Malaysian Grand Prix - prologue


Melbourne always looks more appealing on the looming horizon than it does in a rear-view mirror, so cab rides to its airport are traditionally accompanied by a tinge of regret. There are worse places to be heading, though, than Kuala Lumpur.

An early departure to Malaysia might have been financially astute, but I lingered in Australia until 3.35am on Thursday – an opportunity to spend more time amid absorbing local wildlife and clean, dry heat. On that final evening, colleagues Mark Hughes, Tony Dodgins and I discovered an understated jewel in central Melbourne: Thai Culinary is a tiny and unprepossessing but wonderful eaterie. It looks like a takeaway – because, in part, that’s what it is – but serves fantastic curry at a reasonable price. Its charms might be concealed behind plain trimmings, but they’re worth seeking out should ever you happen to be passing.

The previous evening, a plate of beetroot salad and solitary glass of Sauvignon Blanc had come to almost 40 quid alongside the River Yarra, because some restaurants base prices on location rather than quality of food or service.

One of the last things we see in Melbourne is a McLaren MP4-12C, lurking in the airport foyer. It’s as much an attention magnet as you might expect, but the front number plate dangles on the floor – a detail of the kind that would enrage Ron Dennis’s inner perfectionist, although it perhaps symbolises the minor malaise that has lately blighted his team.

It doesn’t matter how often you visit Malaysia, the humidity always feels more intense than you last remembered. This time is no exception. Australia is usually one of the easiest races in terms of impromptu media access, because team principals and drivers tend to loiter on the paddock’s grassy verges. Malaysia is the opposite, because almost everybody plumps for a weekend of air-conditioned shelter.

Lewis Hamilton’s body language is fascinating during his routine press briefing: he seems utterly relaxed, probably more so than at any time during his F1 career to date. He has to raise his voice at times, because Mercedes-Benz’s microphone isn’t working properly, but at least he’s audible.

The same could not be said for the early stages of the FIA media conference, when pre-race championship leader Kimi Räikkönen joined rookies Valtteri Bottas, Jules Bianchi, Giedo van der Garde, Esteban Gutiérrez and Max Chilton on stage. Nothing was transmitted to the media centre as Räikkönen spoke, although in that instance silence probably taught us just as much as sound.

For all its cutting-edge profile, Formula 1 can sometimes look a little antediluvian from within.

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