WILL HE OR WON'T HE? Lewis Hamilton's contract negotiations with Mercedes are close to agreement. Image: AFP / Paul Crock
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - There are many uncertainties heading into this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix, but the identity of the winning car is not one of them.
So pronounced was Mercedes' dominance through 2014 and during the Formula 1 season-opener in Australia earlier this month that it is hard to imagine anything other than another win for the Silver Arrows at Sepang on Sunday (March 29) and probably a 1-2 finish.
Still, there are many other questions to be answered in Malaysia: will Lewis Hamilton sign a new Mercedes contract before the race? Will Fernando Alonso be passed fit to drive his first race back at McLaren? Has Valtteri Bottas overcome the back injury that ruled him out of Melbourne? Will Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel call Mercedes' bluff and turn up for that team's Friday engineers briefing? And is this the last Malaysian GP?
The fight over the race win looms as another showdown between Mercedes team mates Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Since their collision at the 2014 Belgian GP the Mercedes team has won every race, but worryingly for Rosberg, seven of the eight victories belonged to Hamilton.
Hamilton will be out-of-contract at year's end but negotiations over a new deal are reaching conclusion and he may even have a new contract by the time he hits the track at Sepang.
"It is going back between the lawyers so I hop it is done before the weekend," Hamilton said on Sky Sport. "That would be great but, if not, in due time."
Alonso is in Malaysia having skipped the Australian race as a precaution due to the lingering effects of a crash during pre-season testing. Alonso passed some initial tests in England but faces further examination today (March 26).
Given how far off the pace McLaren was in Australia as returning engine supplier Honda gets up to speed with the complex hybrid-energy power trains, the most interest in Alonso will not be how he performs on the track but any revelations about his medical condition and the nature of the pre-season crash, which remains the subject of an investigation.
CONFIDENT ABOUT RACE
Bottas, too, will have to pass a fitness test today. The Williams driver tore a spinal disc in his lower back during qualifying in Melbourne and had to sit out the race. The Finn has been recovering and holidaying in Indonesia and Malaysia since leaving Australia and is confident that he will race.
The 2015 race is the last on the current contract for the Malaysian GP and the likelihood of a return in 2016 seems in the balance, judging from comments of Sepang chairperson Mokhzani Mahathir: "We want a win-win situation," he was quoted as saying by the local Bernama news agency.
"There are several issues with which I'm still not very satisfied and if we can discuss this further we will renew the contract for another three years."
Aside from the serious questions to be answered, the fun will be in seeing whether Vettel visits the Mercedes post-practice briefing on Friday. He was jokingly invited by Rosberg during the post-race media conference in Melbourne when the Mercedes driver said he wanted a close fight for the championship and the new Ferrari driver said he'd take up the offer.
Rosberg stood by the invitation in Mercedes' pre-race media release, saying he was "particularly looking forward to welcoming our special guest Mr Vettel to the Friday engineering meeting. I'm sure we will all learn a few interesting things for the weekend".Stay with Wheels24 for the 2015 Malaysian F1 GP weekend.