Mark Webber, Pastor Maldonado, Sepang, 2011

Sepang may prove 2011 will be closer than expected

2011 Malaysian GP pre-race analysisPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Mark Webber, Pastor Maldonado, Sepang, 2011
Mark Webber, Pastor Maldonado, Sepang, 2011

Sebastian Vettel’s crushing display in the Australian Grand Prix raised the prospect of a season dominated by Red Bull.

But after a close qualifying session between them and McLaren we may look forward to a similarly exciting race.

The start

The run to the first corner at Sepang is 460m – over twice as far as it was at Melbourne. This makes getting a good start and deploying KERS all the more important.

Unusually, in the last two years the driver leading at the end of lap one in Sepang hadn’t started on the front row.

Last year Vettel got a clean getaway from third and pinched the lead from his pole-sitting team mate at the first corner. No doubt Mark Webber would like to return the favour this year as they start in the reverse of the 2010 positions.

Christian Horner said Red Bull are using KERS on their cars this weekend, unlike in Melbourne. Sure enough, their straight-line speeds in qualifying were higher – in fact both Vettel and Webber were quicker than Hamilton at the speed trap. That removes a potential vulnerability from the RB7s at the start.

But this is the first time Red Bull have run KERS in a race. Reliability has been a problem for most teams using KERS at one stage or another.

Although KERS failures tend not to cause outright retirement, it is obviously a disadvantage if the system packs in and leaves the driver lugging around a battery and motor for no benefit.

There’s more to getting a good start than just KERS – witness Lewis Hamilton’s poor getaway in Melbourne. The decision to change which side of the grid pole position is on could also play a role here.

Unlike in previous years Vettel’s pole position slot is on the right-hand side. The left-hand side is further off-line and will potentially have more rubber debris on it.

Some oil was dropped in a support race near where the Hamilton will start from, but the Malaysian marshals have been busy cleaning it up.

Sepang’s wide corners and long straight invite first-lap lunges for position, so expect to see some big moves at the start.


Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Sepang, 2011
Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Sepang, 2011

Pirelli have said they expect drivers to need three pit stops at Sepang and that has been supported by what we’ve seen in practice so far.

None of the drivers in the top ten chose to qualify on the hard tyre, meaning they’ll all start on softs (assuming it’s a dry race). As ever, keep your eyes peeled when the formation lap begins to see which drivers starting 11th and lower have opted for hard tyres.

This was the strategy Sergio Perez found so effective in Melbourne. However it’s doubtful anyone will be able to emulate his feat of doing the whole race on just one stop.

Making one fewer pit stop will save a driver 22 seconds. Drivers making three stops will make their first visits to the pits after about ten laps – anyone who can eke their tyres out half-a-dozen laps or so longer should be able to do two.

In Melbourne we saw some teams and drivers had to make more stops than others – both Ferraris and Mark Webber stopped three times while many of their rivals did just two. Sepang could give us more of an insight into which cars and drivers manage their tyres best.

Red Bull in particular were paying attention to their rear tyre wear during practice – something which will not have been improved by the addition of KERS.

The weather

Before the race weekend started Sunday looked like the best prospect for some rain and that is still the case. Different forecasts are predicting 60% or greater chance of rain.

The performance of Pirelli’s wet and intermediate tyres is a significant unknown. Given the high temperatures which persist at the circuit even during rainfall, wet running here would be a major test of their durability.

The prospect of a wet race inevitably brings with it claims that this team or that driver have opted for a ‘wet set-up’. Until the race is done and dusted it’s hard to say, but don’t bank on any teams making concessions that would significantly affect their dry-weather performance unless they were certain rain was going to come.


Timo Glock, Virgin, Sepang, 2011
Timo Glock, Virgin, Sepang, 2011

Interestingly, Charlie Whiting declared yesterday that drivers may not use the DRS “if the car is fitted with intermediate or wet-weather tyres”.

This could be significant in a scenario where the field is in transition between dry and wet-weather tyres, as those on slicks would be able to use their DRS but those on wet or intermediates wouldn’t.

