The Australian Grand Prix gave us a tantalising glimpse of what we might expect from the 2005 season. But with qualifying times made unrepresentative by the weather and many drivers still struggling to make their tyres last a race distance, there’s still a lot we don’t know.
Did Rubens Barrichello take second on merit and are Ferrari really that quick even with the ’04 car, or did Juan Pablo Montoya spoil his tyres with a trip off the track and conserve his engine from then on? Fernando Alonso was wickedly fast, but how much was his team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella keeping in hand? Are BAR really that far behind?
We look to Malaysia for answers. When the teams first arrived here in 1999, they were getting a glimpse of the near future. Since then they have come to similar Hermann Tilke-designed, government-funded racing ‘facilities’ which have sometimes produced good races but usually with an air of sterility.
We can at least expect a few things of the Malaysian race:
1. The chance of rain interfering with either of the qualifying sessions cannot be discounted, and when it rains on Sepang, it pours like nowhere else.
2. It will be hot as hell, so any teams who struggled to make their tyres last at Melbourne will have big problems here – Toyota, and possible Williams.
3. Of the potential front-runners both BARs, Nick Heidfeld and Michael Schumacher will have fresh engines, so they should be less likely to suffer reliability problems.
If it stays dry for all of qualifying expect the Renaults, McLarens and Ferraris to be at the front, with the McLarens perhaps more competitive than Melbourne suggested. Although reliability was impressive across the field in Melbourne, this is the first time the engines will be used for a second weekend so expect there to be more retirements.
This aside, we know very little else about the state of play than we did two weeks ago. The Malaysian Grand Prix could well hold as many surprises as the Australian race did.