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By Alan Davies, Formula One correspondent
Thursday, March 22, 2012
LEWIS Hamilton heads into the second round of the 2012 FIA Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championship looking to add the Malaysian Grand Prix to his list of 17 race victories.
"I’ve not won at Sepang before, but I’ve had some good races here – and I’d like to put the record straight with a victory this weekend."
Following his third place in the season-opening Australian GP, the 27-year-old Vodafone McLaren Mercedes star from Hertfordshire is hoping to finish top of the podium on Sunday.
First practice at the Sepang circuit near Kuala Lumpur takes place tomorrow (Friday) morning, starting at 2am UK time.
Hamilton hasn’t won in Malaysia yet and is looking tick that box this weekend.
He said: “It’s never really something you’re particularly conscious of during the race weekend, but I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’d love to win a grand prix at every circuit I race at.
Top speed: 310km/h
Average speed: 220km/h
Pit straight length: 927m
Circuit length: 5.543km
Race length: 56 laps/310km
Number of corners: 15
Longest section at full throttle: 11.0s/927m
“I’ve not won at Sepang before, but I’ve had some good races here – and I’d like to put the record straight with a victory this weekend.”
The Malaysian GP has been a regular fixture on the F1 calendar since 1999.
The Sepang circuit was the first of the Government-funded, Hermann Tilke-designed venues that now prevail in the sport.
Several high-speed changes of direction, coupled with long straights and tight hairpins, make the 5.543km track a thorough workout.
Good car balance is vital and it’s no coincidence that the winner of the Malaysian race has gone on to win the world title for the past three seasons – Sebastian Vettel being last year’s victor.
Hamilton’s McLaren team-mate Jenson Button feels the circuit will suit the MP4-27 challenger.
“I think we’ve got a car that really works well in the high-speed stuff – we saw that throughout winter testing,” said the 2009 F1 world champion.
“So I think the challenge this weekend will be to find the right balance – at this stage in the year, you’re still learning about the car and how to get the best from it.
“But I think the engineers understand how our car is strong – I know they’re really looking forward to extracting the maximum from it in Sepang this weekend.”
The heat and humidity of the tropics add another dimension to the race.
Blistering track and ambient temperatures make it hard on tyres, tough on drivers and one of the most physically difficult races for all F1 personnel.
Hamilton said: “I think we go into the weekend feeling pretty optimistic because Sepang is quite a high-speed circuit and our car has usually gone well in the high-speed stuff during winter testing.
“Sepang will also be a test because of the high temperatures, but we’ve traditionally been able to manage the cooling on our car quite well, so I don’t think that will be too much of a concern.
“Physically, it’s always a tough race, but we’re improving the organisation in every area, and I think we’ve taken some interesting steps this year to ensure the whole team will be better prepared for the heat and humidity.”
Hamilton nailed it in qualifying around the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne last weekend to start from pole position.
However, he was beaten to the chequered flag by Button.
“After the race in Australia, it was difficult to understand exactly what happened,” admitted Stevenage-born Lewis.
“I was generally happy with the car all weekend, but just lacked a bit of pace compared to Jenson in the race.
“Afterwards, I sat down with my engineers and we went through all the data.
“There was a small issue with the clutch at the start: it wasn’t my fault, but we now understand and know how to improve in the future.
“My race pace was pretty much identical to Jenson’s, but he was able to switch the tyres on extremely well, which explains how he was able to pull a gap so quickly at the start and also after the restart.”
Hamilton added: “It’s encouraging and reassuring to understand the reasons for our race pace in Australia, and it puts me in a really positive frame of mind for the race in Malaysia.
“Plus, it always helps to be back in the car only five days after the last grand prix – you move on so quickly.”
He also feels F1 fans will get a clearer picture of overall pace over the next three days, starting with tomorrow’s two free practice sessions.
“Clearly, we’re very encouraged by our pace, both in qualifying and in the race, and I’d like to think we can continue that at Malaysia this weekend,” said Hamilton.
“I think both Mercedes AMG and Red Bull Racing have performance up their sleeves, and they’ll both be very fast in qualifying and the race.
“As far as Vodafone McLaren Mercedes is concerned, it’s nice to be the hunted rather than the hunter, which has been the case in the past few seasons.
“But I know how well our team can respond – the result in Australia will only double everyone’s resolve.
“The development race has already started and we’ll be pushing like crazy to stay at the front.
“I think Malaysia will add detail to the overall picture, but it’s the pace of development – between ourselves, Red Bull, Mercedes, Lotus and Ferrari – that will define the course of the season.”