Rain the focus of Malaysian Grand Prix

Organisers will be watching the skies, rival teams will be eyeing the Ferraris, and local fans will be cheering on their own new team at this weekend's Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix.

The main talking point in the F1 paddock at Sepang is the chance of rain, after last year's tropical downpour which forced the race to be abandoned after an hour, with only half the usual points awarded.



That abandonment forced a revision of the starting time, with this year's race brought forward from 5 p.m. to 4 p.m local time. That will lessen the chances of the arrival of rain, which tends to come in the late afternoon, while also allowing for a re-start if the race is stopped. Last year, by the time the storms had passed, it was too dark to contemplate a re-start.



Rain and scattered thunderstorms are forecast from Friday onward, which makes it difficult to predict which team will thrive in the conditions. The last round in Australia had some light rain, but the cars have not yet been tested in truly wet conditions with the heavy fuel loads required this season.



Should it remain dry, Ferrari looks the team to beat, based both on performance this season and historical precedent in Malaysia.



After two races, Fernando Alonso leads the championship with 37 points from Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa on 33.



Alonso's total would have been even higher if not for being spun in contact at the first corner in Australia and having to fight his way through the field from last after the first lap to finish fourth.



After some lean times with Renault, Alonso was already getting back the feeling that saw him win two world titles.



"I want to be world champion at the end," Alonso said Thursday. "Every time I get in the car, my head is on November, and having the trophy."



He still regards the Red Bulls, McLarens, Massa, and even the currently struggling Mercedes cars as having the potential to deny him that third crown.



"For the championship right now, the eight drivers are all contenders and all in the fight."



Ferrari has an enviable record over the 11 years of the Malaysian Grand Prix, with five wins and seven pole positions.



Alonso also has some history of his own here, winning in 2007 for McLaren.



One team that may be happy for this weekend's race to be abandoned at half-distance, as it was last year, would be Red Bull. Both in Bahrain and Australia, Sebastian Vettel led comfortably mid-race only to to be stymied by technical failures.



As a result, the German has only 12 championship points instead of the 50 he probably would have had if the car had lasted. Teammate Mark Webber had also got little reward with six points.



However Webber scotched suggestions that Red Bull's hopes of winning the constructors' championship were already over, after just two of 19 races.



"There are 750-odd points left," Webber said. "The championship is not over this weekend I don't think. It finishes in November, so there's a long way to go.



"No one is trying harder than us. Thank God there are 17 to go and we'll capitalize on that."



Red Bull's speed over the opening races had raised eyebrows at other teams, with suggestions the team is using an adjustable suspension to lower the ride height in qualifying and raise it for the race. While the team denies it, rivals have been eyeing the cars very closely but have yet to lodge the formal complaint required to prompt an FIA investigation.



"Our car technically has passed all the regulations so far," Webber said. "If we get pulled up on something, obviously things will change."



McLaren's drivers come into the Malaysian race in different frames of mind. Reigning world champion Jenson Button was rewarded for a bold early tire change in Australia, taking the victory.



Teammate Lewis Hamilton will be glad to put Australia behind him, after being pulled over by local police for dangerous driving, qualifying poorly, and then fuming at his team after the race for forcing him into an additional pitstop which he felt cost him second place.



Its not just the leading teams that will be the focus of attention in Malaysia, but also newcomers Malaysian-run Lotus.



The team has modest goals for the opening stage of the season — finish races and outperform fellow newcomers Virgin and Hispania — and is about two seconds per laps off the top teams. However, it is sure to be among the leaders in merchandise sales and crowd enthusiasm at Sepang.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Kim Sears is reported to have directed abuse at Berdych
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
Voices
A mother and her child
voices
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballI have never seen the point of lambasting the fourth official, writes Paul Scholes
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee