Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Sepang, 2012

Rain could play a role in round two of Hamilton versus Button

2012 Malaysian Grand Prix pre-race analysisPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Sepang, 2012Lewis Hamilton lost the lead – and arguably the win – to his team mate on the run to the first corner in Melbourne.

He will be at pains to stop that happening again.

But he and Jenson Button both have a fast-starting Michael Schumacher to contend with – as well as the threat of rain.

The start

The run to the first corner at Sepang is one of the longest on the F1 calendar – there’s 660m between Hamilton’s pole position slot and the apex of turn one.

A lot can happen in that space. Poor starts are harshly punished – as Mark Webber found out last year when his KERS failed at the start.

With the FIA restricting the assistance a driver can receive at the start this year, we could see more changes in the opening lap than we’re used to. In Australia, none of the top three starters made particularly clean getaways.

One driver who did start well was Michael Schumacher – as he often did last year. From third on the grid this year he is well-placed to attack the McLarens. He also has excellent straight-line speed (see below).

Last year Sebastian Vettel’s defended aggressively against Hamilton at the start – this year Hamilton may have to dish out the same treatment to his team mate – or Schumacher.

But Hamilton’s defensive tactics have got him in trouble here in the past two years. Now would be a good time for him to reacquaint himself with the rules on defensive driving that were clarified over the winter.

Strategy

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Sepang, 2012It’s unusual to see any of the top drivers in Q3 using (and therefore starting the race) on the harder tyre. Vettel has done so this weekend, and will start on the hard tyres from fifth on the grid following Kimi Raikkonen’s penalty.

He admitted afterwards this was not a strategic decision, simply a consequence of the RB8 being unable to produce a faster lap on the softer tyres as track temperatures hit the mid-40s.

It could hurt him at the start as those around him will have better traction off the line with their softer compounds.

As the hard tyres appear to offer the best combination of grip and durability, Vettel may be in a better shape later on in the first stint. But there’s no getting away from the fact he will have to use the softer tyres eventually.

He may prefer to wait until his final stint to keep the time spent on them as short as possible, allowing the track to rubber-in and his fuel load to decrease.

Friday practice indicated drivers will need three pit stops to get to the end of the race. “The key will be to look after your tyres in the race,” said Hamilton. “They?ll have a tough time, especially on 150kg of fuel.”

Of course this assumes the race will take place in dry conditions. There have been thunderstorms and rain showers during the weekend, and there is an increased chance of rain on race day.

Rain tends to fall in heavy bursts and dry up quickly in Sepang. In 2009, very heavy rain meant the race could not be completed in time before darkness fell.

This year’s race starts at 4pm local time, with sunset expected at 7:23pm. There is a new-for-2012 maximum time limit of four hours on races if they are suspended.

Qualifying times in full

Driver Car Q1 Q2 (vs Q1) Q3 (vs Q2)
1 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1’37.813 1’37.106 (-0.707) 1’36.219 (-0.887)
2 Jenson Button McLaren 1’37.575 1’36.928 (-0.647) 1’36.368 (-0.560)
3 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1’37.517 1’37.017 (-0.500) 1’36.391 (-0.626)
4 Mark Webber Red Bull 1’37.172 1’37.375 (+0.203) 1’36.461 (-0.914)
5 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1’37.961 1’36.715 (-1.246) 1’36.461 (-0.254)
6 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1’38.102 1’37.419 (-0.683) 1’36.634 (-0.785)
7 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1’38.058 1’37.338 (-0.720) 1’36.658 (-0.680)
8 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’37.696 1’36.996 (-0.700) 1’36.664 (-0.332)
9 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1’38.151 1’37.379 (-0.772) 1’37.566 (+0.187)
10 Sergio Perez Sauber 1’37.933 1’37.477 (-0.456) 1’37.698 (+0.221)
11 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1’37.789 1’37.589 (-0.200)
12 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1’38.381 1’37.731 (-0.650)
13 Bruno Senna Williams 1’38.437 1’37.841 (-0.596)
14 Paul di Resta Force India 1’38.325 1’37.877 (-0.448)
15 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1’38.419 1’37.883 (-0.536)
16 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1’38.303 1’37.890 (-0.413)
17 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1’38.372 1’38.069 (-0.303)
18 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1’39.077
19 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1’39.306
20 Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1’39.567
21 Timo Glock Marussia 1’40.903
22 Charles Pic Marussia 1’41.250
23 Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1’42.914
24 Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1’43.655

With the five fastest qualifiers separated by two-tenths of a second, the front of the grid looks very close indeed.

Vettel is the only driver in the top ten starting on the hard tyres. Those outside the top ten have a free choice of which tyre they start on.

