Former F1 World Champion Jenson Button predicts 'absolute madness' in Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang, forecasting fun and games with the ever-unpredictable Kuala Lumpur weather and describing Pirelli's tyres for the weekend as 'very different from those we had in Melbourne'.
Having struggled during FP1 today – posting only the 15th-fastest time, more than three seconds shy of the leading pace – Button improved dramatically during the afternoon FP2 session to vault up the timing screens into second place at the close of play, a scant five thousandths of a second adrift of Red Bull Racing rival Mark Webber.
“This afternoon's session was much better than this morning's,” the McLaren-Mercedes star confirmed. “We found things a little difficult during FP1; after Melbourne, we chose to head in a certain direction in order to resolve the issues we had in the first race, but the track is very different here, so we went back on a few of those changes and everything is performing better now.
“We don't know what fuel loads the other teams were running, of course, but what's important is that we changed a lot of things on the car and they were all positive steps. We feel like we've found a good direction – and hopefully there'll be more to come.”
The major issue, he acknowledged, is the fact that 'the tyres feel very different from those we had in Melbourne', resulting in 'everyone struggling with rear grip'. That is a situation that will only be exacerbated by the fiercely hot conditions – with the track temperature climbing to 51°C and an ambient level of 37°C – and the anticipated torrential rain on race day at Sepang.
Memories are still vivid of the 2009 race-stoppage due to the track being practically flooded, and qualifying for last year's edition being similarly unsettled by the weather – causing many drivers, Button included, to come uncharacteristically unstuck. This time around, both qualifying and the grand prix itself will begin at 4pm local time in an effort to attract a greater share of the European TV audience – but by the same token, leaving drivers right at the mercy of the capricious elements and Malaysia's regular afternoon downpour.
The combination of the tropical heat, stifling humidity, monsoon-like forecast and wet tyres that are likely to deteriorate swiftly on a drying track will test the sport's stars to the absolute limit, the 2009 title-winner contends.
“Getting used to the humidity is very difficult, no matter what you do, and the heat is tough,” acknowledged the man who triumphed in Kuala Lumpur on his way to lifting the drivers' crown two years ago, and one frequently recognised for his expert tyre-management. “You have to be well-oiled – have enough liquid inside you – and trying to be as relaxed in the car as possible is the key.
“It's tough from the word 'go', because on the lap to the grid you are going slowly. There is no airflow in the car and it's very, very hot. Then in the race, the heat means there is no cool air and on the straights you are struggling to breathe.