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Preview of the Malaysia Grand Prix

By Mav | 20 Mar 2012 | 3 Comments | 2,627 views

With barely time to take a breath after Jenson Button and McLaren’s season-opening victory in Australia, the teams head straight over to Malaysia for Round 2 of the Formula One season. Red Bull’s Christian Horner has suggested that Malaysia will again suit McLaren but then wet weather could turn the weekend into a lottery – remember two years ago when McLaren and Ferrari sat in the garage during qualifying only to eventually venture out as the rain arrived leaving them unable to stranded in Q1 and at the back of the grid?

So what should you look out for this weekend?

Team Lotus photo archive
 
Track and Conditions
Sepang’s spectacular grandstand provides the backdrop to a circuit that is one of the most challenging of the year. As well as the physical punishment the drivers receive, due to the high temperatures and humidity, there are several corners which are off-camber, making braking difficult and the perfect racing line a bit of an art.

The two long straights provide a great opportunity for the drivers to get a tow while hairpin separating them is the home of the late-braker. It’s the best overtaking opportunity as the track is wide and a variety of different lines are normally due to differing driving styles and car characteristics. Some cars prefer to carry more speed into the apex, darting past a rival in the process. However, as they then lose out on the exit of the corner, making the pass stick is not always straightforward.

As well as the hairpin, the start of the lap is also surprisingly slow but for the most part, the track is dominated by high-speed corners. Turns 5 and 6 subject drivers to the biggest g-forces but it is turns 7 and 8 which are the most challenging. Essentially a double-apex corner, drivers need to watch out for the bump in the middle of the corners, which can unsettle the car, costing time.

The circuit’s early slot on the Formula One calendar has no doubt contributed to the circuit’s above average rate of mechanical retirements, although the high temperatures are as unkind on the car as they are the driver. In the last five years, 17.1% of cars have broken down before reaching the finish, making Sepang the second toughest circuit for reliability.

Always hot and humid, in Malaysia the real question is when it will rain, not if. Early evening rainfall occurs almost daily at this time of year but will it arrive early enough to impact on the race weekend? The long range forecast is currently for scattered thunderstorms so the teams will be keenly watching the radar.

Sepang International Circuit

Set-Up
The cars will run with high downforce to give good stability in the high-speed corners while a stiff suspension set-up ensures good change of direction around the twisting circuit. Despite several big stops across the lap, Sepang is not particularly demanding on the brakes. This is due to the large distances between the braking zones, giving the discs enough time to cool down.

Sepang is a tough engine circuit with a high proportion of the lap spent at full throttle because of the high number of high-speed corners. Coupled with the high temperatures (higher temperature equals lower air density) the engines are really worked hard throughout the weekend.

Set-Up Guide
Race Preview Guides Explained

Strategy
Assuming the race is dry, this weekend sees Pirelli’s two hardest compounds in action, with the high-speed corners working the fronts particularly hard. Last year, Pirelli allocated their soft and hard compounds but as this year’s hard tyres are based on the 2011 medium compound, the overall result is actually a softer, and quicker, set of tyres. The increased tyre wear caused by the unique nature of Malaysia could lead to an increased number of pit stops, with three stops proving to be the winning strategy last year. However, a relatively long pit lane means that there is the potential to gain time by making less stops, possibly making greater use of the hard compound – a pit stop will cost drivers around 21-22 seconds.

If it’s wet, all bets are off. To compound their problems in that situation, the teams have limited knowledge of Pirelli’s new full-wet tyres – although a wet practice session may enable the engineers to better understand when to switch from intermediate to the full wet and plan the strategy more effectively.

The generous run-off areas make the safety car a rare sight at Sepang – it’s been called into action just once in the last five years and is unlikely to have an impact on strategy.



 
Remember This?
Rain can change a race and in 2001 it was Ferrari who judged the situation the best. Michael Schumacher started ahead of team mate Rubens Barrichello but by the second lap the heavens had opened. A lap later they both spun off at the same spot. Those who went past pitted for wet tyres but Ferrari opted for intermediates, Schumacher having to queue behind Barrichello for his tyres. The German then produced one of his great races to recover from eleventh and take the victory.

Ones To Watch
With heavy rain having regularly mixed up qualifying or the race, perhaps the radar is the one to really keep an eye on. However, Sebastian Vettel goes into the weekend with the possibility of becoming the first driver to win the race three times in a row. Meanwhile, Caterham will be looking for a strong performance in their home race and HRT will be just hoping to take part in the race.

Food for Thought
Will McLaren once again be the team to beat? If they are, can Hamilton reverse the respective fortunes of himself and Button? Will HRT qualify for the race?

Related Links
Circuit Profile – Sepang International Circuit
2011 Malaysia Grand Prix – Vettel Supreme in Sepang
 
Photos: Team Lotus photo archive, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, Red Bull Racing/Ker Robertson/Getty Images, Team Lotus photo archive

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3 Comments »

  • Pitmonster

    Interesting that Ferrari are giving Massa a completely new chassis just in case the car was the cause of his lack of pace (relative to Alonso) in Australia.
    http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/98220

    A statement on the team’s website said: “This choice was taken to clear up any doubts about the unusual performance of his car during the weekend at Albert Park.”

    So if he’s still slow with the new chassis, what conclusions will Ferrari come away with?

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  • Mav (author)

    Pitmonster,

    They change the driver “to clear up any doubts about the unusual performance of his car during the weekend at Sepang”

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  • myf1space

    It is hard to see Massa turning it around.

    it’s great to see Williams doing so well.
    I think they have shown that they are more than capable of having a really competitive season.

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