Will Brawn dominate again in Sepang? (Malaysian Grand Prix preview)

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Rubens Barrichello aims to go one better in the Malaysian Grand Prix
Rubens Barrichello aims to go one better in the Malaysian Grand Prix

Brawn GP locked out the front row, led every lap and finished one-two in Melbourne. Can anyone stop them in Sepang?

It’s a totally different circuit in a punishing climate – and we just might in for some rain as well.


Tyres played a big role in Melbourne as teams struggled to make the super soft compound tyres last.

Sepang is harder on tyres than Melbourne, so this weekend the teams will be using the hard and soft tyres. Last year the two tyre compounds were hard and medium, so those soft tyres could prove problematic.

But rain has been forecast for the Malaysian Grand Prix, in which case the teams will be reaching for the intermediate and wet tyres.


At Melbourne Ferrari, Renault and McLaren were all KERS-equipped, as was Nick Heidfeld’s BMW. It’s likely that we’ll see the same seven using KERS again, as Sepang offers a greater opportunity for them to get a benefit from it: Melbourne’s longest flat-out section is just 735m long, Sepang offers an extra 100m (and this is still far shorter than what we’ll see at other tracks later in the year).

KERS seemed to offer some help to the drivers that had it at Melbourne. Lewis Hamilton was jabbing his KERS button to pick off rivals early in the race, and Timo Glock complained that he couldn’t get past Fernando Alonso as the Renault driver used his to out-accelerate the Toyota. Williams’ Sam Michael is convinced the technology offers a benefit, and wants their electro-mechanical system on the car as soon as possible.

But Ferrari reported they were struggling with increased tyre wear as a consequence of their drivers using KERS, particularly early in the race when they were on super-soft tyres.

However there is a disadvantage to running KERS in Malaysia – cooling is critical in the humid heat of Sepang, and KERS demands extra heat rejection.

Can anyone catch Brawn?

Nico Rosberg’s Williams may have been fastest in all three practice sessions at Malaysia, but when the business end of the weekend arrived Brawn were uncatchable.

Interestingly although Rubens Barrichello was the fastest of the two BGP001s in Q2 (by 0.072s), he had more fuel on board in Q3. Perhaps he wanted to run a longer first stint so his final stint on the unfavourable super-softs would be shorter? Regardless, Sepang may bring us the Brawn-vs-Brawn battle at the front we didn’t get at Melbourne because Barrichello fluffed his start.

Brawn’s rivals’ best hope of victory are either that the pair tangle or that the punishing Malaysian heat breaks their cars. Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull kept in sight of Button’s car at Melbourne, but the mid-race safety car period diminished their lead over the pack and made Brawn’s margin of victory far smaller than it might have been.

I expect Ferrari to bounce back from their woeful start to the season – much as they did last year – and could even be Brawn’s closest challengers.

Drivers to watch

Kimi Raikkonen – Started his comeback from a disappointing 2008 by being out-qualified by his team mate and crashing. Cannot afford to let that become a habit. Sepang has played to his strengths in the past and he took Massa to the cleaners here last year. Badly needs a repeat performance this time around.

Jarno Trulli – One of my picks from last week, he drove a magnificent race from the back last week and would have been on the podium but for a late error and a penalty. Should get the result he needs this weekend.

Sebastian Vettel – The man who came the closest to taking the fight to Brawn for most of the first race. But he spoiled what would have been a fine debut for Red Bull with a late clash with Robert Kubica. Can he make up for it this weekend?

Robert Kubica – Spent much of practice looking and sounding very unhappy with his F1.09, but produced the goods in qualifying and the race. Perhaps being KERS-free isn’t so bad?

Essential links for the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend

We’ll be live blogging all five sessions of the Malaysian Grand Prix. Keep an eye on the site for more information – here’s details on how to subscribe: Get the latest from F1 Fanatic

96 comments on “Will Brawn dominate again in Sepang? (Malaysian Grand Prix preview)”

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  1. If it rains which it look’s likely to do then its going to be awesome!! =D it will be interesting to see if hamilton is good in the wet in the mp4-24! =) But with rain i feel the brawn’s will have a tougher time repeating the melbourne result.

