x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

There must be calm before storm

Johnny Herbert, who will be a race steward in Malaysia, says that, although rain is expected on Sunday, waiting for a downpour can ruin a team's race.

BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld, right, and McLaren's Lewis Hamilton wait on the track during a rain delay during last year's Malaysian F1 Grand Prix. The race was not restarted.
BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld, right, and McLaren's Lewis Hamilton wait on the track during a rain delay during last year's Malaysian F1 Grand Prix. The race was not restarted.

This race is going to be a bit different for me as I am going to be much closer to the action as I am a race steward here in Malaysia. For the last 15 or 20 years there have been race stewards in Formula One. Their job is to watch over the racing and monitor incidents such as pitlane speeding, to see whether teams have all the tyres on the car on the grid in time before the start, or any collisions or accidents on the track.

It is their job to assess an incident and decide if a driver should receive a penalty or not for the incident. Under Jean Todt, the FIA president, it was decided that this year at every race there would be a race steward on the panel who is a former driver in Formula One and has the knowledge and experience of racing at the highest level. Their job is to share their thoughts on incidents and what a driver would have been thinking to help the stewards come up with their decisions.

Alain Prost did Bahrain, Tom Kristensen did Australia and I am doing Malaysia and may well do others during the season. I am looking forward to it and I think it is a really good idea as it can only bring a more informed view to why a driver tried to make a certain manoeuvre or tried to pass someone at a certain point on the circuit, and can only add more credibility to the decision-making. This is a very big weekend for Sebastian Vettel and the Red Bull-Renault team as they really need to get some big points on the board.

They have been very fast, but their reliability has let them down and they really need to win in Malaysia. They are already quite a few points behind in both title races and they don't want to get any further back as it will get harder and harder to pull back that kind of deficit. Sebastian needs a good showing here and then in China so he can go back to Europe with a solid base from which to really push for his first championship.

Red Bull have had a few problems at each race and that has cost them badly. They had problems in testing back in February and it has continued on into the season and they need to sort that side of their challenge out quickly if they are to have a hope of fighting Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes for the championship. Another big factor is the weather. Obviously last year's race showed what could happen if it really rains here as it had to be cut short with parts of the track under water, and we are in a region where, at this time of year, a rainstorm is always a possibility due to the humidity.

While it is always on the cards the teams always have to prepare normally because if you wait and wait for the rain and it doesn't come, it can ruin your race if you change your strategy or set-up. With the race starting at 4pm local time it is normally in the period when the showers come so there is always going to be a chance of the weather being an issue. It rained this morning, which normally doesn't happen, and then again this afternoon, before becoming heavier, so it is going to be something weighing on the teams and drivers' minds.

The track is really good to drive and is full of fast corners, but also has technical corners like at turns one and two and at turn five. It is a good challenge for the drivers and they enjoy it. I was fourth here in 1999 for Stewart Ford in the first race here and then the suspension fell off my Jaguar in 2000 and I went off and ended up having to go to the medical centre. So it was a bit of a mixed time here for me in terms of results.