Red Bull eyeing an open goal in Sepang (Malaysian Grand Prix pre-race analysis)

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

The race is Red Bull's to lose - just like the last two
The race is Red Bull's to lose - just like the last two

Three cheers for Ferrari and McLaren! Not waiting for rules to “spice up the show”, they chose to send their cars out too late for qualifying in an elaborate ruse ensuring they would start from the back of the grid and give us an exciting race.

Either that, or the sport’s two most successful teams failed to send their cars out for a banker lap at the start of a wet qualifying session, giving their number one rivals Red Bull a clear shot at maximum points in tomorrrow’s race.

Whichever, let’s take a look ahead to tomorrow’s Malaysian Grand Prix to see what the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso can do from the back of the grid.

Tyres and rain

Robert Kubica, Renault, Sepang, 2010

Let’s start by clearing up a question many people asked after qualifying – do the top ten qualifiers have to start the race on their wet or, in Webber’s case, intermediate tyres?

The answer, as you might expect, is no – here’s the rule:

At the start of the race each car which took part in Q3 must be fitted with the tyres with which the driver set his grid time. This will only be necessary if dry-weather tyres were used to set the grid time and if dry-weather are used at the start of the race.
FIA F1 Sporting Regulations article 25.4 (d)

This makes tyre strategy more interesting than usual. The front runners have a choice between the longer-lasting hard tyre, which takes longer to warm up and could leave them vulnerable to being passed on the first lap, or the soft tyre which warms up more quickly but won’t last as long.

The weather forecast will play a big role in that decision. The race is expected to start dry with rain arriving in the second part of the Grand Prix.

This could persuade some teams not to start on the soft tyre, which might need to be changed before the rain arrives. Starting on the hard tyre could allow them to keep running until the rain arrives, avoiding the need to make an extra pit stop.

This could be a good strategy for drivers who have qualified above their normal starting position – particularly the Williams pair, starting fifth and seventh, who may choose to hedge their bets and split strategies.

As ever, if a driver has used a set of wet-weather tyres he no longer has to use both types of dry tyre before the end of the race.

A disrupted race

As we saw last year and in Q3 today, if a thunderstorm does hit it doesn’t take long for the track to become so drenched the race has to be stopped.

If the red flags come out during the race it is ‘suspended’, which means all the cars have to stop on the grid slots. The race clock keeps ticking, but the time spent in suspension doesn’t count towards the overall race time.

If the race re-starts the gaps between the cars before the race suspension are not preserved – the days of ‘aggregate races’ are gone.

The race begins at 4pm, one hour earlier than it did last year, potentially giving the teams just over three hours to complete the race distance if needed.

If the race has to be abandoned, as it was last year, then the teams score half points if between two laps and 75% of race distance have been covered by the race leader, and full points if the leader has covered more than 75%.

Fast cars at the back

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Sepang, 2010

Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa have a chance to make history tomorrow – no one has ever won an F1 race from 20th or 21st on the grid, the positions from which they start tomorrow’s race.

As for Fernando Alonso, the only time a world championship race has been won from 19th place was back in 1954 when the Indianapolis 500 counted towards the title.

If Jenson Button were to win from 17th he would emulate two drivers who’ve done it before, both of which also drove McLarens – John Watson at Detroit in 1982 and Kimi Raikkonen at Suzuka in 2005.

All of which is to illustrate that their chances of winning are pretty slim from where they are. But they should at least be able to make it well into the points – if they keep their noses clean. (See here for more stats on the lowest positions drivers have won races from.)

The McLarens should have an overtaking advantage thanks to their F-ducts. We saw how effective it was for Hamilton at Melbourne, and Sepang offers much longer straights for the MP4-25 drivers to deploy it.

Despite not making it beyond Q1 Hamilton clocked the highest recorded straight-line speed during qualifying – 287kph, 1.3kph more than the next car. In Friday practice he was 6kph faster than anyone else, though in Saturday’s running it looked like the team added more wing, taking the edge off that advantage.

But for both Ferrari and McLaren’s drivers it is crucial they do not get caught up in unnecessary accidents. The first thing they must do is pick off the much slower Lotuses and Virgins without tripping over them.

Hamilton has had some worrying near-misses in recent races, with Rubens Barrichello at Interlagos and Massa at Melbourne, both of which he clipped with his front wing while passing, damaging either his car or theirs.

The start

Nico Rosberg did a fine job in qualifying to split the Red Bulls but it’s doubtful he has a fast enough car to make them work for the win.

That said he made a handy start here last year, taking the lead from fourth on the grid despite not having a KERS button.

The opening sequence of bends at Sepang often sees many changes of position on the first lap – on the long run to the first corner, around the wide turn one which switches back on itself, on the long drag to turn four and in the braking zone for this corner. At the end of lap one last year only two drivers were in the same position they’d started.

After the start it’s hard to see Rosberg’s W01 being able to repel the RB6s on pure pace. Whether it can out-last them around 56 laps of Sepang, however, is a different matter – Red Bull have had reliability problems at every race weekend so far this year, including this one.

Read more: 2010 Malaysian Grand Prix grid

Over to you

Where will the McLarens and Ferraris finish from their lowly starting positions? Which tyres do you think the front-runners should start on?

Have your say in the comments and join us here on F1 Fanatic to follow the race live from one hour before the start of the Grand Prix.

2010 Malaysian Grand Prix

97 comments on “Red Bull eyeing an open goal in Sepang (Malaysian Grand Prix pre-race analysis)”

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  1. Great work Keith.
    Just found out that only 4 from top7 drivers in Q1, managed to get to Q3

    1. Whoops. Mistake. Just 3 made it

      1. Vettel, Kubica, Schumacher?

        1. Kubica, Vettel, Kobayashi. Schumi was only 14th in Q1.
          Q1 2.Rosa 4. Petrov 6. Alguersuari 7. Buemi
          They didnt reach Q3

  2. Where will the McLarens and Ferraris finish from their lowly starting positions? Which tyres do you think the front-runners should start on?

    One McLaren and one Ferrari will score points
    probably they all start with one type. Which? weather will show

    1. to be honest, i think anyone can win this race if they play the weather right…

  3. I’m hoping for Lewis to get on the podium somehow, but I don’t think luck will be on his side. I can see Jenson outscoring him again. :(

    1. both mclarens on the podium?!! Tell me what kind of pills are you taking, and where to get them.

      1. Um, where did I say that?

        1. Andrew White
          3rd April 2010, 23:29

          Lewis is on the podium and Button beats him? Think about it.

          1. I was thinking more along the lines of either Hamilton getting a podium, or he finishes somewhere like 9th and Jenson finishes 5th or thereabouts. But whatever.

          2. rfs said he hopes tw@ilton will get on the podium, but doesnt think he will. he thinks jenson will outscore him. think about it.

  4. Just to let everyone know, 75% of tomorrow’s 56 laps long race is 42 laps.

    Keith, superb article!

    1. I should have worked that out – thanks for doing the sums :-)

      1. But if drivers make exactly 75% (42 laps). Are they awared with 25-18-15… points or 12,5-9-7,5… points?

        1. full points i’m sure.

      2. Hey, Keith! as to:

        “John Watson at Detroit in 1982 and Kimi Raikkonen at Suzuka in 2005.”

        I was there in 1982. That is where I met Niki. Literally bumped in to him. Was miffed that I did not have one of his books for him to sign. He is a wee sort.

        On the tunnel bus over to The States, I got in an argument with a bunch of mouth-pieces that were slagging Watto. I told them that he was notorious for poor quallies, and great starts. I bet them that John would win! (Yeah .. I am so smart! lol).

        Watson had previously shown his pace at Long Beach.

        I was at the end of the start-finnish straight at the beginning of the race. Watson was a rocket-sled from the lights. Reminded me of Gilles. Saw him skitter around a Brabham (Patrese?) on the outside. Was magic.

        Back then, there were girls that handed out free Marlboros-Durex condoms-Penthouse issues! Also, at the port-o-loo, I stood on line with Tyrrell mechanics, discussing race strategy.

        Simpler times. Better times. :)

        1. pretty cool gpfan. seems like f1 was more accessible to the fans back then!

  5. Did anyone else see Ferrari’s tweet from the start of Q1?

    “with these conditions it will be crucial to choose the right time to run”

    Their tweeter might need a promotion to the strategy department after the events that followed!

    1. In this Spanish article ( Alonso basically takes the blame for the strategy/ mistake. He says that he wanted to go out late and that at least ‘70%’ of the blame falls on him.