Of course, the usual restrictions on using DRS in the race would still apply. Drivers can activate their rear wing once they come out of the final corner, providing they were within one second of another car on the approach to it.

As the start/finish straight is over one kilometre long, the DRS effect should be more powerful here than it was in Melbourne. So even if the race stays dry, we may well see more jockeying for position than usual.

Keep an eye on the Mercedes and Force India drivers who had the highest top speeds and have got places to make up at the start. Particularly Michael Schumacher, who was hindered by a DRS problem in qualifying.

Over to you

How do you expect the Malaysian Grand Prix to unfold?

Will McLaren – or anyone else – be able to keep up with Red Bull? And who will fare best if it rains?

Have your say in the comments.

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118 comments on “Sepang may prove 2011 will be closer than expected”

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  1. Button is favorite to win the race. Vettel and Hamilton will battle and waste tyres in the beginning, Button will wait, stay out and win through strategy and trye saving.

    1. Do you think Alonso will let Button wait peacefully? Also while waiting, in the same time letting Webber build a gap…

      1. Even independent of what happens up front I think Button is the best with dealing with tyres, from the top 4. Alonso won’t bother him.

        1. He might be marginally better than Vettel and Hamilton at looking after his tyres, but he is also a tortoise at heart. If there are normal racing conditions, he will not finish higher than 4th… or 3rd if he is a little lucky.

      2. Alonso doesn’t have the car, which when you think about it, is quite critical for a car race. :)

        1. So, is he going to do the race on foot? man! ;)

          1. yes! Just one foot! ;) ( touche! )

          2. LOL, on his back foot!

      3. You are assuming Alonso can stay with Button. But lap times during quali and practice sessions have proved that the Ferrari is at least a couple tenths slower than the McLaren.

      4. Alonso has no car to match the McLaren
        He will a minute away in a couple of laps


    2. d1sciple (@)
      9th April 2011, 19:44

      Well he isn’t the bookies favourite, even though he may be yours. I think he’ll have a good race, particularly if it rains, although then it is anyone’s race.

      If dry, he can sit back and manage tyres so possibly do one less pit stop. We all know how kind he is on cars and tyres so it is possible.

      1. Hamilton did brilliant to conserve his tyres in Melbourne….

        1. d1sciple (@)
          9th April 2011, 20:26

          Yes, he did. Was running longer than the Red Bulls but the undercut made too much difference in terms of time. Then his floor broke …

    3. You ignoring the fact that he mustnot give away 22 secs to the leaders over the race in order to make that work – which Button can do, he can drive at blistering speed and keep the tyres.

      However, the drop off isnt a tyre balance issue that varies from driver to driver. Its a given, an absolute certainty. No matter what you do, by lap X they are gone. Which means that when they do go off you want to be as far down the road as you possibly can, without misusing the tyres, meaning the ball is in Hamilton, Vettels and Alonsos court there.

      If these were Michelins, Button would be long gone I suspect, but they are not and so he is slightly behind.

  2. Once again awesome reporting Keith. Love your site and the twitter apps. Anyhow, first I heard of Mr. Schumachers qualifying issue. Can anyone expand on this?

    1. Yeah this would perfectly explain being 6 tenths off Rosberg. He’s had problems with that most of the weekend.

      1. Schumacher said himself on TV that his DRS didn’t go back to neutral for the last corner, so his breaking point was way off, grip in the corner was really bad and he could accelerate later. I haven’t seen footage on it though, but if he is right, then this incident sure cost him a lot of time, his sectors before that were better than Heidfelds if I remember that correctly.

  3. Pedantry corner Keith: As the start/finish straight is over one kilometre long, the DRS effect should be more powerful here than it was in Sepang. So even if the race stays dry, we may well see more jockeying for position than usual.

    This is Sepang, no?

    1. Isn’t the straight a little less than 1km?

    2. If we are doing this already, I might add

      But this is the first time Red Bull [will] run KERS in a race.

      Unless the race is over already, or am I missing something here? :-)

    3. Hatebreeder
      9th April 2011, 20:03

      i think it was being compared to melbourne, australia.

