TACH SPECIAL: Formula One Visits MalaysiaBy David Treffer
Contributing Editor, The Auto Channel
March 16, 2001
The second round of 17 races for the Formula One World Championship moves to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The teams arrive with safety weighing heavily on everyone's mind. The death of race marshal Graham Beveridge during the Australian Grand Prix cast a pall over Schumacher's dominant victory.
The teams and race organizers have explored every avenue to try and insure that safety is the number one priority. However all of the precautions in the world will not stop freak accidents from happening. None the less, it does not remove the pain of losing two course marshals in the span of six months.
The Sepang F1 circuit is considered to be the prototype for future F1 circuits. The track has great viewing vistas for the fans and a paddock area that is state of the art in everyway. The drivers and the engineers who build the cars have praised the track layout. The Sepang F1 circuit has long-straights coupled with very high-speed corners. The only item that does not receive praise is the oppressive heat and humidity. That type of weather translates into one word-rain. The date for the race was moved from October to March in hopes of finding favorable weather. Anyone who visited Malaysia knows that the heat and humidity are pretty much year round. With that said the drivers still enjoy a good time and are trying to focus on the race at hand.
One of the items that are a guarantee in Formula One is the continual barrage of comments from F1 drivers about other F1 drivers. The two drivers that are currently dominating the headlines in F1 are Michael Schumacher and Heinz-Harald Frentzen. The banter concerns the issue of "Traction Control." A few years ago, F1 outlawed the use of traction control citing the need for drivers, rather than computers, to control the car. What they really meant is that only the top teams could afford the luxury of traction control. With the advancement of computer circuitry and the subsequent lowering of costs the issue of traction control has been raised again. Frentzen, commenting during post-race interviews in Australia, noted that every time he would close up on Sauber driver Nick Heidfeld in the corners, Heidfeld could accelerate "almost effortlessly." Frentzen further commented "that he heard the engine misfiring at the same time." The reason that Schumacher is confronting Frentzen is that Ferrari supplies engines to Sauber. With Frentzen criticizing Sauber, he is by proxy, criticizing Ferrari. Needless to say we have not heard the last on this issue.
So what to look for this weekend? First, Mika Hakkinen and McLaren will bounce back. Hakkinen and teammate David Coulthard appear to be the only drivers in F1 who can currently challenge Schumacher. BMW and Williams have shown great strides. Rookie driver Juan Pablo Montoya displayed the driving ability that will return Williams to prominence. The former CART star worked his way toward a podium finish only to be thwarted at race's end by a malfunctioning engine. Of course the star that everyone will be watching is Michael Schumacher who will be gunning for a sixth victory in as many starts. Schumacher, simply put, is in a class all by himself as he demonstrated at the season-opener in Melbourne. Schumacher seemingly drove away from the field with the greatest of ease. The pit stops did add some drama to the race but Schumacher seemed so at ease that people wondered just how wide the victory margin could have been if he had not backed off the last three laps of the race. The race on Sunday will determine if anyone is ready to challenge Schumacher.