    2. I think I’ve found a wee bug in the comment system anyway…..

      1. Ignore me…. it works very well. LOL

    3. Lol! I noticed that too! They should’ve listened to @InsideFerrari.. Great article Keith! It would be amazing if Hamilton or Massa make history tomorrow!

  6. Video of Kubica’s cheeky move at the pitlane exit:

    1. It is legal move, isnt it?

      1. It’s legal, but not very fair.

        1. It is legal and I thought it was fair. It showed common sense while the others were asleep :P This is f1 not a queue for the post office

      2. not sure IMO. during a race you’re not allowed to do that. (ie. when the safety car is out and cars in the pit cannot leave until the green pit light shows. then they have to queue…)

        1. marius van list
          4th April 2010, 7:59

          In Canada 2008 GP Kubica was waiting with Kimi next to him for a green in pit lane exit (and Hamilton chose Kimis back to hit on)… It was allowed then, it is now. Good move from Kubica (I did not expect it from him).

    2. … never expected to see such a move from Kubica ;) but all in all he did some impresive start and left sutil behind – hope he will start in such a good way tommorow

      1. When your car can’t perform you use every trick in the book you can find. ;)

    3. That was a ballsy move from Kubica. Too bad the race officials pulled out the red flag. Good way to avoid controversy.

      I was looking forward to a much different starting grid with Kubica, Schum, and Sutil up front, but then the red bulls came from nowhere.

      This will be a fun race. I wouldn’t be surprised if they start on wets with no dry running at all. Hope Kubica can nail the start and push cleanly to the front like he did in Australia…. Its time for Schumi to show what he is made of.

      1. I liked what Force India did at the re-start! lol :D

        1. Once bitten, twice shy. :)

  7. James Bolton
    3rd April 2010, 18:59

    I can’t wait, this could be an all time classic Grand Prix! Watching Alonso, Hamilton, Button and Massa fight through the field will be thrilling!

  8. they need a lot of luck to get to the podium. And they will start on the soft tyres to overtake fast, and trying to get to the front as soon as possible.

  9. patrick(uk)
    3rd April 2010, 19:11

    it is AMAZING how the best funded teams in F1 can make such catstrophic blunders…surelly as the BBC live reporters and pandits said is simple logic to let the drivers leave the pits ASAP when the conditions are such atrocious because the strategy will have changed drastically when the rains come down as they did…tropical rainfall is always very deep and falls very rspidly…in a short time line..
    TO be honest i dont see the Feraris and Mclarens making any safe way to the front without some incidents…and the only team that can win this race may be the Williams or the Mercedes powered Force India.Schumacher has a great chance to redeem and reclaim his legendary status as the rain master on sunday if he can do what he used to do best by driving the drive of his life…
    THE redbulls will falter under presure within the first 25 laps

    1. I could not believe Lotus and Virgin beat them.

  10. As happy as I am as most others here that we have a semi “reverse grid”, this needs to be said. A reverse grid rule in F1, despite some like Witmarsh advocating for it, will NEVER HAPPEN. This is for one reason that seems obvious to me, it’s a conflict of interest! If the car who does the worst in qualifying starts on pole, it’s in a drivers best interest to not even place a time! Or if nothing else, drive as deliberately as slow as possible. Does this sound like exciting racing to you?

    1. James Bolton
      3rd April 2010, 19:42

      You wouldn’t have a qualy session, you would base the grid on reverse championship order, or the reverse of the result of the previous race.
      It’s very easy to say “it will never happen” but it is something that should be looked at very seriously. The anticipation for tomorrows race is all about the guys at the back fighting through. Is it artificial? Yes, but it provides great racing.
      That’s what are we all here to see.

      1. I totally agree it will be a great show tomorrow. And fair point regarding not having any qualifying and basing the grid line up on championship order. But even then, what happens to Saturday? Just another practice day?

      2. Or it should be made as a rule that a dice throw resulting in 6 decides if the race should be started in reverse order. This would add the spice of the surprice – after qualifying, is this race being started in reverse order? On average every 1 in 6 races would be started in reverse order.
        If it is reverse order of last race result, the teams and drivers have far to much time to prepare for a race, where they know the grid. And we loose the excitement of qualifying.
        Another solution was to artificially sprinkle the track to make it a wet race, with the races chosen also randomly over the season, the choice made on raceday. But technically this type of wet race would only start in the wet, then dry up, causing the strategy to be to easy to plan.

