Formula One: Malaysian Grand Prix preview

Ding ding, Sunday Afternoon Clubbers. Welcome to, er, Thursday evening and welcome to… Malaysia. The leggy blonde with the big card is in the ring and it’s round two. Yeah! So soon? How did that happen? We were thinking the same.

Seeing as it’s already too late to get decent odds on Jenson Button to win the world championship, we thought this time we’d concentrate less on who’s going to win, more on what’s occurring behind the silver and orange cars.

Are we that sure the McLaren MP4-27 is the class of the field already? Pretty much. The noises from McLaren have been cautiously optimistic, to say the least, especially from a team not known for rampant optimism, cautious or otherwise.

“It’s ours to lose…” is the précis of McLaren paterfamilias Martin Whitmarsh’s comments post-Australia. Jenson Button was understandably less guarded. ”If you think we were quick in Melbourne…” he’s been telling folks all week. “I wasn’t upset, I was just being…. quiet” the not-quite-as-official line from Lewis Hamilton.

Lewis – to a man (figuratively), we love you here at Sunday Afternoon Club. We know you’ve been getting your head back together after last year’s shenanigans, and we get eating Jenson’s dust can not have been easy. But in life it’s always a good idea to smile in the face of the bloke who’s just knocked you over. It’s an even better idea in racing. Your yellow-striped helmet is a tribute to Ayrton, and did he let that Frenchman get to him at McLaren? He just rolled with it and got on with winning.

Okay, enough McLaren. On the basis of qualifying, the race in Australia was between only the fastest and the third fastest cars. The second fastest, the Lotus E20, was never really in the race, what with RoGros’ rusty start and rack-bending wrestle with Maldonado. Meanwhile, the even-more-rusty Kimi Raikkonen screwed up qualifying entirely, so never got a run in the top ten. In the race however, if not exactly on-the-pace, he was properly fighty. Qualifying in Malaysia should give us a clue to his pace relatively to Grosjean, but come race day Kimi’s already said he’d be “somewhat aggrieved and more than a tad disappointed not to finish in the top three come the chequered flag.” Well actually, he just said “podium”, but we know what he meant.

So two McLarens and a Lotus on the podium, where does that leave the others?

Red Bull? Novelty-named smoothie and team manager Christian Horner has been as quick to say the McLarens won’t run away with the title as he’s been to deny stories Ferrari have decided he’s the answer to their problems. Over at Ferrari meanwhile, poor old Felipe Massa will have to face his first race knowing that everyone else in the paddock will be wondering if Ferrari are going to take his contract and hand it to Sauber’s Sergio Perez. Could this be Massa’s last race?

Mercedes are saying, somewhat incredibly, that they’ve found a cure for F1 W03’s insane hunger for rubber. On the blogs the battle still rages over whether the slots in the rear are blowing the lower rear wing or, via some impressive plumbing, the front wing. Certainly when Michael Schumacher span in practice, he went out of his way to ensure nobody took a photo. Amusing.

And that, breathlessly, brings us to the Toro Rosso/Sauber/Force India battle, which if anything was even tighter than pre-season’s inseparable form indicated. If any of you can share with the Sunday Afternoon Club a corner-by-corner description of exactly what happened on those last laps, we’ll round up some Top Gear junk and mail it to you.

Practice is at 0200 hours and 0600 Friday morning and 0500 hours Saturday. Sky will be all over that with live broadcasts. Check your EPG for programme times. Qualifying starts at 0800 on Saturday (Sky will be on earlier) and the race is at 0900 Sunday.

The BBC is again showing highlights of both qualifying and the race, and we’ll be online after their highlights with our take on events as usual…

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