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

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

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.

KERS

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

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

  1. ajokay said on 31st March 2009, 15:11

    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?

    • Sush Meerkat said on 31st March 2009, 18:43

      red rear spoilers, like the virgin airline tailfins.

    • Gman said on 1st April 2009, 2:28

      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.

  2. ceedas said on 31st March 2009, 15:18

    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.

  3. David said on 31st March 2009, 15:30

    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.

  4. 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 :)

  5. “Started his comeback from a disappointing 2009″

    *2008

  6. Hounslow said on 31st March 2009, 17:27

    @damjan006
    Ozz is lazy slang for Australia. Your English is great; at least as good as many native-speakers who post here! And I think you are right, the high downforce cars will have it in their way in the wet. In the dry, I think Ferrari won’t chew up the medium compound as quickly as the did the soft, and will feature in the results.
    Roll on the weekend!

  7. StrFerrari4Ever said on 31st March 2009, 17:46

    Rain will make this race this race even more unpredictable i think in Quali its going to be about being on track at the absolute right time i expect Vettel , Hamilton , Rubens , Jenson & Sutil to shine in the rain however with Malaysia the weather is so unpredictable it could just be sunny then start peeing down so it’s going to be fascinating as for the race i hope Vettel goes on an aggresive strategy and i hope it pays off for him :D

  8. theRoswellite said on 31st March 2009, 18:14

    Keith, when do we get to pick our Q-1 and top 3 finishers? How are your picks coming? (from…he of the Unlucky Selection Committee)

  9. Eduardo Colombi said on 31st March 2009, 18:26

    Think ferrari will have a great recovery from the awful race in Australia making de two drivers in the podium, if the rain doesn’t shows.
    if it comes, Rubens is my one-sure bet for winning the race.
    Rosberg or Trulli for the pole followed by Button and Barrichello, Vettel 4th, Massa 5th and Alonso 6th.

    I hope to see Hamilton doing a god job as he did in Australia but he will not fight for the podium unless the rain comes rains.

  10. theRoswellite said on 31st March 2009, 18:31

    Oh, one additional question for all the aesthetically gifted contributors to this site…..

    I’m getting really fond of the Brawn colors and “simple” livery, if that is the correct term, especially the wheel covers.

    Anyone else have a similar appreciation???????????????

    • Terry Fabulous said on 31st March 2009, 23:35

      I’m with you mate, I love the simple but elegant paint scheme and the larey yellow wheel covers.

  11. Mike G said on 31st March 2009, 18:52

    I agree… But i do think they should change the helmet colours… Im hoping it will rain… Interesting to see how the cars perform in the wet

  12. Dorian said on 31st March 2009, 19:15

    djdaveyp: ‘but there is no-one currently in F1 who compares to lewis in the wet’

    ermmmmmm…….Alonso…

  13. Andy said on 31st March 2009, 19:22

    i have a theory that Button’s helmet has changed because the brawn cars will be rebranded (red and gold virgin colours perhaps?) and his new yellow, white and black helemt will celebrate the original brawn colours!

  14. Damon said on 31st March 2009, 19:29

    @ theRoswellite
    Yup, I’m with you on this. The clean untouched white colour adds to the mystic of the super technology of the cars, whereas the yellow stripes make them look aggresive.

    You know – one thing bugs me:
    Will Brawn be able to keep their momentum and build another super car for 2010 being now without Honda’s resources and technology?
    The fairy tale might last only one season…

    • J-canada said on 31st March 2009, 19:52

      Good question regarding their car next year. They may not be able to compete resource-wise with Mac and Ferrari. I think a major issue for BGP will be the rules for mandatory KERS in 2010. This would effect the balance of the slim little Brawn car. Also Job cuts at BGP may create problems in the future, or hopefully keep them lean and mean! In anycase, I do not want to think too far into the future-I want to enjoy this season!

  15. yep…sure hope the arrival of Branson millions doesn’t screw up a very neat looking Brawn package. Doesn’t that car look so ‘together’ ? And the way it stood up to the damage inflicted on it by Baricello’s ‘incidents’ was sensational. Can we all remember when the Red Bull cars were just a bit on the fragile side a few years ago ?

    I think it WILL rain for both qualifying and the race at Sepang. But probably not continuously, which really makes the mix interesting…because no one yet knows when will be the right time to switch tires on a drying track.

    Gonna be quite a weekend guys !

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