All eyes are watching as Formula 1 teams and drivers, including Australian Grand Prix winner Jenson Button and failing team HRT-Cosworth, prepare to rev their engines and burn rubber at the 2012 Formula 1 Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix on Sunday.
Jenson Button hopes to stack up back-to-back wins for McLaren following last week's dustup at the Australian Grand Prix, and there's still an open question about whether HRT-Cosworth will even qualify to race at Kuala Lumpur's Sepang International Circuit after the team's failure to do so in Melbourne, Australia.
Sepang is more of a high-speed circuit (than Melbourne); there are some fantastic sweeping corners here and, if the car's working properly, it's a real joy to drive .... I think we've got a car that really works well in the high speed stuff, Jenson Button said.
Button isn't discounting the strengths of the other teams, and he says he will be particularly wary of Sebatian Vettel's performance for Red Bull Racing-Renault at Sepang.
The expected challenges to Button and McLaren, unsurprisingly, are expected from Red Bull, Mercedes AMG and Lotus. However, with Button riding high post Melbourne and Lewis Hamilton, the number two seed at last year's Malaysia Grand Prix, flying wingman, it remains to be seen if anyone can really challenge McLaren's early lead.
The McLaren team is certainly satisfied with this year's car and the able Australian performance of its drivers. We were delighted to discover that MP4-27 has been successfully developed into a race-winning package, Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren team principal said.
But even with confidence in the car, McLaren is wary of the unpredictable charge of Red Bull. We head to Malaysia mindful that we'll once again receive a stern challenge from our closest rivals - most notably Red Bull Racing and Mrecedes AMG, both of whom will have points to prove this weekend.
The entire field is still getting a feel for their cars, and Sepang has a reputation for being an extremely challenging track, particularly given the Malaysian heat which can sap the strength of cars and drivers.
The biggest outstanding question in the run-up to the 2012 Malaysia Grand Prix is whether HRT-Cosworth will even make it to the starting line. It's unclear whether the car will be up to challenge as it seems to still bit a work in progress.
Our two main priorities for Malaysia are to have DRS (drag reduction system) and improve the power steering in this short time ... Sepang is probably the toughest track of the year both for car and driver. Mechanically it's very demanding because besides there being a lot of consecutive high-speed corners, it is very hot and humid. Cooling is key, said HRT-Cosworth racer Pedro de la Rosa.
Hopefully the struggling team to make the requisite qualifying time of 107 percent of the leader's qualifying lap at Saturday's qualifying round.
Practice rounds at Sepang begin at Sepang at 10 a.m. Kuala Lumpur time Friday (10 p.m. Thursday, EDT), and qualifying takes place at 4 p.m. local time, Saturday (4 a.m. Saturday, EDT). The actual race takes place on Sunday at 4 p.m. in Kuala Lumpur, 4 a.m. EDT.
Formula 1 has provided an entertaining preview video showing last year's Malaysia Grand Prix highlights. Check it out to familiarize yourself with the insanity that is Sepang.