After an overnight flight from Melbourne I arrived at the hotel in Kuala Lumpur at 8am to find that my room isn’t ready. That’s okay, there is a pool for later, a decent restaurant and a pretty good wireless signal in the main cafe area, so here I am. It’s hot here, as you’d expect, but blessedly quite overcast which takes the edge off it.
It’s a new hotel on me, Port Dickson overlooks the Malacca Straits and it’s about half an hour’s drive into the track. It’s a lot better than the place we used to stay with ITV, which was like Las Vegas. Here we are tranquil, can reflect on the events of the last few days. On the way in the car, we passed through lots of rubber tree and oil plant plantations, trees as far as the eye can see. We also passed two Chinese cemeteries and my cab driver pointed out that the Chinese tradition is to spend BIG money on a headstone. Even normal working people have a tomb to satisfy a movie star or a monarch !
We had to pass the Sepang circuit to get here and I asked him what the Malays think of the race and the track these days. He said that they are still proud of the event, of the fact that it is putting the country on the world map. Most people cannot afford to go, but they support the idea of it.
Like I said, the cafe at this hotel is the only place you can get wifi and so that’s where myself, Anthony Davidson and Radio 5 Live producer Jason Swales are working.
Judging from the comments I’ve seen on the web in the last few days, the 5 live commentary team have gone down a storm back in the UK, particularly with their work on the red button for BBC TV during the practice sessions. I’m pleased for Ant. He’d rather be driving, like any racing driver, but he’s a brilliant communicator, as I discovered when I did that 2006 Hungarian GP with him, Jenson Button’s only previous win before Sunday.
He’s got a great eye for what a car is doing and he’s able to communicate that to his audience.
There are about a dozen of us here in Port Dickson, journos, a couple of of the McLaren communications people and some photgraphers. Many of them have been coming here for years. Tonight there will be a good vibe in the bar. There is a camaraderie among people on the road. We miss our families and very much appreciate their support, but most of us share the same reasons for being here and are passionate about the sport and what we do.
We will stay here today, working, then go into the track tomorrow to see what’s new. I expect to see some new parts flown out for some of the big teams. They stick them in the hold of the passenger plane, pay the excess baggage charge and just get on with it. Many is the time I’ve helped out some poor engineer, who has three trolleys with front wings, rear wings or gearboxes in huge flight cases!
All the teams are chasing the Brawn’s performance at the moment. I was thinking back to my chat with Jenson yesterday afternoon. He now goes to a race expecting to win, rather than merely hoping to, as he did in 2004 and 2006, the only times he’s had a competitive F1 car. I’m pleased for him, because most F1 drivers never get to know that feeling, it’s only the household name who do.
Red Bull has the hardest job to copy the diffuser concept because it doesn’t fit their design at all. Ferrari too have a lot of rejigging to do.
Sepang is more of a proper race track than Albert Park and this will allow the Brawn to stretch its legs a bit more. I guess that the Red Bull will give chase again and I’m sure we’ll see more from Ferrari there. Williams and Toyota failed to take advantage of a quick car in Melbourne, we’ll see if they are similarly competitive here. You have to take your chances when they come and Rosberg fastest race lap showed that the Williams was easily capable of repeating its podium of last year, but niggly problems took that away from them. It’s so tight in the group behind Brawn that teams have to grab every chance they get.
We saw on Sunday that getting the car to look after both the hard and soft tyres is critical to success. That will be the thing to look out for on Friday in practice.