McLaren have the edge as F1 moves on to Malaysia

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

Sepang circuit information

Lap length 5.543km (3.444 miles)
Distance 56 laps (310.4km/192.9 miles)
Lap record* 1’34.223 (Juan Pablo Montoya, 2004)
Fastest lap 1’32.582 (Fernando Alonso, 2005)
Tyres Hard and Medium

*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix

Sepang track data in full

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

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.


Jenson Button, McLaren, Melbourne, 2012McLaren 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.

Force India

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.


Sergio Perez, Sauber, Melbourne, 2012Despite 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.

Toro Rosso

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.


Pedro de la Rosa, HRT, Melbourne, 2012Last year HRT failed to qualify in Australia but made it on the grid in Malaysia.

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

Are you going to the Malaysian Grand Prix?

If you’re heading to Sepang for this weekend’s race, we want to hear from you.

We’ve got a dedicated group and forum for people going to the race.

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2012 Malaysian Grand Prix

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Images ?? McLaren/Hoch Zwei, Sauber F1 Team, HRT F1 Team

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66 comments on McLaren have the edge as F1 moves on to Malaysia

  1. Robbie (@robbie) said on 21st March 2012, 16:37

    Can any of them get on terms with the silver cars this weekend?

    Yeah, I think Red Bull can, and I think Merc will be very strong on Saturday and less so on Sunday. I hope Ferrari have learned some things and in spite of the one week span can pull in a more tight weekend. Same with KR.

    • Andromeda said on 22nd March 2012, 8:54

      McLaren excelled better in high speed corners as shown in testing if anything McLaren will definitely pull a bigger gap to Red Bull than in Australia

  2. George29 (@george29) said on 21st March 2012, 16:55

    1 – Hamilton
    2 – Button
    3 – Raikkonen

  3. electrolite (@electrolite) said on 21st March 2012, 16:58

    A Mercedes pole position and another double points finish for Sauber will make me very happy.

    Although we cannot count out Red Bull.

    • i’ll take a pass on the mercedes, but i’d love to see Sauber have a great weekend. Their car has the potential for top 5 right now I can feel it, they just need to have a clean quali session and I think it’s achievable.

      It’s one of Kamui’s better tracks so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

  4. damonsmedley (@damonsmedley) said on 21st March 2012, 17:02

    Another win for Jenson would be very nice. Then — and only then — can they all start fighting!

  5. Dev (@dev) said on 21st March 2012, 17:10

    i still think McLaren will have the edge, looking at top speed of RBR it will be a sitting duck for a McLaren if the race pace is similar. But i think McLaren have a better package both on Saturday & Sunday. Unless RBR has some updates coming for this race. I expect Mercedes to fare a lot better than Australian GP, Ferrari will have one of the worst weekend if the race turns out to be dry & if Lotus & Merc get the maximum out of the car. problems faced by Grosjean, Kimi, Schumacher & Rosberg during the last race made Alonso’s Ferrari look good for fifth.

    Also looking at Williams progress by switching to Renault engine tells that it’s the best engine out there. Cosworth was clearly not up there with the competition. But that makes me wonder that all the progress made by Caterham by using Renault engine & RBR gearbox it too should get among the points unless they have messed up with the chassis. It’s their home GP i hope they have a good race to cheer up their fans.

    • Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 21st March 2012, 17:44

      IF Vettel snatches pole from them, even if the top speed deficit is massive, I expect him to win.

    • montreal95 (@montreal95) said on 21st March 2012, 19:01

      We can’t know for sure, if it was the engine that wasn’t up there or aero. I think it was the latter. Sure there may have been some packaging issues that could’ve been significant, specifically in Williams’ case, but the performance difference between all the engines is marginal

    • Baron said on 21st March 2012, 20:05

      How so? The Renault engine is in a different chassis this year. The Cosworth engine is one of the most powerful on the grid – if anything let Williams down it was the gearbox and the aero – the performance gain they showed in Oz is far more than just the engine. Renault is not the most powerful engine on the grid but still wins.

      Sorry, just seen someone has got there before me!

  6. Ivano (@) said on 21st March 2012, 17:12

    Only rain can stop McLaren this weekend.

  7. Jake (@jleigh) said on 21st March 2012, 17:13

    Hamilton needs to win this race in my opinion if he wants to beat challenge for the title. I know it may seem a little early to say this but the more confidence Button gets, the harder it will be to haul him back.

  8. smudgersmith1 (@smudgersmith1) said on 21st March 2012, 17:24

    After Melbourne, I feel we have masses of what ifs.
    What if Vettel hadn’t fluffed qualifying, could he have won.
    What if Kimi hadn’t fluffed qualifying, could he had got near a podium !
    What if Grosjean hadn’t screwed up his start, ditto a podium ?
    What if Lewis had led after the first corner, would he have won?
    Maybe Malaysia will mean some of the above get a better return for their efforts…cant wait!!

    • montreal95 (@montreal95) said on 21st March 2012, 19:07

      The answer to your first question is known to everybody-no. Even if Vettel hadn’t messed up qualy he would end up around P3-4, as he lost around .3-.4 of a second because of his scruffy lap. Half the difference to the Mclarens.

