The Sepang circuit is a stone's throw from Kuala Lumpur
International Airport where the Malaysian Airlines flight carrying
239 passengers and crew departed 18 days ago and has since become
the home for many associated with the story.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said earlier this week that the
Beijing-bound flight had crashed into the southern Indian Ocean with
a search for debris ongoing some 2,500 km (1,550 miles) southwest of
Perth in Western Australia.
While the Laureus Sports Awards in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday opted
to scale down their week of events in response to Najib's
announcement, the Formula One party has continued as normal for the
16th staging of Malaysia's premier sporting event.
That meant Chinese relatives of the missing MH370 passengers were
forced to change hotels to make way for those involved in the
glamour sport, which started its new season in Australia two weeks
The drivers have been quick to offer their support and Lewis
Hamilton also has a "#PrayForMH370" message on the side of his
Mercedes car this week and he will be hoping it is on display for
the entire 56 laps of Sunday's race after only managing a brief
three-lap run in Melbourne.
The season opening race was won by the Briton's team mate Nico
Rosberg after the German overtook pole sitter Hamilton before the
first turn and eased to the checkered flag.
Mercedes appear to have been quickest in adapting to the new V6
turbocharged hybrid engines that have leveled the playing field
after years of Red Bull dominance but they remain wary of being
labeled championship favorites.
"While we were pleased to come away from Melbourne with a win, we
were also left with plenty to think about," Mercedes executive
director Paddy Lowe said.
"As is to be expected with such new technology, we are learning more
about the car with every lap. This inevitably brings more problems
to the surface, all of which require careful management.
"Our priority has therefore been to arrive in Malaysia in better
shape mechanically than we left Australia."
One driver in greater need of major progress is four-times defending
world champion Sebastian Vettel, who failed to finish in Melbourne
after reliability issues dashed his hopes of a 10th race win in a
row after only a few laps at Albert Park.
Vettel's preseason had been struck by big question marks over the
Red Bull's Renault-powered unit but the German saw a few shoots of
optimism ahead of the Malaysian race which he won in controversial
style last year after defying team orders.
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"We still have a lot of work to do with the car but it was
encouraging to see that our pace was better than expected in
Australia," said Vettel, who won 13 of last season's 19 races.
"Hopefully we can build on that and start collecting some strong
points in the next two races."
His new teammate Daniel Ricciardo thought he had sealed a brilliant
second place finish on his Red Bull debut at his home grand prix but
the podium place was taken away from him by the FIA after the
Australian was deemed to have broken fuel rules.
Red Bull have appealed the decision with a verdict due after next
week's Bahrain race in the Manama desert.
McLaren's Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen was promoted up to second in
Melbourne following Ricciardo's disqualification with team mate
Jenson Button joining him on the podium in a bright start to the
season for the team that had a 2013 to forget.
However, the Briton said the car lacked race pace to challenge for
victory on the notoriously quick Sepang circuit where afternoon
thunderstorms are again predicted, which could play havoc on the
"Even if we don't yet have the pace to take the fight to the front-runners, we should have a car that's decent in every sector, and
which we'll be able to hustle through the race," the 2009 world
(Editing by John O'Brien)
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