      3. Hrm, you know the reverse championship points order thing doesn’t sound too bad, honestly. As much as I like traditional qualifying wherein the man with the fastest lap starts on pole and so on down the line, there isn’t anything artificial about basing it on how many points you’ve earned.

        The reason I don’t like rules such as the current tire-quali rule and the previous fuel-quali rule they had is because if you’re attempting to “mix things up” why even have qualification runs? Either go totally random or don’t. It’s silly to only apply rules to add some “randomness” to some drivers but not all. If you want randomness, there’s no point in qualifying at all.

        Starting in reverse points order is a consistent and logical method that not only proves the worth of the car and the driver, but gives even MORE incentive to overtake. Or for that matter, it pushes teams to design the cars to do well in dirty air which is what we’ve been wanting ANYWAY. As much as I hate any of the “spice up the show” rules, this one seems rather fair and levels the playing field a bit. If you’re one of the lower teams, you’re given the opportunity to step up your game and show you can hang with the big dogs. Likewise, if your car is only good from the front of the pack, it’ll be useless when starting in the back.

        1. I think the idea has some merit.

          I do wonder how the grid in Bahrain might have looked if we had reverse grids this year? HRT on the front row? Virgin or Lotus?
          That just sounds unnecessarily dangerous – would’ve been entertaining though!

      4. Why won’t you people understand, this is SPORT, not entertainment! If you want lame gimmicks and scripting, got to WWE wrestling.

        1. James Bolton
          4th April 2010, 2:59

          Ben, you’ve found the crux of the issue. Where do you draw the line between sport and entertainment? Twenty years ago sport was sport. Now, sport is entertainment. For if a sport is to survive, it has to entertain. It is as simple as that. People have to be encouraged to watch that sport, or else it will just disappear.
          That is why Formula 1 needs to at least consider this reverse grid idea. F1 needs to be a lot more entertaining than it currently is. Let’s be honest, Australia was good just because it was wet. We need dry races to be as entertaining as Australia was if F1 is to continue to be as strong as it currently is.

          1. I certainly do agree that if F1 isn’t entertaining, it will wither away. Yet I have to confess I still hold my skepticism of reverse order grid (I am aware it’s used in other series). I’m reminded of the 2007 European Grand Prix when Winkelhock let the restart in the Spyker, and was leisurely passed by the others, it was kind of laughable as I remember it. It was a great race overall, but I fear that with reverse grid, the passing would become expected and not with the thrill that it does now. The passes of the top teams against the lower teams wouldn’t be a “real” pass.

        2. Disagree Ben. The purpose of sport IS to be entertaining. F1 doesn’t exist because a bunch of guys happen to like racing around a track. It exists because people enjoy watching people racing around a track. Although you’re correct it shouldn’t have gimmicks or scrips, although the entertainment factor cannot be ignored.

  11. ferraris and mclarens will be up there in wet or dry conditions, but if the race isn´t in dry conditions, they will claime esier. Also kubica, shumaker, rosberg, or even sutil will make the red bull victory much harder if it´s raining. Don´t forget also the safety car, it can spice
    even more the race.

  12. how high is the ride height on that redbull!!!???

    1. Some drivers could have early tyre troubles. Webber had to make two stops in Melbourne because, like Hamilton, his first set of dry tyres would never have made the finish.

      1. and your point is?

  13. I’m sure Alonso and Hamilton will have a kick-ass race, Massa will not want to be left behind once these two start taking positions, Button will try to escape from having to battle with those three, Schumacher will try to show he still has it in him, Vettel will want to win at all costs, Webber will try to keep his cool, Rosberg is gonna race hard and hope for the RBRs to break, Hulkenberg will show what he’s made of and again, I hope Kubica will show us some good racing and I’m eager to see what Kobayashi is capable of in the wet. I’m sure Sutil will also be having fun since Kimi is not around anymore.

  14. HounslowBusGarage
    3rd April 2010, 20:22

    If the red flags come out during the race it is ’suspended’, which means all the cars have to stop on the grid slots. The race clock keeps ticking, but the time spent in suspension doesn’t count towards the overall race time.
    When you say ‘race clock keeps ticking’, is this the two hour period in which the race must be completed? Or is that the ‘overall race time’?

