'Unlucky 13', or so they say, but Sebastian Vettel is bidding to turn his 'unlucky' grid slot for the Malaysian Grand Prix into a much luckier result on race day – and he is hoping the heavens do their worst to help him along his way.
After initially qualifying third in Sepang, the Red Bull Racing star then faced a ten-place demotion for having been controversially deemed the guilty party in his late-race collision with BMW-Sauber rival Robert Kubica in Melbourne seven days ago – a coming-together that left both cars with significant damage and led to the Australian Grand Prix ending under a safety car.
With heavy rain having been a feature of both the build-up and the grand prix weekend itself in Kuala Lumpur, however, a wet race cannot be ruled out – and Vettel hopes it could be just the added variable he needs to atone for his Albert Park punishment and really make an impression.
“We had a test at Jerez and actually it was raining the whole day, I think, so it was quite good,” the 21-year-old revealed. “We even did a race simulation in wet conditions, so if it rains, hopefully that will help us. I think the whole team did a good job again putting the car quite far towards the front, but obviously with the penalty it's a shame, so I'm hoping for some rain. Usually the rain here comes a bit later in the day, so anything can happen.
“It's always hot here, even at night, but it is at least a little bit colder than in the mid-day heat so temperatures will be okay. Driving in the twilight was no problem really because the sun isn't that low and it was also quite cloudy unlike in Melbourne, so we couldn't always see the sun. I don't expect problems, but you never know. When it starts raining here, it's not just a bit of rain – it's quite heavy and it gets even darker than it is already at five o' clock, so we will see how it is.”
Vettel will have much work to do if he is indeed to work his way up through the field into points or even podium contention, but Formula 1's youngest-ever grand prix-winner has a strong car underneath him in the Adrian Newey-designed, Renault-powered RB5 – even if he well knows that the development pace cannot be allowed to slacken if the Milton Keynes-based squad is to remain at the sharp end season-long to give him a chance of adding to his breakthrough Monza victory with Scuderia Toro Rosso last year.
“I think it's different to what most people expected,” he reflected of the current 2009 pecking order in the top flight. “The picture is looking different at the start of the season, but it's a very long season, so everybody has to keep working very hard.
“In the past, especially [with] teams like Ferrari and McLaren, I think that they have proven more than once that even if they start the season struggling a little bit, they definitely have the ability to fight back. Maybe we are in a good situation now, but we have to keep working very, very hard to stay there. It's one thing to be in the front, but another thing to stay at the front.
“I think [the fact that lap times are still tumbling even with the new regulations] is very different to what people expected – the cars being much slower – even though the cars look a bit weird, still, compared to last year's. Obviously the slick tyres are stronger than they proved last year, but if you look at the lap times, I think it says it all.
“In Australia we were very quick, quicker than last year and here again. I think it's a bit of a surprise. You would expect us to be much slower with these kinds of cars, but we're not. It's always a bit funny to see that even if you take away here, you take away here and you take away here, lap times still go down, so imagine where maybe you could be if you were allowed to do certain things. Let's see how it develops throughout the season.”