That means that a team will not be able to stockpile a garage full of parts for later usage with impunity.  This rule seems to be in direct response to what Mercedes did with Hamilton.  

Another rule change to go into effect for the 2017 season deals with races in the wet.  As seen previously, when a track is drenched, the field begins the race on wet weather tyres behind the safety car.  Under the new regulation, the race still may begin behind the SC but when the stewards have determined the track to be fit for racing the cars will line up and restart the race from a standing start.  

The intent of the rule is to give fans the opportunity to see the a traditional start regardless of the weather.  Stated from a different perspective, the change offers fans the chance to see a wreck that otherwise may have been avoided.  The alteration seems like a bit of a peculiar one as SC laps will still count.  For example, the race could start with the SC, go for 20 laps, then the cars come in for the official start.  Hence the focus is on holding a standing start, but what is the point of the previous laps?  Look for the FIA to give this change further scrutiny.  

The Halo cockpit protection device continues to enjoy its share of scrutiny, and rightly so.  While there is little in the way of debate, in regard to offering some kind of better driver protection, use of the Halo is conflicted.  The latest example for the notion of further developing the system or looking toward a new design altogether came during practice when Kevin Magnussen’s Renault caught fire.  

The concern here is that Magnussen’s ability to remove himself from the cockpit would have been slowed by the Halo – a topic of conversation that has been part of all cockpit protection designs.  Often the concern with alacrity is tied to removing an injured driver but in this instance it would be about trying to remove a driver as quickly as possible as to avoid injury.  With plans to have the Halo or any other design fitted to the cars for 2017 scrapped already, this should just encourage everyone to get back to the proverbial drawing board to hit the mark for 2018.  

The Track

The Sepang International Circuit, situated near the Kuala Lumpur airport, opened in 1999 and has hosted a race every year since and features the second longest straight away on the circuit. The track is 3.4 miles long and features 15 turns. In 2013 and 2014, the track brought about drama between teammates with Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, followed the next year by Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg also leaving with ill feelings toward one another. Rain is often a factor at the track, with downpours a regular occurrence.  Of active drivers, Vettel leads the way with four victories tying fellow German  Michael Schumacher with most wins at the track.   

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