    1. Who’d know? Barrichello’s one podium in 2008 came in the atrocious British rain that saw Massa spinning 5 times.. (amazingly, not hitting anything)

    2. The rain is usually a great equaliser for cars low on power. I doubt that a car low on downforce is going to work well for Hamilton in the rain.

  2. I’m not sure they will dominate completely, Australia showed us that whilst the Brawns were indeed out front, Vettel and Kubica at least we able to keep roughly the same pace for the race distance – and Rosberg in the Williams, and both Toyotas werent exactly slow either. If it rains I would give any one of those guys a chance at victory (even Vettel from goodness knows where on the grid), although I would still place the Brawns favourite – Button is good in the wet and Barrichello simply revels in the wet conditions! I have to admit in my predictions on another site I have put Raikkonen to win over Button and Kubica – not entirely sure how confident I am in that – I’m not famed for my predictions ability!

    Whatever happens though – I cant wait!! I love that even after one race i cant narrow down who will be at the front from about ten different cars!

    1. Same here Clare- for as much as I root for McLaren, it is fantastic to see some of the other teams at the top of the grid. For the first time in quite awhile there is some unpredictable nature among the gird, and that is very good for the sport as a whole.

    2. Brawn GP admitted they sandbagged at Melbourne. Despite running heavy, they were 1-2 seconds faster in QTT than last season’s top teams. Button and Barrichello 2 pitstops took between 54-58 seconds while Trulli, the 3rd placer, took only 42 seconds which is standard. If there wasn’t any Safety Car or incidents, the Brawn cars would have won by at least 30 seconds. Yet, despite their horrendous pit stops and Rubens’ 2 incidents, they still won 1-2. That, is pure domination. Even Buttons admitted he still had “a lot of reserve left” and slowed to preserve his tires.

  3. Could Ferraris problem be where they have placed the KERS syustem, i have heard they have placed it at the front of the car instead of near the fuel tank. Also I think Ferrari will be better suited to this circuit and this is what happened last year. Brawn will be the one to beat for a long time an if it rains, both their drivers a brilliant in the wet, so expect good results from them anyway. As for Mclaren, i think they will be somewhere in the back of the mid-field, but may have a chance if it rains. the tyres will be a problem as well but thats going to be for all the teams i expect. I Think Renault and Redbull will also give strong perfomances, rain or no rain, especially Renault with Alonso at the wheel. Bmw will come either 3rd or 4th i think as they didnt have a bad start at Australia, however they may a have to battle it out with the Toyotas.

    1. i cant agree with you more..i think renault are going to make a surprise here!!

    2. I hope that Alonso can spring a surprise. I was very disappointed with the way the Renault went in Melbourne. I’ve got this niggling feeling that the cars running KERS aren’t very happy. It seems like the weight balance in the car is off somehow and the drivers aren’t enjoying their drives. Alonso seemed very sluggish in Aus, so did all the other KERS runners, except Vettel, but thats probably down to the genius of Adrian Newey.

      If you look at it, the guys who looked impressive throughout the race, again barring Vettel, weren’t running KERS. We know about the Brawns, Williams looked handy with Rosberg, even Nakajima had some pace, Kubica wasn’t running KERS so weren’t the Toyotas. KERS has its benefits, but I’m not sold, yet.

      Whatever the case,,COME ON ALONSO!

  4. I don’t think anyone can catch Brawn in near future. When other teams will be matching with Brawn, it would be already late and over.

    We should put Brawns on one side and rest on other side. In rest, I would love to see Lewis climbing throughout the race and Vettel dominating others.

    1. I dont agree with you..watch how quickly other teams..Ferrari, Mclaren, BMW and Renault will catch up with Brawn..Besides..look who is at the back of the wheel..Button and Barri (old timer) …i give them 3 more races and the rest of the pack is on them..Big time!!!

