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

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

  1. Mr. Sarcasm said on 31st March 2009, 19:44

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

    ermmmmmm……Vettel?

    • Clare msj said on 1st April 2009, 9:47

      And Rubens and Button are hardly slouches in the rain either! Rubens got that Honda on the podium at Silverstone last year. And talking of Silverstone – Heidfeld looked pretty handy in the rain there too – didnt stop him pulling off a double overtake or two!!!!

      I think it is quite hard to judge Hamilton in the rain (same with Vettel – although Monza was nothing short of amazing) – he has had relatively few wet races compared to some of the others – and whilst he was no doubt impressive in them – someone like Barrichello dragging up a car from nowhere in the rain, which he has done more than once in wet races, is different to taking a wet win from the front. Taking nothing away from Hamilton (or Vettel) though – I wouldnt want to be ahead of him in a wet race!

      Plus Malaysian rain will be completely different to say Silverstone rain – Silverstone will be like a light drizzle compared to what Malaysia could potentially offer!

  2. theRoswellite said on 31st March 2009, 20:30

    Just a little add on to our thoughts about Sepang….

    Note the following quotes…

    :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
    Nakajima said: “It was difficult with the low sunlight in Australia, especially as it flickered and changed through the cover of the trees. We won’t have that type of shadow at Sepang, but there is the possibility of reduced light conditions mixed with the likelihood of rain, so these late race start times will have a bearing on my approach to qualifying and the race.”

    Nick Heidfeld added: “We’ve often experienced cloudbursts in Malaysia in the late afternoon and early evening. This year’s schedule increases the chances that we will still be on the track at this time. Hopefully it will still be light enough.”
    ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

    Nico had previously complained to the media about this problem.

    This is a potential nightmare, pun intended, and if the late start combines with heavy rain to shorten the race or even precipitate, pun intended, an accident (a bit of dark humor this, pun intended) the concern that Bernie is showing for his commercial interests is going to pale, pun kind of intended, in comparison with the significance he should have directed toward race safety. (Forgive me this paragraph)

    So, come on GPDA………..stand up for your own safety, doing so after the fact is pointless.

  3. gazzap said on 31st March 2009, 21:30

    Lewis in the wet is a joy to behold. but he wont be in a car that can really do anything. lets face it, he was incredibly fortunate to get 3rd on Sunday. that car should not be getting 3rd in any GP. Nevertheless, Lewis and his fans will be praying for rain.

    Button and Vettel can handle the rain. I always think those conditions sort the men from the boys.

  4. Roswellite,

    Well said. Ecclestones reckless pursuit of his hot dollars takes no interest in racing safety. The cars in the last ten years have become 100 times safer than they were. But they also travel a damn sight faster too ! Ditto the tracks. And Mosley in this case is the good guy who has improved safety out of all recognition.

    Only now to have all that good work thrown away for sheer bloody greed ! Yes, it is a pain in the **** to get up in the middle of the night to watch some of the races, but if it comes down to competition between audience figures and driver safety, we all know what should come first.

    GPDA….get the message to Ecclestone loud and clear.

  5. Toby Thwaites 93 said on 31st March 2009, 21:41

    Im glad Kubica was mentioned in the drivers to watch. Im still not certain his one lap setup is up to scratch as his 4th position in quali was done with low fuel. Still his race pace and strategy as usual was pretty outstanding.
    Plus BMW is one of the only teams to test in the wet :)

  6. Salty said on 31st March 2009, 22:04

    Given the wide open spaces of the Malay circuit’s layout and ready access for vehicle removal, I would say that Brawn should once more have a strong showing this weekend. As you quite rightly pointed out, without the safety car periods, Button’s victory would have looked much more assured.

    A question still must remain over the lack of testing the BGP001 has had. Malaysia is going to test the cars reliability to a far greater degree than a late afternoon thrash around Melbourne did, but then, that is largely true of all the teams, especially if the weather conspires to provide us with the very high humidity conditions which we have seen before.

    If memory serves, Jenson does seem to like, or at least has enjoyed some measure of success, at Sepang. Wouldn’t be a huge risk to put my proverbial fiver on him for this weekend then.

    KERS might prove more ‘substantial’ this weekend I think. The long final and twined start-finish straight could prove a useful hunting ground for the KERS equipped machines, especially the latter, being more uphill.

    I was hugely wrong over Hamilton last weekend and very glad I was too, as he displayed excellent control and use of KERS to great effect. Will be watching to see how close to the front he can push the McLaren again on race day, though suspect a similiarly dismal practice and quali set from MCL.

    Ultimately the cars will be identical to those run last weekend, but with the longer straights and some variable weather, we should be in for another hum-dinger.

