2012 Malaysian Grand Prix preview
McLaren led the way in Australia but the chasing pack wasn’t far behind.
Red Bull showed strong pace in the race and Mercedes and Lotus weren’t far behind in qualifying.
Can any of them get on terms with the silver cars this weekend?
The Malaysian Grand Prix
The Sepang International Circuit holds the Malaysian Grand Prix for the 14th time this year.
It’s generally considered one of the better modern circuits, with some quick corners and two long straights for slipstreaming and overtaking.
The DRS zone will remain the same from last year – the detection point is prior to the final corner and DRS can be activated as they exit the final turn.
Malaysia makes several conflicting demands of the cars: they need downforce for the corners, ample cooling due to the high temperatures, and minimal drag for the straights. Satisfying all three is essential for a quick and reliable car.
Aside from the sweltering heat and humidity, the other notable characteristic of the weather is sudden heavy rain downpours. That has affected the races only infrequently but when it does – such as in 2001 and 2009 – it tends to be dramatic.
Red Bull seem not to have fully got to grips with the late changes they made to their car’s exhaust system at the end of testing. Further revisions were made early on in the Australian Grand Prix weekend but the wet conditions prevented them getting much running with it.
Nonetheless the race was hardly a disaster as their cars came home in second and fourth.
Sepang will give them more opportunity for development. It also sports more of the long corners where Red Bull have excelled in recent years. Both of which could help them get on terms with Mclaren this year.
McLaren have never started the Malaysian Grand Prix from pole position. Having locked out the front row of the grid in Melbourne, you have to like their chances of ending that streak this weekend.
Had it not been for the safety their cars would likely have come home one-two as well.
They head into the weekend looking to capitalise on their strong start to the season and put some distance between them and their rivals who, sooner or later, are bound to come after them.
Melbourne confirmed the worst predictions about the Ferrari F2012′s performance. It looked evil in the braking zones and both drivers had spins during the race weekend.
They are a little more optimistic about the car’s performance in long corners. But back-to-back race weekends means they are unlikely to make serious progress with their car this weekend.
It’ll be another case of damage-limitation for Fernando Alonso. Meanwhile Felipe Massa will be using a new chassis in a bid to understand why his performance in Melbourne was substantially worse than Alonso’s, even given the car’s shortcomings.
Mercedes caught the eye in Melbourne with some quick performances in practice, but ultimately fell short of expectations. They left the first race of the season point-less, but look like strong contenders heading into this weekend.
Their trick F-duct-style system should help their performance on Sepang’s long straights and could put them in contention for pole position – assuming their rivals don’t find a way to ban it.
Their race performance is a bit more suspect. They admitted to suffering higher tyre degradation than expected in Melbourne, which the heat of Sepang may make worse.
Another team who came away from Melbourne with less than they should have, following Romain Grosjean’s early ejection from the race.
If he can have a trouble-free race and Kimi Raikkonen can avoid a repeat of his qualifying blunder, points and podiums should be possible this weekend.
Paul di Resta expects the team to fare better in Sepang where tyre warm-up should be less of a problem.
For Nico Hulkenberg the race offers an opportunity to get his season started after his lap one retirement in Australia.
Despite starting last, Sergio Perez left Australia with a solid haul of points – which could have been greater had it not been for the safety car.
Last year in Malaysia he was fortunate to escape injury when he struck a piece of debris – believed to have been a piece of ballast – which damaged his chassis badly enough to write it off.
As last year, Sauber have a car which is kind to its tyres, and in the heat of Malaysia that could be a very handy thing indeed.
The STR7s looked quick around Melbourne – Jean-Eric Vergne set the sixth-quickest lap and Daniel Ricciardo reached Q3.
The punishing heat and humidity of Malaysia will expose any shortcoming in the newcomers’ fitness regimes.
Williams’ delight at finding they have a quick car on their hands in Australia tempered their disappointment at seeing Pastor Maldonado crash out of the points on the last lap.
But they can ill-afford to throw any more points away in the thick of a competitive midfield.
Caterham were blighted by reliability problems in Australia, which probably kept them short of their ultimate performance.
Even so, it’s hard to see them challenging for a place in Q2 just yet.
If they can get some reasonable running done in practice, they should be able to qualify this time.
Despite limited running pre-season Marussia appear to have a car that is both reliable and considerably quicker than HRT’s.
But they’re a long way off Caterham, so Timo Glock and Charles Pic are likely to be in a race of their own.
2012 driver form
How the drivers have fared in the season so far.
|Q avg||R avg||R best||R worst||Classified||Form guide|
|Sebastian Vettel||6||2||2||2||1/1||Form guide|
|Mark Webber||5||4||4||4||1/1||Form guide|
|Jenson Button||2||1||1||1||1/1||Form guide|
|Lewis Hamilton||1||3||3||3||1/1||Form guide|
|Fernando Alonso||12||5||5||5||1/1||Form guide|
|Felipe Massa||16||0/1||Form guide|
|Michael Schumacher||4||0/1||Form guide|
|Nico Rosberg||7||12||12||12||1/1||Form guide|
|Kimi Raikkonen||17||7||7||7||1/1||Form guide|
|Romain Grosjean||3||0/1||Form guide|
|Paul di Resta||15||10||10||10||1/1||Form guide|
|Nico Hulkenberg||9||0/1||Form guide|
|Kamui Kobayashi||13||6||6||6||1/1||Form guide|
|Sergio Perez||22||8||8||8||1/1||Form guide|
|Daniel Ricciardo||10||9||9||9||1/1||Form guide|
|Jean-Eric Vergne||11||11||11||11||1/1||Form guide|
|Pastor Maldonado||8||13||13||13||1/1||Form guide|
|Bruno Senna||14||16||16||16||1/1||Form guide|
|Heikki Kovalainen||18||0/1||Form guide|
|Vitaly Petrov||19||0/1||Form guide|
|Pedro de la Rosa||0/0||Form guide|
|Narain Karthikeyan||0/0||Form guide|
|Timo Glock||20||14||14||14||1/1||Form guide|
|Charles Pic||21||15||15||15||1/1||Form guide|
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Images © McLaren/Hoch Zwei, Sauber F1 Team, HRT F1 Team