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?

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2012 Malaysian Grand Prix

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Images ?é?® 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. Estesark (@estesark) said on 21st March 2012, 19:14

    trick F-duct-style system

    @keithcollantine, let’s have an article on F1 Fanatic where we discuss, then vote on what to call that system. There isn’t an accepted name for it at the moment as Mercedes aren’t talking about it very much – and when they are, they’re denying that it should be called an F-Duct – so let’s take the lead! It doesn’t really matter what it’s called so long as everyone uses and understands the same term. You never know, the name we decide might stick in the wider world, bringing us, erm, fame and glory.

  2. W-K (@w-k) said on 21st March 2012, 19:57

    Presumably, as there is little time for updates for all the teams, if McLaren get their fuel consumption figures right then nobody will be able to catch them, if they qualify in their expected position.

  3. Cyclops_PL (@cyclops_pl) said on 21st March 2012, 20:19

    Actually I expect the gap to McLaren to be even bigger. I think McLaren said testing revealed they have an edge in fast corners, whereas Red Bull has advantage in the slow traction dependent corners. As almost everyone had straight-line speed advantage over RB we might actually see a commanding 1-2 from McLaren, with Lotus (which an all-rounder, very good in every aspect, excelling at none) and then Mercedes next in the line due to two proper straights and relatively short pitlane (which makes pitstops for teams with high tire degradation not so painful). What Red Bull can make out of this will heavily depend on the strategy.

  4. The Limit said on 21st March 2012, 20:42

    You can overtake at Sepang, so pole position isn’t a must! Button proved that in Australia, but I still feel that Red Bull is the main threat to the McLarens’. Mercedes have come along way in only a few years, but their target is clearly to win a grands prix. I have serious doubts about them maintaining a title threat to either Red Bull or McLaren. Ferrari, they can do no worse than they did in Melbourne, and I think people would be foolish to underestimate Alonso’s race pace around a track he clearly likes.

  5. MahavirShah (@mahavirshah) said on 21st March 2012, 22:51

    So many waited for a glimpse of a car other than a Red Bull on pole throughout last year. It got to a point where many could not really accept the sheer dominance of Red Bull. Suppose McLaren have a similar season, are people going to do the same thing? I noticed that this was the case during the Ferrari – Schumacher years, when I hadn’t even seen an F1 race, that teams had almost threatened to break away from F1.

    I have come to feel that what makes F1 interesting (in my case at least) is not a different dominant team – dominant driver every season but 2-3 different dominant teams and drivers vying for the top. I would not like to see McLaren roll over the opposition like Red Bull last year even though I would want Button to win the drivers championship.

    On a side note, this year Vettel looks like he will be tested particularly in the overtaking department. Last year there was a fair bit of doubt whether he was good enough to win from say a P10 or P18. I will be watching closely.

    • Rubixx (@rubixx) said on 21st March 2012, 23:01

      I agree 100% on your point about dominance. First and foremost I am a fan of F1. McLaren is my favorite team but the season would become very stale if we have to endure another season of dominance like last year. There is nothing more exciting than watching a race that is unpredictable, and although last year had its moments, it just lacked the unpredictability because you always knew that deep down Vettel would some how pull off the win.

      For this race then I am secretly hoping that qualifying gives many surpirses. I wouldn’t doubt if Mercedes are up there due to the FDFW. Overall I’m hoping it will be more exciting than Melbourne, not saying Melbourne was boring :).

    • Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 21st March 2012, 23:25

      teams had almost threatened to break away from F1

      That was for many reasons though, other than Schumi and Ferrari dominating the sport.

      But I agree with you. Even if it’s your favourite team, I don’t think people would like to see them winning and winning and winning. The 2004 season was boring as hell, and I bet even the tifosi wanted something different.

      People want to see their drivers really fighting for the win, to make it sweeter. If you become used to it, then it doesn’t taste as good.

  6. UKFan (@) said on 21st March 2012, 23:35

    Pole for Schumacher, victory for Hamiton, 2nd place for Button and 3rd for Raikkonen.

  7. sato113 (@sato113) said on 21st March 2012, 23:56

    great easy to read preview keith!
    I wonder if Murussia’s 14th place in Melborne will win them 10th place come the end of the season? if reliability through the field is strong, Caterham getting higher than 15th could be tricky…

  8. manatcna (@manatcna) said on 22nd March 2012, 2:54

    McLaren have only won one (1) race so far, so I think it’s a bit too early to talk of them dominating in 2012.

    (I’m a McLaren fan)

  9. himmatsj (@himmatsj) said on 22nd March 2012, 8:52

    I am going for a Michael pole. I am not sure if they’d even finish the race in the Top 10 though as tyre degradation in the massive heat is going to cause massive havoc for them!

  10. BasCB (@bascb) said on 22nd March 2012, 9:17

    At least HRT will have a tad better a chance of qualifying – . Seems they really did not get DRS on the car in Australia, so no wonder they were outside the 107% mark then. With that on the car and a bit more time to get everything working it shouldn’t be to big an ask.

  11. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 22nd March 2012, 13:47

    If the rain holds off I expect RBR to be in a much stronger position come qualifying. The car just suits the circuit. The real crunch will be if they can hold off McLaren and others down the two long straights, particularly the main straight where the DRS zone is.

    Although Button managed it in Australia, I’m not convinced that RBR will have enough of a performance gap to get out of that crucial 1s zone within 2 laps.

    If we have rain, then I would put Button down for the race win. He’s smooth, very smooth, but he also knows when to change and that often puts him light-years ahead of the rest of the pack.

    I hope Mercedes do a better job of qualifying and I’m sure Raikkonen will have dusted off any cobwebs he had. Lotus seem to have the upper hand out of the two of the teams at the moment.

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