    4. According to Williams it’s 1,029m.

      1. i think what he means is that you should correct “Sepang” in that paragraph to read “Melbourne” or “Australia”

        As the start/finish straight is over one kilometre long, the DRS effect should be more powerful here than it was in Melbourne. So even if the race stays dry, we may well see more jockeying for position than usual.

        1. Ah I see! Fixed it, thanks.

        1. Well they should know but I wonder why the difference?

          1. No clue, unless Williams are counting a bit more of the turn in as the straight?

          2. Wouldn’t be suprised if Maldonardo does the extra 102m given the big runoff area into turn one.

      2. Gnarly Racing (@)
        9th April 2011, 21:22

        Does it just seem longer if you’re in a Williams?

        1. Is it because Williams is quoting the distance in yards?
          Reminds me of the Wickipedia on the BMW M3, where the limited top speed is quoted to be 155 mph, or 249 km/h, like this:
          Which is nonsense, as the BMW is built in a km/h country, and the top speed is limited to 250 km/h, not 155 mph.

  4. So hard to predict. I think Red Bull’s biggest worry will be tyre wear and then KERS reliability.

    Depending on how many outside the Top 10 start on hard tyres, we might see the front 4 coming out of the pits and having to contend with the backmarkers.

    Then there’s the timing of the rain. If it starts wet, everyone will be in the same boat and the front 4 won’t have to worry about pitting 6 laps earlier than backmarkers. It it rains early enough, the front 4 might have the advantage, or it might start raining when those on the softs and those on the hards are out of sequence with their stops, which will really mix things up.

    Then there’s variable strategies. Will they go soft, soft, soft, hard? Soft, soft, hard? Soft, hard, soft?

    I think the winner will be the guy who sticks to his own plan and doesn’t get frightened into compromising their own strategy because someone else came in for tyres.

    1. That sounds pretty reasonable an expectation. I agree Icthyes

  5. The Hamilton? Is that some sort of superhero name?

    1. Hatebreeder
      9th April 2011, 20:21


    2. Lewis, Hammer the Hammer, Hamilton? :)

  6. Keith, is Vettel and Webber were quicker at the speed trap how come the maccas were quicker in sector 3?

    1. Sector three isn’t just a straight.

      1. Keith notice the front wing on the Rebull is not flexing as much this weekend. They run different front wings at low speed/high speed circuits hence the difference in performance.

        1. might be because having the flex wing will increase drag

  7. just correct this on the DRS paragraph: “As the start/finish straight is over one kilometre long, the DRS effect should be more powerful here than it was in Sepang” should Melbourne, no?

    1. should be, but we’l find out on Lap3 ;)

  8. but qualifying gap is to big from 1-10 n .. bit disappointed caused there aren’t surprise from torrotoso forceindia lotus or virgin.. same old train from last year

  9. The bloke that has been providing weather updates via twitter since last season, Ian Fergueson seems to think that the race has an 80+% chance of it being affected (effected?) by wet weather. He hasnt been far from wrong in the past.

    This is his profile:

    1. Your first use is correct. Rain can/could affect the outcome of the race.

  10. d1sciple (@)
    9th April 2011, 19:34

    The lack of pace on the Williams suggests they may have compromised for a wet race, otherwise their lack of pace is really quite poor!

    1. and ferrari,they expect a 80% probability of rain during the race. just don’t forget the car performance in race trim seems to be at least as good as the redbull ,i think they have a setup for rain.
      ferrari will win.

      1. just don’t forget the car performance in race trim seems to be at least as good as the redbull

        In Australia they needed an extra pit stop and finished half a minute behind. How is that “at least as good”?

      2. Nice to see you not lose faith in Ferrari. But I am very certain Alonso would have preferred having a shot at second row over a rain prepared setup.
        If only their car was up to it. Don’t count on it, Ferrari were clearly slower than both Red Bull (big time) and McLaren in Australia.

        Testing counts for nothing, when these teams have improved from there on and Renault is right up there with Ferrari on speed.

