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

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

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

  1. 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?

    • cacarella said on 3rd April 2010, 22:07

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

      • Andrew White said on 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.

        • Calum said on 4th April 2010, 8:52

          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)!!

  2. KateDerby said on 3rd April 2010, 20:34

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

    • Adrian said on 3rd April 2010, 20:49

      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.

  3. David Clifford said on 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!

    • Andrew White said on 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.

      • MEmo said on 4th April 2010, 1:18

        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)!

  4. Younger Hamilton said on 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!!!

  5. ConcedoNulli said on 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!!

  6. Morpheus said on 3rd April 2010, 21:30

    Would the fact that each driver has a limited number of wet tyres possibly play into those who went out early?

  7. JupiterX said on 3rd April 2010, 21:34

    If you had to choose a weekend to start at the back of the grid, I think that the unpredictable weather and (comparatively) overtaking-friendly layout would make this a popular choice. As such, I imagine that both the Mclaren and Ferrari drivers will feel they still have a good chance of a solid points haul if they drive a clean race. In fact I wouldn’t be surpised if one or two of them were on the fringes of the top 10 after the first lap!

    On the subject of possible race suspensions, can anyone clarify if a result is declared should more than two-thirds (or some other fraction) of the race distance be completed at the time the red flag comes out? I recall this used to be the case but am unsure if it is still so.

    • plushpile said on 3rd April 2010, 23:44

      If 75% of the race is completed then full points are awarded. Any less than that. Is half points.

  8. up: 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?

  9. GeordiePorker said on 3rd April 2010, 22:04

    Got to take a punt on it – Hamilton for the win, Alonso second and Button third.

    Vettel to go out to another reliability problem and webber to ‘trip over’ someone during the change from dry to wet conditions. MSC for 5th.

    Might even put a fiver on it!

  10. gazzap said on 3rd April 2010, 22:10

    I expect the Mclarens and Ferraris to get into the points, but webber and Vettel should get a 1-2 barring mechanical issues regardless of the weather.
    the rain could spice up the race. I think with the position of those fast guys and the rain threat its shaping up to be a superb race.
    (BTW another stupid decision not to get a banker lap today for the two top teams – very arrogant and unprofessional).

  11. Patrickl said on 3rd April 2010, 22:41

    “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.”

    Yeah Barrichello apologized for that one. I doubt Massa will every admit that he shouldn’t swerve so much.

    In another incident in Australia, forgot who he was trying to block (Webber?), but Massa was waving back and forth like a madman.

    Overtaking always has the risk of crashes, but I’m amazed how cleanly Hamilton worked his way through traffic.

    It was funny to see Kubica in an interview see how amazed he was how Hamilton was carving his way through the field. Hamilton had seen the video replay of the race and I think it made him feel even better about himself that he managed to stop Hamilton’s advance.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 3rd April 2010, 22:43

      Barrichello apologized for that one

      Really? I didn’t know that. Surprising considering Hamilton was the one behind.

      • Patrickl said on 3rd April 2010, 23:42

        Well Barrichello almost put Hamilton in the wall with that swerve. Barrichello admitted that he was defending a bit too hard.

        I remember because I was surprised about it too. You’d figure Barrichello fuming about geting the puncture.

  12. PauliePants said on 3rd April 2010, 23:21

    It makes a change for “Schui” for bad quaili, he blamed the tires and weather today, instead of other drivers getting in his way. Always some excuse, never his driving ability.

  13. there will be a crash for sure, maybe spa 1998 again maybe? dont think even Alonso or Hamilton could get past that amount of cars tbh.

  14. manatcna said on 4th April 2010, 0:50

    Sorry, maybe I’m in the minority, but this isn’t F1 – it’s the boat race. It’s a lottery – I just hope nobody gets hurt.

  15. louis said on 4th April 2010, 0:53

    John Watson won at Long Beach in 1983 after statrting 22nd in a McLaren and it was a dry race. Good Luck to all in Sepang. I figure Webber will take out Vettle and himself.

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