The Formula One season is still in its infancy, but it's clear to everyone that the McLaren-Mercedes team is going to be a lot stronger than it was last year. That's something that can only be good for a sport which has arguably it's strongest driving field ever in 2012. If you don't know what I'm talking about, there are six former F1 World Drivers' Champions on the grid.
Men like Michael Schumacher, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso and Sebastien Vettel are drivers who are, or have been, at the top of their craft for a number of years. Of the six men in that list, the two freshest are Schumacher and Raikkonen. Schumacher made his return in 2010 after four years away, and last week's Australian GP was Raikkonen's first GP since the Abu Dhabi race at the end of 2009.
It'd be disrespectful to just concentrate on the "Big Six" though. There are a lot of experienced F1 hands amongst the rest of the drivers, like Mark Webber and Felipe Massa. Add to that the untapped talents of youngsters like Paul Di Resta and Bruno Senna and it's got the potential to be a really competitive season of racing.
In last week's opening race, the McLaren-Mercedes team dominated from start to finish. Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position during Saturday's qualifying session, but it was his teammate Jenson Button who won Sunday's race. If you don't know the result of the race, then let me fill you in. The three men on the podium were:
- Jenson Button (winner): McLaren-Mercedes
- Sebastien Vettel (runner-up): Red Bull-Renault
- Lewis Hamilton (third place): McLaren-Mercedes
I know it's early in the season to talk about getting momentum, but getting a good start helps! So, with the practice sessions finished ahead of this week's race, who's got the advantage? Well, Lewis Hamilton set the pace in both sessions, with Michael Schumacher finishing second and Jenson Button third.
The big news coming out of F1 today is that Kimi Raikkonen has been given a five-place grid penalty because Lotus have had to replace his gearbox. F1 rules state that if a driver's gearbox has to be changed within five races, then they're given a five-place grid penalty. It's not exactly a help to Kimi as he's trying to fit back in to the F1 fold. He finished 15th after the second practice session, so the penalty sets him back even further.
The speculation around the race is whether Lewis Hamilton or Jenson Button will master the conditions at Sepang. It's a strange twist of fate that the only one of the 'Big Six' who's never won the Malaysian GP is Lewis. To be honest with you, I think his duck at Sepang will continue. The current F1 world champion Sebastien Vettel has won the last two in Malaysia and Jenson Button's also performed strongly there in the past.
To me, it won't be a battle of the Brits, but a straight-out fight between Vettel and Button to see who's going to dominate this race. I've got a feeling that it'll also be between Vettel and Button for the Driver's Championship. Lewis, along with Mark Webber, won't be far behind them, but I can't see past Jenson Button here.
My podium predictions for the Malaysian Grand Prix are:
- Jenson Button (winner) McLaren-Mercedes
- Sebastien Vettel (runner-up) Red-Bull Renault
- Mark Webber (third place) Red-Bull Renault
I'd be interested to know what you guys think about the Malaysian GP this weekend, so let's get some debate going! You can either leave a comment below, or hit me up on Twitter @georgec1982.