  11. I’m expecting a feisty first corner. If Vettel doesn’t get away cleanly, I’m sure he’ll be put under heavy pressure from other drivers, keen to ensure he doesn’t have an easy run to another win. Also Kobayashi in 10th looks ominous. If it’s dry: McLaren to end up in 1 and 2 as Red Bull’s performance trails off during the race. If it’s rain: Hamilton followed by mayhem.

    1. d1sciple (@)
      9th April 2011, 19:48

      I don’t think the first corner is as important her as the last few (10) seasons. There is more ability to overtake here and the pace of the McLaren’s seems good. on long runs. Webber getting 2nd off the start is the worst result for a competitive race in the dry.

      1. I get your point that grid position isn’t so important, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a fight into the first corner. What I meant was that the threat is for Vettel to head off into the sunset (bar McLaren really equaling or bettering Red Bull) so, although any scrap is risky, the other drivers are likely to get more aggressive in chasing him, especially knowing that he’s less effective if he drops down a few positions from the start. Maybe just wishful thinking!

        1. d1sciple (@)
          9th April 2011, 21:52

          Well the big scrap will be to make sure a McLaren is at worst in second place, then we will see the true pace. So a first corner scrap with Webber is possible, especially after his faux pas last year!

      2. But changing the pole from left side to right side will have an effect on that. It would make pole better.

    2. Something occured to me. This is the first KERs run race for Redbull, so it stands to reason this is the first start Webber & Vettel have using it. We saw in Melbourne how much spin from his tyres that Lewis produced, and hes had a whole season using KERs at the start, Have Vettel and Webber had any pratice in this at all?. Its possible that this experience (and for others) could prove vital to the start, if not the race.

      Maybe im just being over-analytical.

      1. They don’t use KERS off the line

      2. We saw in Melbourne how much spin from his tyres that Lewis produced, and hes had a whole season using KERs at the start, Have Vettel and Webber had any pratice in this at all?. Its possible that this experience (and for others) could prove vital to the start, if not the race.

        KERS can be used only from 3th gear onwards.

      3. As patrickl said, they’re not using it when they’re traction limited. So the only new thing for Red Bull is they have to know when they’re no longer limited on traction and press the KERS button. So Hamilton’s experience is pretty much worthless here.

        1. Braking into the first corner might be different with KERS though :)

  12. It’s a relief to read here that Schumi had a problem with the DRS, however it could be a dangerous one during the race.

    1. Good point. The FIA say that if a problem develops with the DRS, then the wing will slam shut. But what happens in the event that the wing is jammed open? Does the driver get a black and orange flag, or even black flagged?

    2. So did rosberg

      1. Rosberg got DRS problem in Q3 not in Q2.

        1. Really? Maybe its got something to do with Mercedes being the only one (one of the few?) who operates the DRS from the sides instead of having a central lever.

          Certainly seems there are some problems with it, that will cause some headaches both at the FIA and at Mercedes.

  13. Hatebreeder
    9th April 2011, 20:25

    if it rains before the race starts, then it will wash the track entirely and no one has an advantage! awesome!

  14. I hope Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault also will get in the mix later in the year. Although for starters it is nice to see McLaren having cought up.

    I think(hope) this season will become even more epic than last!

  15. Keith, Isn’t the wet weather rule that no one can use DRS if any car is on wets or inters, to avoid the situation you cite? I thought this is what Matchett explained in the Melbourne broadcast.

    1. Here’s what the FIA document says:

      As discussed in the team managers meeting yesterday, I would like to confirm that for safety reasons the driver adjustable bodywork permitted by Article 3.18 of the Technical Regulations may not be operated in any practice session (including qualifying) if the car is fitted with intermediate or wet-weather tyres.

      Any driver using the adjustable bodywork whilst the car is fitted with intermediate or wet-weather tyres will be reported to the stewards as being in breach of Article 2.3 of the Technical Regulations (dangerous construction).

      1. Does this mean if the track is wet but the drivers are still on slicks then they can use the DRS? Because it seems the drivers may still be getting the signal to use te DRS but will have to remember what tyre they are running on.

        1. Saying whether the track is dry or wet could be biased, so it’s only based on tyres you’re using. So even if it’s raining like at the end of 2009 race, if you’re on slicks, you may use DRS!