  5. Rain would certainly make it interesting…

    Sounds like the Ferrari drivers need to use the KERS
    somewhat later in the straights. Shouldn’t cause
    excessive tire wear if it’s applied when their
    not near the adhesion limit.

    i.e. they’ve probably been told a strategy that
    they get max benefit by applying as early as possible
    as they come off the corner and hit the point where
    they can put the gas down.

    A little bit less aggressive laying down of the power should fix it, and still give them a kicker down the high speed sections.

    1. Indeed I noticed too that the Ferrari drivers used KERS already while coming out of the corners. It might create a longer run for KERS to be useful, but I assume it causes extra wear too.

  6. Lewis hamilton was the driver who used the KERS to perfection in Australia. Should there be rain this weekend he will be near the front regardless of his car as he proved last season he is leagues ahead of the rest in the rain.

    1. Would have to agree, Lewis used the kers very well.

      If it rains I would expect Lewis to be somewhere near the front in the race.

      If its dry Brawn will be hard to beat, but we should not forget Sepang has allways suited the ferraris and its been a good GP for them in the last few seasons

    2. Will the kers be any use in the rain or will it cause more problems like wheel spin? Does anyone know the science?

    3. That is in fact quite a interesting question. I think they’ll have to use it later in accelartion as it is useless if it breaks traction!

    4. I agree that Lewis is very good in the rain. However,I wonder how good his car, which is lacking in downforce, will react to wet weather. We could probably ask this of the entire field as downforce levels are supposed to be down across the board thanks to the new areo rules. (though the Brawn car seems to have clawed a great deal back). what do you all think?

    5. It depends on exactly what McLaren’s downforce problem is. If the car simply isn’t generating sufficient downforce, then that’s going to be a problem in the wet.

      But their problem might by that they can generate comparable levels of downforce to their rivals, but get a lot more drag when they do. It might be easier for them to cope with that problem in the wet than in the dry.

    6. Keith-That is a good point.

  7. If dry I think Brawn will probably win but may not dominate with a 1-2. in Melbouren we saw the Red Bull and BMW keep them honest during the race Rosberg set fast times in practice and the Toyotas had to start from the pit lane.

    If wet I think it could be wide open.

  8. The English and Brazilian fans are lucky ones.
    Their main stars, Hamilton and Massa respectively, are gone from the spotlight, meaning the battle for the championship (at least for now) – but they’ve got swapped for Button and Bubens.

    Knowing how little testing the Brawns had had before the season, with the technical data they’ve gathered in Australia they might only get quicker.
    BMW had some troubles in Ozz they’ve later overcome, so we can predict both drivers will be faster as well – with Kube being perhaps able to keep up with the Brawns.
    Both Red Bulls will be a force to be reckoned with; I hope Webber joins Vettel in that respect.

    The Ferrari’s weren’t that far behind the quickest teams, and with their technological resources I hope they will catch up.

    1. Terry Fabulous
      31st March 2009, 23:31

      Good point Damon, A Brit and Brazilian replaced by a Brit and Brazilian! Well spotted!

    2. The English and Brazilian fans are lucky ones. Their main stars, Hamilton and Massa respectively, are gone from the spotlight, meaning the battle for the championship (at least for now) – but they’ve got swapped for Button and Bubens.

      I hadn’t thought of it that way!

  9. Yeah, don’t forget Vettel has a grid drop on this race.

    1. I’m wondering what they’ll do about that. Would he go low on fuel, shoot for pole, and then put on the option soft tyre and try to overtake as much as possible? He gets the tyre out of the way, minimizes grid position loss, and will be able to pounce late in the race, reversing Melbourne.

      The other alternative is to go heavy on fuel, start with the prime tyre, and pray that it rains before he has to use the soft tyre…

    2. Would he go low on fuel, shoot for pole, and then put on the option soft tyre and try to overtake as much as possible? He gets the tyre out of the way, minimizes grid position loss, and will be able to pounce late in the race, reversing Melbourne.

      I think that’s quite likely, unless they’re sure it’s going to rain in which case they don’t have to use the two dry compounds.

