2013 Malaysian Grand Prix Preview

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The 2013 Formula One season got off to an exciting start in Australia last weekend, with Kimi Raikkonen claiming the win following a great display of tire management and strategy. Although Lotus were pleased with his pace, they will undoubtedly be wary of Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes and even Force India heading to the hot and humid Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang. With rain forecast, could we see another surprise?

Malaysian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Lotus out to present their championship credentials

Although Kimi Raikkonen’s win in Australia was a display of sheer class and composure, many considered the biggest factor in his win to be the Pirelli tires. In terms of raw pace, Ferrari and Red Bull are the teams thought to be in the running for the win in Malaysia following strong double finishes. Romain Grosjean may have struggled in the other Lotus, but Raikkonen did set the fastest lap of the race in the dying stages. The E21 is a quick car, so expect Lotus to run strongly in Malaysia.

Ferrari and Red Bull vying for their first win

Ferrari’s double-score in Australia was impressive, and the Sepang circuit is a favorite of Fernando Alonso, so the team will be hoping to continue their pace from the last race. Red Bull were impressive in qualifying, and should the forecast rain strike they may be in the running for the race win. Once they tame the Pirelli tires, both teams should be able to match Lotus for pace.

Mercedes hoping for better

Nico Rosberg said before qualifying that if it was a wet session, he would ‘definitely’ be on the front row: he qualified sixth, and eventually retired from the race. Lewis Hamilton also struggled to match the front runners, finishing a full 45 seconds behind Raikkonen at the front. If rain hits Sepang, the Silver Arrows could challenge Lotus, Ferrari and Red Bull, but their dry running will have to improve if they are to battle for the championship this season.

Just how far back are McLaren?

Australia was a disaster for McLaren, scoring just two points and finishing as the sixth-quickest team. Jenson Button insists that fixing the MP4-28 will be no easy job, but this is where the Malaysian weather could come to their rescue. Last year, Ferrari were in a similar position to McLaren, and Alonso took a superb win during a wet Malaysian Grand Prix. The rain could come to McLaren’s rescue, although it does present the question: are Button and Sergio Perez on par with Alonso?

Sutil keen to star once again… but could di Resta spoil the party?

Adrian Sutil’s stint in the lead of the Australian Grand Prix was the biggest surprises of the weekend. Having spent a year out, he showed few signs of rustiness, and had it not been for the super-soft tires he could have finished in the top five. Force India’s pace was underlined by Paul di Resta, who finished in P8 ahead of both McLarens. If the rain does shake things up this weekend, Force India could be the biggest beneficiaries.

Track: Sepang International Circuit, Sepang (5.3km)
Laps: 56
Corners: 15
Lap Record: Juan Pablo Montoya 1:34.223 (2004)
Tire Compounds: Medium (Option); Hard (Prime)
2012 Winner: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
2012 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren)
2012 Fastest Lap: Kimi Raikkonen – 1:40.722
DRS Zones: Main straight (T15 to T1); T14 to T15

Friday – Free Practice 1: 10:00am local/22:00pm ET (Thursday)
Friday – Free Practice 2: 14:00pm local/2:00am ET
Saturday – Free Practice 3: 13:00pm local/1:00am ET
Saturday – Qualifying: 16:00pm local/4:00am ET
Sunday – Race: 16:00pm local time/ 4:00am ET

Cooper Webb leaps from obscurity to Supercross lead

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Cooper Webb could not even locate the radar tower before the 2019 season began – let alone expect to see his number dead center in the radar screen.

His ascent to 450 competition came with little fanfare. Finishing 13th in Supercross in 2017 and then eighth in Motocross, Webb did not turn many heads as a rookie. Last year was more of the same.

Through Round 7 at Arlington, Webb failed to record a single top five. That elusive result would come the following week at Tampa with a fourth-place finish. Two weeks later, he stood on the podium at Daytona for the only the second time in his Supercross 450s career. But at season’s end, Webb was only ninth in the standings in both Supercross and Motocross.

No one expected much from him when Anaheim rolled around this year.

Webb started the season much the same as he ended 2018. A fifth-place finish in Anaheim I in muddy and equalizing conditions was followed by a modest 10th at Glendale, but the rider from North Carolina believed in himself.

In professional racing, nothing is more difficult than winning the first race. Webb’s first taste of victory came in Heat 1 of the Triple Crown at Anaheim II. Everyone remained skeptical – it was only one heat race after all. The skepticism turned to interest when he won Heat 2. Then Webb finished third in Heat 3 to take the overall victory. It was his first win in the 450 class.

That was all it took to unleash his potential. Webb won the following week in Oakland and then again two weeks later in Minneapolis.

The Supercross riders left Minnesota and headed straight down Interstate 35 to Arlington with four of them separated by two points. All eyes were focused on Ken Roczen, Eli Tomac, Marvin Musquin – and, oh yeah Webb who sat in second.

Someone was likely to stumble in Arlington and the odds on favorite to do so was Webb. That seemed to be confirmed once the feature started. While the three more experienced riders led by Tomac scooted away from the field, Webb was mired outside the top five for the first six lap.

It was Tomac who tripped and fell, however. Webb passed the stricken rider and surged to fifth on Lap 7. He was in fourth by Lap 10 and third on Lap 16.  As Webb and teammate Musquin battled for the second, they slowly reeled in the leader Roczen. Once Webb broke free on the conflict with the runner-up position firmly his, he could see the red plate on Roczen’s Honda like a cape being waved in front of a bull.

Webb charged through the final six laps getting closer and closer until he edged Roczen for the closest finish in Supercross history. It was Webb’s fourth victory of the season, coming only four weeks after he scored his first career win.

Relive the final laps in the video posted above.

As incredible as Webb’s rise to the points lead is, it has been done before.

Last year Jason Anderson seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the standings after Round 2. Anderson held the advantage for the remainder of the year, while Webb has been part of a game of hot potato in which no one seems to want to don the red plate for more than a week.

The pressure continues to mount. Webb now has a two-point advantage over Roczen, who is the only rider to sweep the top five this season.

Webb’s advantage over third is a mere four points, while Musquin has a current five-race streak of podium finishes to his credit.

Tomac’s trouble in Texas serves as a cautionary tale that a single loss of focus can be devastating and Webb still lacks the seat time of his three principal rivals, but last week’s incredible come-from-behind victory is showing that Webb is riding above experience level.

Follow the complete Supercross and Motocross seasons on NBC Sports, Gold.