        2. I suppose they might, but at their own risk.

          My guess is the logic behind this being, that if you find its nessicary to run wet weather tyres, you are experiencing problems with grip. Therefore lessening your grip would go against that and even worsen your situation.

          If you are still running slicks, you would be feeling secure you can make it. Using DRS might be an option, at your own risk. Or its just driving on eggscales back to the pits, making even further lessening downforce downright foolhardy and highly unlikely as it worsens your chances of making it to the pits.

      2. Mouse_Nightshirt
        9th April 2011, 21:34

        That rule says practice or qualifying, which means, I assume, you can use it in the race?

        1. Thanks to Keith for looking it up. But it does leave this question. In the race, as the only time the DRS is useable is in the official zone, a straight, there is not the issue of safety where a driver will be tempted to use it in a corner. It would be unfair for a driver on inters in mixed conditions to be barred from using the DRS against a driver on slicks. In fact the safety justification would dictate the opposite, because the guy on slicks is the one taking the big risk in a situation where some are on wets/inters.

      3. HounslowBusGarage
        9th April 2011, 21:42

        “Any driver using the adjustable bodywork whilst the car is fitted with intermediate or wet-weather tyres will be reported to the stewards”
        What an ****ing sily bog-up this is! So the drivers will have that lovely glowing switch in front of them that says “Press me and pass the bloke in front!” But they will have to say to themselves “Wait a minure, what tyres am I on?” Otherwise they get reported to the School Prefects.
        This is a pretty poor policing arrangement even by FIA standards

        1. I’m pretty sure the drivers know what tyre they are on at all times. Did you see Nico’s training??

      4. Doesn’t that only mention practice though, not the race?

        I’m sure i’ve read/heard somewhere that if ANY car is on wets/inters then everyones DRS is disabled. Would’t it make more sense though to leave it up to the drivers during the race to decide if its safe to use DRS? They’re in a better position to work out how much grip they’ve got then the FIA.

        Also, just how is using DRS on wet tyres “dangerous construction”? surely the tyres dont change the construction of the car from safe to unsafe.

        1. If that was the rule we would see Heidfeld going on inters in Melbourne, just to make sure Petrov kept the podium. So such rule would be just stupid.

  16. McLaren, are my favourites for the season. They have been since the U sidepods were unveiled, but that was based on nothing more than hope rewarding innovation.

    However, since the Octopus EBD came to light, and their results in AUS, it’s clear McLaren’s car is inherently fast, and they have perhaps the widest scope of any team for improvement, as they’ve built their car with a number of innovations in mind.

    Seems those sidepods give a decent performance hike, thus allowing much more room for testing, and stepped improvements than perhaps the likes of Red Bull.

    1. Ever since I saw the car in Aus, I have thought that the U-shaped sidepods have payed off for them, big time! RBR no doubt have the best rear of the rear end, and yet McLaren are right with them.

      Looks like McLaren are able to run very steep front wing angle on the inside of the front wing, which produces more front downforce, and that air is then channeled trough the sidepod cut outs, where it would produce higher pressure at the top of the sidepod(hence downforce) and then the same air helps to increase the air mass over the diffuser and more directly it would help the rear brake-duct furniture and the beam wing effectives.

      If any other team with the conventional sidepods would increase the angle on the inside of the front wing, then, apart from increasing front downforce, it would do nothing but create more drag, as the high pressure air stream would hit the sidepod opening.

      At the moment there is no denying the fact that RBR have the best front wing, because of the flex, which other teams have not been able to crack, even though they had time since the middle of last season, so who knows when other teams will finally crack that one? And most likely they have the best RBD, which should be more copyable.

      Overall I fell that the McLaren concept has more potential than RBR, so we could be in for a season like Turkey race last year, but we are just guessing at this point (and all the other ones as well all trough the season :D).

      1. re 1st four paragraphs. Yes, what you said! ;)

        I feel the same re potential. It’s gonna be a good seasons. Especially when the diffuser they bolted on looks like a shovel. :)

  17. Last year, Hamilton was right up there with the Red Bulls in every practise. Maybe the track just suits the car or Hamilton? We all know how far Red Bull was ahead on almost all the other tracks though.