Fernando Alonso may be more competitive than his qualifying lap time suggests. I had a KERS problem on my only run in Q3″, he said.

“I don?t think it cost me any places, but it would definitely have made the gap to pole look more realistic.”

Sector times

Driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton 24.807 (2) 32.277 (1) 39.135 (8)
Jenson Button 25.005 (6) 32.416 (2) 38.947 (2)
Michael Schumacher 24.749 (1) 32.567 (8) 39.075 (4)
Mark Webber 25.040 (8) 32.464 (3) 38.889 (1)
Kimi Raikkonen 24.816 (4) 32.509 (5) 39.108 (6)
Sebastian Vettel 25.036 (7) 32.566 (7) 39.032 (3)
Romain Grosjean 25.054 (10) 32.488 (4) 39.116 (7)
Nico Rosberg 24.807 (2) 32.705 (11) 39.077 (5)
Fernando Alonso 25.158 (12) 32.633 (9) 39.565 (10)
Sergio Perez 25.188 (13) 32.509 (5) 39.691 (13)
Pastor Maldonado 25.220 (14) 32.698 (10) 39.533 (9)
Felipe Massa 25.270 (16) 32.841 (13) 39.601 (11)
Bruno Senna 25.258 (15) 32.843 (14) 39.740 (15)
Paul di Resta 24.944 (5) 32.976 (16) 39.849 (17)
Daniel Ricciardo 25.113 (11) 32.933 (15) 39.837 (16)
Nico Hulkenberg 25.051 (9) 33.037 (17) 39.732 (14)
Kamui Kobayashi 25.342 (18) 32.789 (12) 39.650 (12)
Jean-Eric Vergne 25.339 (17) 33.398 (18) 40.271 (19)
Heikki Kovalainen 25.444 (20) 33.631 (19) 40.177 (18)
Vitaly Petrov 25.398 (19) 33.703 (20) 40.355 (20)
Timo Glock 25.775 (21) 34.184 (22) 40.944 (21)
Charles Pic 25.967 (22) 34.177 (21) 41.106 (22)
Pedro de la Rosa 26.075 (23) 35.167 (24) 41.672 (23)
Narain Karthikeyan 26.114 (24) 35.065 (23) 42.052 (24)

Hamilton’s locked tyre at the final corner seems to have cost him around two-tenths of a second.

As expected the Mercedes are strongest in the two sectors with the long straights. Force India also look strong in the first sector.

Qualifying speed trap

Pos Driver Car Speed (kph/mph) Gap
1 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 312.7 (194.3)
2 Romain Grosjean Lotus 310.8 (193.1) -1.9
3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 309.9 (192.6) -2.8
4 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 309.8 (192.5) -2.9
5 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 309.8 (192.5) -2.9
6 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 309.4 (192.3) -3.3
7 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 309.1 (192.1) -3.6
8 Jenson Button McLaren 308.9 (191.9) -3.8
9 Paul di Resta Force India 308.7 (191.8) -4.0
10 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 308.3 (191.6) -4.4
11 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 308.1 (191.4) -4.6
12 Vitaly Petrov Caterham 307.6 (191.1) -5.1
13 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 306.8 (190.6) -5.9
14 Pastor Maldonado Williams 305.1 (189.6) -7.6
15 Bruno Senna Williams 305.0 (189.5) -7.7
16 Sergio Perez Sauber 304.0 (188.9) -8.7
17 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 302.6 (188.0) -10.1
18 Felipe Massa Ferrari 302.0 (187.7) -10.7
19 Narain Karthikeyan HRT 301.2 (187.2) -11.5
20 Pedro de la Rosa HRT 300.0 (186.4) -12.7
21 Mark Webber Red Bull 299.0 (185.8) -13.7
22 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 298.7 (185.6) -14.0
23 Charles Pic Marussia 296.6 (184.3) -16.1
24 Timo Glock Marussia 296.6 (184.3) -16.1

Mercedes’ straight-line speed advantage in qualifying thanks to their enhanced DRS is clear to see. But this picture will change in the race.

Red Bull once again languish towards the bottom of the chart. They will have to rely on strategy and quick pit work to move forward in the race.

The Lotuses are also quick in a straight line – good news for Raikkonen as he bids to move up from tenth on the grid after his penalty.

Your view on the Malaysian Grand Prix

How do you think the race will unfold?

Will Hamilton be able to hold off Button this time? Will Schumacher get on the podium?

Have your say in the comments.

2012 Malaysian Grand Prix


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Image ?? McLaren/Hoch Zwei, Red Bull/Getty images