    • Alehud42 (@alehud42) said on 22nd March 2012, 0:31

      Vettel – No.
      Kimi – He would’ve had a podium.
      Grosjean – No.
      Lewis – Yes, I think whoever was into the first corner ahead would win the race, a la 1998.

  9. TED BELL said on 21st March 2012, 17:26

    It will be closer than you think. There are at least ten drivers who might win if a bit of luck falls their way. Remove last weekends bad luck and the standings would look much different than they are. Sepang is an interesting place and the track layout offers some challenges. Ferrari getting any results will be bigger news than a RED BULL win. If Button wins over Hamiliton again then it will open the tides of long term internal problems for them , maybe better said a moody Hamilton for sure.

    Next Monday we will better understand how the season is shaping up.

  10. ME4ME (@me4me) said on 21st March 2012, 17:31

    My saturday dream:
    Webber on pole position with a great lap in the wet. :)

    • bag0 (@bag0) said on 21st March 2012, 18:55

      @me4me While Im a Mclaren fan, I would be really happy if the qualy goes like in 2010. The first few laps with both Ferraries and Mclarens starting from the back of the grid, that was awsome. And if it rains on sunday too I will pray for another last-to-first win from Button. That would make my day.

  11. AdrianMorse (@adrianmorse) said on 21st March 2012, 17:36

    I’m looking forward to seeing what Mercedes and Lotus can do this weekend. With regard to the former, it’s not unlikely they will qualify near or on the front row, and with their record of super fast starts, we could have Mercedes 1 and 2 at the first corner. Although, similar to @damonsmedley ‘s consideration, I wouldn’t mind if Hamilton manages to stay ahead of everyone…

    Another entirely possible scenario is that Red Bull find their form, and Vettel drives away from pole, however that is one I am less eager to see. Anyway, the current weather forecast at the official formula 1 site is thunderstorms each day, so let’s wait and see.

  12. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 21st March 2012, 17:39

    I’ve looked at the weather forecast and it’s not good: rain all weekend.

    • Enigma (@enigma) said on 21st March 2012, 18:05

      Friday should be dry from what I’ve heard. Possibly rain in qualy, very likely to rain in the race.

    • Slr (@slr) said on 21st March 2012, 18:10

      I pretty sure that it says every year that it’s going to rain all weekend, only for it to rain usually after the race.

    • AdrianMorse (@adrianmorse) said on 21st March 2012, 20:57

      @fer-no65 In itself, rain isn’t necessarily bad (if that’s at all what you meant), though let’s hope we don’t have to go through endless red flag and safety car situations.

      • Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 21st March 2012, 21:20

        Rain is brilliant… even if it means the race is red flagged. I wonder if Kimi will do the trick and have an ice-cream midrace again!

        • Enigma (@enigma) said on 21st March 2012, 22:34

          After retiring from the race Kimi had an ice cream. I’ve never understood how this is funny.

          • sesku (@sesku) said on 22nd March 2012, 5:19

            He not retiring. When the race was red flagged, he decided to change his overall and have an ice cream and coke while other driver waiting on the grid for restart.

          • Enigma (@enigma) said on 22nd March 2012, 10:02

            @sesku The team decided not to continue, as he had a KERS failure. Others waited on the grid, but he had a car failure, so he changed and went for an ice cream. Should he wait on the grid without a working car?

          • GameR_K (@gamer_k) said on 22nd March 2012, 10:18

            @sesku Kimi had a issue with KERS, but Ferrrai were adamant that Kimi would still be racing. As to why Kimi would race after Ferrari made him run on Wet tyres during the dry phase till his tyres worn out is anybody’s guess

          • GameR_K (@gamer_k) said on 22nd March 2012, 10:20

            Awkward to post the same comment after 16 mins. Should have refreshed the page :(

          • Enigma (@enigma) said on 22nd March 2012, 14:08

            Kimi was told by Ferrari they would retire, he ate ice-cream, then the team changed it’s mind and said they’d see if there’s anything they could do to start again. Minutes after that it was announced the race would not continue.

            So yeah, Kimi was told he would not be able to continue.

  13. Colossal Squid (@colossal-squid) said on 21st March 2012, 17:42

    I’m hoping we have a start to the season similar to 2003, with a different winner for the first few races and an unpredictable podium!
    I’d love a pole from a Lotus or Mercedes. As for the winner I said Hamilton for Australia, so I’ll say Hamilton this weekend. Bound to be right sometime! :)

  14. LosD (@losd) said on 21st March 2012, 18:23

    It also sports more of the long corners where Red Bull have excelled in recent years.

    Didn’t winter testing indicate that Reb Bull and McLaren has traded places here? RedBull strong in tight corners, McLaren strong in fast sweepers.

    Since Melbourne is almost all tight corners and Sepang has more sweepers, this could end up with Red Bull having even more troubles.

  15. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 21st March 2012, 18:23

    @keithcollantine, Not sure if Pirelli said something different, but I remember they were going to send the Medium and Hard compounds, not Softs and Hards…

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