  18. Key will be easing up to the cliff in stint 1. If you can glide down the tire performance curve, losing less than 3 seconds per lap in performance from lap 10 to about 13-15, you can forgo a stop and come out ahead for the effort. Button, as those behind him are slower and harder on their tires, may be in a good position. Hamilton won’t be in a position to pace himself, with Webber breathing down his back. If Button can do an easy first few laps, practice data seem to show that this will allow his tires to run out longer.

    1. This is exactly the reason why Button was able to finish consistently in the higher points positions all of last year. If he was battling for the lead he wouldn’t have the option to pace himself.

  19. I see people suggesting that saving a pitstop is the holy grail, but I don’t think saving a pitstop makes much difference in overall race time.

    Alonso lost 24 seconds before he made his first stop. That was because of him being pushed off in the first corner.

    After that he could do his own race and he lost only 6 extra seconds to Vettel. That’s including making one stop extra.

    With a better (normal) start he would have been pretty competitive even making a stop more.

    1. It all depends on how quickly the tyes show a significant drop off in performance. If a steady drive reduces the drop off, then teams will pursue fewer stops. However, if the tyres show a drop in performance regardless of how they are managed, then the teams will be forced to make more stops. Your running position also plays a part.

      1. The point is that the last race showed that there isn’t much between the two strategies.

        If anything, I’d say Alonso was faster doing 3 stops than you’d expect him to be seeing his huge deficit in Q3

  20. Assuming a 3-stop race, we are looking at 4 stints. The first stint is said to be around 9-10 laps on the soft tire. This would leave 3 stints for the other 46-47 laps. If somebody can make the hard tire last 18 laps, he can use the soft again for the final stint, so something like 10-18-18-10, going S-H-H-S. Otherwise it would be more like a 10-16-15-15, going S-H-H-H. So this means that there are certain variables for the race, and it will all depend on who can use the softs for more than 1 stint. If McLaren were very close in Q, they should also be very close to the RBR in race trim. What we don’t know is how KERS might affect tire wear on the RBR over an entire stint. In Melbourne, Vettel pitted 2 laps earlier than Lewis, on lap 14. When Vettel pitted, Lewis was about 3 sec behind. Of these 3 secs, at least 2 secs were gained during the very first lap (this agrees w/ the commonly accepted theory that RBR can produce an awesome first-lap time on softs). So during the 13 laps following lap 1, Vettel could only increase his lead by about a second. This means Lewis was within 7-8/100s of Vettel on every lap (after lap 1), as an average. Additionally, Lewis made a bad start, which I don’t think he will do again here. The pole position place has been moved to the inside, which may complicate the start. If it doesn’t rain, it will be a thrilling battle between these two for the win. Keith and suggest that the RBR has the pace advantage over a stint, but we don’t know what fuel loads were used during these runs. Also, the runs from which the data was presented were much different in duration. Lewis went 6 laps, the RBRs 10 or 11 laps. If I had to pick the winner I would go w/ Lewis, since the McLaren seems evenly matched w/ the RBR on this track, their KERS is better and we don’t know how RBR’s KERS might affect their tire wear. Even if Lewis cannot overtake Vettel at the start, I think he will be right behind him all the way to the very end, and w/ a chance to overtake.

    1. So long as he, Hamilton, doesn’t forget to warm up his tyres during the parade lap and start on a colder set of tyres relative to the cars around him. My guess is his race engineers were busy chatting with him over the radio as they jus t love to do at odd times.

    2. Don’t forget about fuel load – tyres last much longer later on in the race, so if they last 10 laps at the start (after being used in qualy) then you’re probably looking at more than 20 laps at the end of the race on new softs.

      1. Exactly, from what was said by the teams after Australia and FP I expect everyone to go for something like S-S-S-H or maybe put on the hards earlier if they feel they might be able to save 1 pitstop.

        The new tyres can be kept good if the outlap is done carfully and going quite slow. Then the softs are better, as there does not seem to be too much difference in durability between soft and hard, but a big speed difference.

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