    1. HounslowBusGarage
      3rd April 2010, 20:26

      I’m sorry, that doesn’t make much sense because the forum software deleted the quotation tags.
      It should have looked like this-

      Quote “If the red flags come out during the race it is ’suspended’, which means all the cars have to stop on the grid slots. The race clock keeps ticking, but the time spent in suspension doesn’t count towards the overall race time.” End quote.
      When you say ‘race clock keeps ticking’, is this the two hour period in which the race must be completed? Or is that the ‘overall race time’?

      1. Yeah it’s a bit of a strangely worded rule. I remember it caused a lot of confusion last year.

        The upshot is, any time spent under a red flag doesn’t count towards the two hour time limit.

        But the way it’s worded in the rules is that the time does count towards the time limit, but the time spent under red flags is added to the time limit.

        So If they race for an hour, then the race is suspended for half an hour, then the race restarts, they still have an hour left to run.

        1. are you sure? I seem to remember that the race limit is 2 hours not matter what…

          so when was the last time a race went over 2 hours with a red flag? anyone?

  15. The start straight is very long, so imaging spray with no SC and all the cars at top speed all trying to brake for the very tight T1 and T2. Savour the thought!

    1. and with full fuel loads too! :D

  16. What about set-ups? Can some driver start with a “full wet” setup rather than dry one? Must top 10 drivers start with same setup used in Q3?

    1. They all must start with the same setup used for qualifying.

      1. Andrew White
        3rd April 2010, 23:37

        It might be worth some of the cars at the back starting from the pit lane and changing their set up slightly. I doubt Ferrari and McLaren would do that, but HRT and Virgin might.

        1. They are allowed to cut their losses and start from the pitlane, which means they are allowed to alter their cars.If it pours before a race, expect teams to do this (but it’s too late for todays race)!!

  17. Webber started Q1 after Alonso and both McLarens, so those drivers can’t completely blame the teams for their lowly standing on the grid.

    1. As did the Mercedes…

      And remember that if he hadn’t aquaplaned off the road then Button would have made it through to Q2…well, he did but couldn’t take part.

  18. David Clifford
    3rd April 2010, 20:41

    Ok, here’s an interesting, hopefully, obtuse thought…

    One or more of the new teams and perhaps other tail-enders, short fuel their cars purposefully to be faster in the race with the hope that the race will be stopped a good way before the end of the race due to poor weather. Given the “predictable” weather storms around 5pm and onwards a repeat of the short race of last year is possible albeit with an hour earlier start. What do you think?

    ps. for those of you watching the BBC feed, they are swapping from BBC1 to BBC2 at 10am UK time, there is a 5 minute overlap between transmissions. Unusual!

    1. Andrew White
      3rd April 2010, 23:39

      Also, if a significant proportion of the race is wet or behind the safety car (or both) then fuel could easily be saved. It’s a gamble the small teams could try.

      1. The problem would be if the race takes its normal length, they won´t finish and it would be pretty stupid to not be able to finish a race because of not enough fuel (Virgin, no pun intended)!

        1. that’s why it a ‘gamble’!

  19. Younger Hamilton
    3rd April 2010, 20:54

    Well i think both Mclarens and Ferraris have a big chance of scoring in the points it depends on their starts,How many overtakes they do before their pitstops,the strategies and the positions during the race.It is likely that it will rain during the race tomorrow and we all know how it mixed everthing up in Qualifying,lets hope the rain does another complete mix up with positions,MAYBE and there is a slight chance that a Mclaren or Ferrari will make the podium but we will see tomorrow!!!

  20. ConcedoNulli
    3rd April 2010, 21:27

    “Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa have a chance to make history tomorrow – no one has ever won an F1 race from 20th or 21st on the grid, the positions from which they start tomorrow’s race.”

    But for 1983 United States Grand Prix West; winner John Watson Q 22. Or did you mean those specific 20/21 grid slots?

    Apologies if I picked that up wrong – back just had to take the opportunity to wave Wattie’s flag!!

    1. You’re absolutely right – I’m just saying no-one’s ever won from those exact positions.

    2. Andrew White
      3rd April 2010, 23:40

      Didn’t Watson also finish 2nd from 26th once too?

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