  10. watch out for Alonso, i think he will shine in Malaysia..clever driver!!

  11. I would say going by Melbourne, the only name that should not be on your list is Kimi. But as we all know, Ferrari can always come back so it is neither here nor there.

  12. I’m thinking there could be a couple of soft tyre compound failures during the race, they’ll be punished hard by the long fast corners.

  13. “Nico Rosberg’s Williams may have been fastest in all three practice sessions at Malaysia,”

    *at Melbourne

  14. Bigbadderboom
    31st March 2009, 14:58

    Tyre wear will be an issue, but I think its all about the weather, if its a wet quali I think Hamilton will take the most benefit, but Jenson and Rubens are no slow coaches in the wet either, ferrari have to get on the scoreboard but I will like to see how this years car is in the wet for them as last years LWB car was appalling. I think the toyotas may run well in the wet, but we must not write off Alonso, if its wet it may be in his favour as well.

  15. I disagree that if it is wet Hamilton will benefit from it. Mclaren lacks downforce, which you need a lot in low grip conditions.

    1. And you need a driver who has a good feel for the conditions. McLaren are lacking downforce, but there is no-one currently in F1 who compares to lewis in the wet. Last year he obilterated everybody at silverstone and monaco by seconds a lap so even in a slower car i feel he will still be in the top runners.

    2. I agree with Mahir. I don’t think the Mclarens have the same levels of downforce and grip they had last season.


      Based on 2 races last year, you’ve concluded that Lewis is the best wet driver in F1? When you’ve got Ruebens who’s been in F1 for 15 years and has claimed numerous scalps in the wet? He put a dog of a car on the podium in Silverstone last year, whereas Lewis had arguably the car with the most grip last year…so yeah. He’s pretty handy in the rain, but I wouldn’t say he’s the best by a mile. Jenson is pretty good in the wet, so is Fisi, even Trulli.

    3. Keith,

      Can’t argue with facts, so I’m gonna go with it. As you can tell, I’m not a Lewis fan (haha), but I will agree that he is a good driver in the wet. I just diagreed for conversation’s sake..you know?..hahaha

      Come Sepang..rain or shine..hope Lewis doesn’t win..hehehehe

  16. I also wonder what the Brawn will look like. More red? better placed Virgin logos? Reckon they’ll have enough time in the next couple of days to cange the overalls at all?

    1. Sush Meerkat
      31st March 2009, 18:43

      red rear spoilers, like the virgin airline tailfins.

    2. I was thinking the same thing as soon as the deal was announced. By the time China rolls around we should see the brand displayed quite well on the car/overalls/etc.. I would also imagine that the team is contracted for some promotional work for Virgin Group companies, although I have yet to hear anything specific.

  17. The Brawn team has a car that works: clearly fast, probably easy to set-up, and with drivers who aren’t perhaps the top of the class, but they’re still better than most, so I expect them to be up front again. I just hope they revert to their normal helmets this weekend.

  18. I don’t think KERS is going to wear that much soft tyre compound. So of course it is an advantage.
    Not enough to let Ferrari and McLaren reach the pace of Brawn, I think, but enough to get closer.
    I didn’t see that outstanding pace from Brawn last sunday (they were the strongest for sure, but not by that anormous margin), so I think that Kubica or Vettel can catch them from closer.
    And after all there is weather uncertainty also…
    I see Malaysia as a more tricky game for Brawn.

  19. If it rains for shore my tip is to bet your money on Rubens, that Brown’s car certainly has a lot of down force in the back of the car (about 89% down force from the 2008 Honda)and that is the joker they are holding for wet racing. Button for shore is a good driver in the wet but i think Ruben’s experience is going to have the last word. I also think that Williams will have far better race from Melbourne where i think Nico Rosberg had the fastest lap in the race.

    Can someone explain to me what Ozz means?? Sorry for my bad English, thank god there is a grammar check here :)

    1. sayonaraman
      1st April 2009, 6:19

      Ozz = Australia:)

  20. “Started his comeback from a disappointing 2009”


    1. Fixed, ta!

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