Drivers ready to sweat it out in Malaysia

The Formula One teams visit the Sepang circuit in Kuala Lumpur for the sixteenth race of the 2016 season. The battle for the driver’s championship is finely poised between the Mercedes pairing of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, with the German eight points ahead and only six rounds to go. Rosberg has the momentum heading into this race, having won all three that have took place after the summer break, but Hamilton will be hoping to break this run on a track where he has previously tasted success.

The 2015 race marked Ferrari’s first victory in the hybrid era, with Sebastian Vettel taking victory in only his second race with the Italian team. The four-time world champion will find it tough to match that result this year as he has only managed one podium finish since July. As has often been the case this season, the main challenge to Mercedes is expected to come from Red Bull, with Daniel Ricciardo hoping he can go one better than his Singapore result to secure his first win since 2016. This will consolidate his third place in the championship.

Although it is possible for Mercedes to secure their third successive constructors title with a good result this weekend, there are still close battles throughout the field. Red Bull have gained the upper hand over Ferrari over the last few races, and have built up a fifteen point lead to hold second in the championship. The fight for fourth is much closer as Force India, who are heading for their best season since the Jordan days of 1999, are just one point ahead of Williams. Further down the order, McLaren will be hoping that their new engine upgrade helps them stay ahead of Toro Rosso, with Haas hoping they can replicate their early season form to stay ahead of Renault, Manor and Sauber.

It wouldn’t be a Malaysian Grand Prix weekend without talk of the weather. Hot and humid conditions are forever testing drivers and cars, as is the threat of thunderstorms. One driver who will be hoping for rain to hit the race will be Jenson Button, who will be starting his 300th GP on Sunday, with only Rubens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher starting more. Button, who will be taking a sabbatical from the sport next season, is known for his prowess in changeable conditions. He demonstrated this most famously at the 2011 Canadian GP, and wet weather is likely to be his best chance of getting one final podium within the sport.

Jenson Button isn’t the only driver who might be missing from the grid next season. Esteban Gutierrez has been criticised by his rivals in recent races for his reluctance to let them past when he is being lapped, while Jolyon Palmer’s chances of staying at the Renault team look to be shrinking every race as he is yet to score any points in his debut season. His departure would leave Britain with only one driver in 2017, a sign of how the sport is moving away from its traditional European heartlands, and continues to grow across the world.

Luke Etheridge

Photo Credit: Morio

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