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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Malaysian Grand Prix: Heat is on Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel

German driver trails championship leader Lewis Hamilton by 28 points after failing to finish in Singapore

Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Ferrari is shown on a screen in the Drivers Press Conference during previews for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit. Clive Mason / Getty Images
Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Ferrari is shown on a screen in the Drivers Press Conference during previews for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit. Clive Mason / Getty Images

The heat is on Sebastian Vettel at this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix.

After blowing pole position by causing a crash at the Singapore GP two weeks ago, the Ferrari driver threw away a golden chance to regain the championship lead from Lewis Hamilton.

Instead, he drifted 28 points behind the British driver, who clinched his sixth win of the season for Mercedes-GP.

"The last race was a strong reminder that sport always has the power to surprise," Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. "We have been on the receiving end of those bad moments before."

But with just six races remaining, Mercedes has the upper hand and Vettel's margin for error is increasingly small. He can ill afford another blip in Malaysia, where the intense heat and stifling humidity make it one of Formula One's toughest races.

Singapore offered some respite, since it was a night race, but this one is raced in afternoon heat with 80 per cent humidity. Cockpit temperatures reach around 50° Celsius.

"It's like being in a sauna. We have all of our gear on and the car is hot as well," Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas said. "The seat itself is warm, and then we're surrounded in the cockpit by the electrical boxes."

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Drivers can expect to shed five per cent of their body weight in fluid loss.

"Fatigue sets in," Bottas said. "It's more difficult to be consistent and, in the very worst cases, you can develop cramps or even problems with your vision."

The undulating, 5.5-kilometre) track — a mixture of long straights and quick, sweeping corners — is also one of the most challenging, and enjoyable, for drivers. Many are sad that the Sepang International circuit is hosting its final race.

"They are taking away the toughest, if not the toughest race of the season," Hamilton said this week at an event by Mercedes backer Petronas in Kuala Lumpur. "It is sad to think this is our last race at Sepang."

Neither Vettel nor Hamilton have fond memories of last year, however with both failing to finish the race as Red Bull Racing clinched a one-two with Daniel Ricciardo holding off Max Verstappen.

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Vettel could use a helping hand from Red Bull now.

Red Bull have been improving in recent weeks and looked strong in Singapore qualifying, placing both cars ahead of Hamilton and Bottas.

Ricciardo has been looking particularly strong, with his second-place finish in Singapore earning him a seventh podium position in the past 10 races. Without a troublesome gearbox, the Australian might even have challenged for the win.

On a track that suits Red Bull well, a similar grid position on Sunday would be ideal for Vettel — providing he can avoid crashing again.

That Vettel finds himself in a chess-like scenario is much of his own making, and he must still be waking up at night with cold sweats thinking of Singapore. He made a sloppy error of judgment heading into Turn 1, taking out his Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Verstappen — both of whom could realistically have denied Hamilton a podium finish and crucial points.

Understandably, given that Ferrari have not won a driver's championship since Raikkonen's title in 2007, the team were not impressed.