PETALING JAYA: Team BMW Williams are counting on the bomohs to keep the rain away as they eye a repeat of last year's success in the Petronas Malaysian F1 Grand Prix at the Sepang F1 Circuit on Sunday.
They feel that the weather holds the key to their chances of getting the better of Ferrari and McLaren in Malaysia again.
Ralf Schumacher won the race last year to end Ferrari's three-year reign in the Malaysian GP. Teammate Juan Pablo Montoya finished second even though he had a drive-through penalty.
It was the first and only 1-2 finish secured by Williams as Ferrari went on to dominate the rest of the season.
Williams have enjoyed a profitable start this year with both drivers finishing among the points in the season-opening Australian GP in Melbourne on March 9.
Montoya finished second after a spin towards the tail-end of the race handed victory to McLaren's David Coulthard while Schumacher took eighth place.
Williams team manager David Owens said that they were optimistic that the all-new FW25 car this year has what it takes to challenge for top honours.
“Quite simply, we feel we have a championship-winning car this year,” said Owens via e-mail.
“The car has proven to be relatively quick but due to being a fairly radical change in design, the team feel that it will take a while to tease all of the refinements out of the car.
“We are expecting the drivers to get the car quicker as the season develops.”
Williams are looking at securing another win in Sepang, especially when traditional rivals Ferrari and McLaren have yet to launch their new cars. Ferrari and McLaren are expected to stick to their 2002 models for the Malaysian GP.
“We are confident of our chances here as this was the venue where we scored our first 1-2 finish,” said Owens.
“It was very hot and the track conditions suited our package last year. We hope things will stay the same as we want to put ourselves in a comfortable position in the overall standings before the start of the European races.
“But if it rains, things could completely change the race order.”
Although the local weatherman is predicting a dry and hot race, Williams are not taking chances.
The test team, with Marc Gene at the wheel, took part in a wet tyre-testing programme for French manufacturer Michelin at the Jerez Circuit in Spain last Saturday.
The Spanish circuit was watered for the day and the emphasis was on weather conditions that teams may experience in Malaysia.
Owens added that contrary to what was expected in Melbourne, the new one-shot qualifying format had not really changed the circumstances of the race.
“In fact, the weather seemed to be the key variable. This also applies to Sepang where the weather can be unpredictable,” he said.
“Whatever alterations are made to the rules, ultimately, the fastest cars will always come to the fore.”
Montoya is also optimistic of finishing on the podium for the second successive year in Sepang.
“It is pretty difficult to say how we will perform in Malaysia. We might be really good and finish in front. Or we might be 10th! Historically, we have always been really quick in Malaysia,” said Montoya, who will be flying in from Australia today.
“Sepang is a very smooth track and I think the hot weather should suit our package, especially our tyres. With the improvements Michelin have made, I am not concerned about rain.”
Schumacher said that the results of the Australian GP proved that the car had potential.
“I am quite content with my result from the opening race but I have no doubt that we have a lot of work to do. I am really looking forward to Malaysia. I have good memories of last year's race and I hope to repeat the experience,” he said.
Williams have nine points and they are second behind McLaren in the constructors' standings. Coulthard's victory and Kimi Raikkonen's third-place finish in Melbourne, put the Mercedes-powered outfit at the top with 16 points.