    Salty.

  7. teamorders said on 31st March 2009, 22:34

    I think Webber is going to out qualify and out race SV this weekend. He’s always done well at this track qualifying a slow RB 6th last year and finishing 7th, and don’t forget he put the Jag on the front row there 4 or 5 years back.

    • Terry Fabulous said on 31st March 2009, 23:36

      YES YES YES I was waiting for someone to point out that this is one of Mark’s best tracks.

  8. Philip said on 31st March 2009, 22:52

    I think the Brawn cars may even be stronger at Sepang, being a more traditional circuit, so I would fancy them for a win in the dry. Rain would be a great leveller of car performance and you could see the McLarens, especially Lewis, far higher up in the wet than in the dry.
    I am interested in how KERS will play its part with rain. The power issue aside, would the use of additional ballast if running without KERS be even more helpful for setup in the wet?

  9. Patrickl said on 31st March 2009, 23:17

    I noticed that during practice, Rosberg was doing mostly short quali stints while the others were working mostly on their race setup with at best a single attempt at a fast lap (which often failed too).

    This might have made Rosberg look good in every practice session (and qualifying), but it wasn’t really a good measure of what his actual performance in the race would be.

    I say someone to watch for would be Webber. He was better than Vettel all weekend until Q3. Then he was basically knocked out of the race bu Barrichello and Kovalainen.

    The Red Bull was one of the closest to the BrawnGP (or maybe least “far behind” is a better term) and Webber doesn’t have the 10 place grid penalty.

    I also expect Heidfeld to do better. He barely missed out on Q3 by 1 tenth of a second. His race pace in practice sessions was better than Kubica’s. Heidfeld is better in the wet too.

    I expect the BrawnGP’s to still be ahead by a reasonable margin. I don’t see why the would lose their advantage in one week. They don’t have much experience in the rain, but if it’s wet all weekend they get ample time to practice that.

    • Toby Bushby (@toby-bushby) said on 1st April 2009, 1:48

      Rosberg also got the fastest race lap, too. He was also disadvantaged by both safety car periods, once while running in third (a polar opposite to Alonso in Singapore), and once while running in fourth after bouncing back from the first SC period. Only tyre degradation dropped him out of the points until the RK/SV accident. By the way, that accident happened right in front of me, both cars flying into the wall. Unfortunately, I’d just finished filming two laps before, but I got a snap of Kubica at the medical car, with what was left of the Beamer’s nose in the background. Also got an up-close snap of Kubica’s debris (being protected by marshals) after the race. I’m sure the marshals were intending to return the remains to the team…..

    • Patrickl said on 1st April 2009, 2:10

      Where do you think Rosberg’s tyre degradation came from? He got the fastest race lap when he completely trashed his super soft slicks in just 3 or 4 laps. While he was on a 14 lap stint on those tyres! Utterly dumb move.

      The other drivers were either using the super softs to overtake people (eg Hamilton) or were sensible enough not to drive them to shreds in a few laps (eg Button, Vettel).

  10. manatcna said on 31st March 2009, 23:56

    Rain should be interesting…

    Just a thought – Is Hamilton as good in the wet as Schumacher was?

    • Patrickl said on 1st April 2009, 2:12

      Schumacher wasn’t really good in the rain. Not in the Benetton at least and he made plenty mistakes even in a Ferrari in the rain.

  11. Dane said on 1st April 2009, 0:26

    I think RBR will be on the podium this race, along with toyota

  12. Luigismen said on 1st April 2009, 1:30

    How well will work the KERS in the wet? I think not so effective as in dry conditions

    • Toby Bushby (@toby-bushby) said on 1st April 2009, 2:49

      Agreed. Surely if Ferrari were having problems with KERS hurting the tyres, it would have a bigger negative effect with the wet tyres, even at higher speeds. Malaysia in the wet is not a place where they’d need or want a sudden burst of power. Lots of swapping ends, I would think!

  13. Gman said on 1st April 2009, 2:31

    Has there ever been a wet race at Sepang since F1 has raced there?

  14. Eduardo Colombi said on 1st April 2009, 3:04

    The race starts at 5pm, in local time, so if the rain comes the visibility will be really affected adding the low quantity of natural light the gp can be finished befor the drivers complete the 56 laps.

  15. dmw said on 1st April 2009, 3:49

    Rain plus KERS weight means an even greater advantage for the non-KERS double diffuser teams. But, you have to believe that the new more skittish cars will bring the great rain drivers to the fore. If there is much wet-dry transition conditions, look for Alonso and Hamilton to do something special. Vettel may shock the Brawns too.

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