SEPANG, Malaysia, April 8, 2011 (AFP) - Britain's Jenson Button warned drivers to expect "absolute madness" at the Malaysian Grand Prix with heavy rains forecast and concerns over new wet-weather tyres supplied by Pirelli.
The 2009 drivers' champion issued the blunt assessment after the Italian tyre-maker, which has taken over from Japan's Bridgestone as the sport's new supplier, warned its wets were liable to degrade on a drying track.
Button said drivers would be tested to the limit during Sunday's 56-lap race because of the combination of Pirelli's fast-eroding tyres, Malaysia's tropical heat and humidity and forecasts of a monsoon-style storm.
"It's going to be an interesting race even if it stays dry because of the tyres around here and their low wear performance," he said."But with the heat and humidity, and with it being a very tough circuit on tyres, then we are going to see a very different race to the last one in Melbourne.
"Then you chuck the weather into it and it's going to be absolute madness. It will still be good and we're all looking forward to it because you never really know what's going to happen."
Two years ago the grand prix's start was moved back two hours to 4:00 pm (0800 GMT) to attract a bigger TV audience in Europe, but this created mayhem because the race was halted after 31 laps by a torrential afternoon storm.
Last year, the Saturday qualifying session was upset by rain and it resulted in serious misjudgements by both the Ferrari and McLaren teams. This year, both qualifying and the race will begin at 4:00 pm, a slot which will attract more European viewers but which risks being hit by Malaysia's regular afternoon downpour.
Button, known to be one of the most astute drivers in the management of tyres during races, said the high temperatures and strength-sapping humidity were already a major challenge for the teams and drivers. "Getting used to the humidity is very difficult, no matter what you do, and the heat is tough. So you have to be well oiled - have enough liquid inside
you, and trying to be as relaxed in the car as possible is the key," he said.
"But it's tough from the word 'go' because on the lap to the grid you are going slow. There is no airflow in the car and it's very, very hot. "Then in the race, the heat means there is no cool air and on the straights you are struggling to breathe.
"If your water system stops working you have big difficulties. I've had it in the past here and I started to get dehydrated.
"You start shivering, your eyesight starts going and it can become very dangerous -- so making sure your drinks system is working is very important around here."
Pirelli motorsport boss Paul Hembery warned the new rain tyres will not last long on a drying circuit and the rubber will degrade and blister rapidly, which could be a huge factor if it rains. "I hope they have to go through rain-intermediate-slick and they don't just jump from rain to slicks," he said.
"I don't believe they will be able to go from rain to slick because the wet-weather tyre won't operate on a drying track and will blister very quickly. You don't want to be on a dry track with the full wets. Not a wise move."
Jenson Button on track: