Challenge for drivers, engineers alike

Physically, it is one of the most demanding races of the season, writes Narain Karthikeyan

It has been a very short week between the 2006 season opening race in Bahrain and this weekend's Grand Prix in Malaysia, a week filled with frenetic work for members of the Formula 1 circus.

As for myself, I had to fly to the Williams factory in Oxfordshire, England to make myself a new seat, so I can start my testing duties.

My first test is scheduled to start on March 22 at the Valencia circuit in Spain and I'm looking forward to being back in `office.' I reached Malaysia on Friday to work with the team and our partners, including the Tatas.

Its promoters often bill the Malaysian Grand Prix `The Hottest Race in The World', with good reason, given that ambient temperatures are in the range of 40°C and humidity at approximately 90 per cent!

Physically, it is one of the most demanding races of the season, as cockpit temperatures push the drivers' endurance levels to the brink, and can result in body fluid losses of well over one litre per hour during the race.

With the last race in Bahrain also being run at high temperatures, the all-new V8 engines are enduring a true baptism by fire, having to last two full racing weekends, so many of the teams will monitor their engine temperatures very closely.

At Williams, we are confident of our engines, as our suppliers, Cosworth Engineering, have had more experience building high-tech racing V8 engines than all the other Formula One engine manufacturers.

Good result

The team had a good result at the season opener in Bahrain, with both our drivers Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg finishing in points scoring positions, and Nico even recording the fastest lap-time of the race, a fantastic achievement for a rookie in his first ever Formula One race.

The last time such a feat was achieved was by Jacques Villeneuve at the Australian Grand Prix in 1996, also, by the way, in a Williams.

The 56-lap race at Sepang will also present a tremendous technical challenge for drivers and engineers alike. They will need a car with a balanced set-up because complicated corners, high-speed directional changes and blisteringly fast straights are a trademark of this circuit.

Also, despite being a smooth track, it traditionally does not offer a lot of grip for the tyres, and therefore a balanced downforce configuration is vital. If a car is quick at Sepang, it will probably be quick at all the remaining circuits.

Weather factor

The almost daily tropical thunderstorms in the late afternoons could also influence the outcome at Sepang, since the wet weather Bridgestone tyres should give all Bridgestone-shod teams an edge.

After the two practice sessions on Friday and one on Saturday morning, it seemed that our team (Williams) as well as Honda, Ferrari, McLaren and Renault were on the pace.

It points to an exciting prospect for the knockout qualifying format introduced this season. In fact, qualifying on Saturday turned out to be more exciting than anyone had hoped for. It was, in true Malaysian style, hot and humid, with a track temperature of almost 45°C.

At the end of the session, Giancarlo Fisichella claimed pole position. Weather forecasts for Sunday are more or less the same as they were on Saturday, with a possibility of thundershowers. The team is looking forward to the race.