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

2012 Malaysian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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.


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

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

  1. JCost (@jcost) said on 24th March 2012, 13:03

    Schumacher could play a role too.

    • timi (@timi) said on 24th March 2012, 13:12

      @jcost Most definitely, I think he’ll lead into the first corner and control the majority of the first stint, but the Mercedes will chew up the tyres, and he’ll fall back in the pack as the race progresses

      • PhilEReid (@philereid) said on 24th March 2012, 21:18

        There’s a huge chance that if it rains, Schumi will be right at the top. We know he’s a rain master.
        It will also make for a fantastic race considering the top 3 are all really good in the wet conditions. It would just be blow and counter-blow.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 24th March 2012, 14:15

      @jcost I did say so in the article.

    • If he has a great start,and he will,that would make turn one and two mega interesting.It will also prevent the field from spreading to quickly.That should give us some spectacular overtakes in the first stint.Put Alonso and Raikkonen in the mix and we are in for some awesome racing.Can’t wait …..

      • Mike (@mike) said on 25th March 2012, 2:43

        To be honest, I think Alonso just doesn’t have the car to do much, I think it would take a mammoth effort to match his Australia result.

        Granted he can be a miracle worker at times.

  2. timi (@timi) said on 24th March 2012, 13:11

    Keith I think there’s a mistake here

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

    The second “qualifying” should be “race”

  3. RagingInferno (@raginginferno) said on 24th March 2012, 13:15

    This looks to be shaping up to be a good race! Looking forward to seeing Kimi battle with Alonso, and hopefully Schumi mixing it up at the front. I’ll also be keeping an eye on Vettel; I’m not really sure what to expect, what with him being on prime tyres…

    • ivz (@ivz) said on 24th March 2012, 13:57

      I think he is in a good position if it stays dry. If he can keep a similar pace to the guys in front he can have a dash on the mediums the last 10 laps or so while everyone else is on hards. I thought it maybe the way to go for both VET and WEB, but I guess they don’t want to put all their eggs in one basket.

    • Alonso too slow to battle with any1 in the top ten. it’ll be quick and painless.

  4. dkpioe said on 24th March 2012, 13:33

    schumacher will likely faid in the race, renault and redbull will likely be faster then him, as the mercedes has been built for qualifying positions ahead of race position. would be a surprise to see it not chew its tyres after preseason testing and melbourne. but he could well hold a few cars up with the mercedes straight line speed, so might not be overtaken until the pitstops.

    • Rumen (@rumen) said on 24th March 2012, 14:01

      @dkpioe:”the mercedes has been built for qualifying positions ahead of race position”! Interesting, how do you know that? :-) I’m pretty sure, here Mercedes will show better race pace compared to Australia. At least, At least, that’s what Michael Schumacher says:

      Asked if he was worried about another slump in race pace on Sunday, Schumacher replied:
      “I guess all of us have certain concerns because these temperatures are pretty new to us.
      We had some preparation yesterday. We have done a decent job. We have learned a lesson in
      Australia, reacted and the boys in factory have done a great job so I am looking forward to tomorrow. I feel good about it and we have chosen a car that should work better in the race –
      that is the situation that I hope will play out tomorrow.”

      Post-qualifying press conference quote: “We managed to work the car very well over the whole weekend, we obviously showed potential in Australia, not so much in the race, so focus was obviously to try to find the best compromise and I guess we have achieved this.”

      • George (@george) said on 24th March 2012, 14:41

        @rumen I think he’s alluding to the trick DRS they’re using, far more useful in quali than the race.

        • egsgeg said on 24th March 2012, 16:10

          But as we have seen, it only adds about 2-3km/h more.

          • matt90 said on 24th March 2012, 17:39

            I bet it isn’t that simple. It probably allows them to run more wing than they would otheriwse too.

          • Mads (@mads) said on 24th March 2012, 17:59

            And allow them to deploy DRS earlier out of the corners because it won’t mess up the balance of the car as much, just decrease downforce, thus aiding acceleration.
            Remember it only gives them 2-3km/h through the speed trap, but what about everywhere else? Their top speed through the speed trap is usually defined by their gearing anyway, and wont take high speed acceleration into account.

          • Well DRS can only be used if they are within 1s of the car ahead of them. To make a race setup that rely on you beeing within 1s all time would be useless. I cant understand what is this hype about this F-Duct. Sure they have a gain from it in qualy but in the race you are sitting duck if you have setup the car for good qualy position.

  5. raymondu999 (@raymondu999) said on 24th March 2012, 13:48

    I’m hoping that it rains after the Q3 option runners pit – and before Vettel needs to pit. That would spice the action up a bit!

  6. Bigbadderboom (@bigbadderboom) said on 24th March 2012, 13:56

    Looking at the sector times, the favoured setups make interesting reading JB and MW seem to have similar sector times whilst LH and SV are the complete opposite to eachother. Vettel is quick through the 3rd sector while thats where Hamilton loses the most. And likewise Hamilton is quick through the first while Vettel is slower. If Vettel can get on to the back of Hamilton will he be able to make the most of his set up through sector 3 and deploy DRS to his benefit?

    • Simon said on 24th March 2012, 14:08

      Don’t think that’s a true reflection of pace (re: HAM vs VET). Without Hamilton’s lock up at the final corner, I’d expect him to have around the same split time as Button / Vettel in the final sector.

      I expect tyre management to be much more significant than absolute pace though, during the race.

    • AdrianMorse (@adrianmorse) said on 24th March 2012, 14:12

      Hamilton lost a lot of time with a lock-up and an oversteer moment in the final corner, so I don’t think we can read too much into his third sector time.

  7. Estesark (@estesark) said on 24th March 2012, 13:57

    I don’t mind the extra time in bed, but now that there is a four-hour limit on races, wouldn’t it make sense to start all races four hours before sunset (night/dusk races excluded, obviously). I don’t want to see another race that doesn’t go the full distance.

    • US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 24th March 2012, 19:33

      I was thinking the same thing. The race should be starting at 3PM, not 4. Bernie’s insistence on trying to cater race times to Europe is to the detriment of the races on occasion. Malaysia ’09 being an example, and Korea ’10 as well as some of the Melbourne races cutting it pretty close. Why can’t they just stick with a standard time of 2PM local time in ALL venues. I think it would help grow the sport in regions outside Europe.

    • wigster (@wigster) said on 24th March 2012, 22:11

      Yes, if it rains and we get a Canada style delay, or even a short red flag and a 2 hour race, then, as we now have an arbitrary 4 hour limit everyone will want to hang around and expect the race to finish. However, there’s no way there’ll be enough light to be racing 4 hours after the start time… I’m pretty sure I can remember the podium in the past being held in very murky, almost dark conditions.

      So as we now have that arbitrary maximum race time limit it would make sense for “daylight” races to start at least 4 hours before sunset. Possibly even earlier to account for delayed starts.

      That’s especially the case now, as I could argue the UK Sky TV deal shows, they don’t really care that much about getting the largest possible live audience in Europe. The more hardcore fans who are prepared to pay for the privilege of watching races live are also the ones who would happily get up at 3am to watch a 3 hour plus grand prix show.

    • thersquared (@thersquared) said on 24th March 2012, 23:25

      Absolutely, for all the talk I’ve heard on how F1 needs to increase it’s presence in the US, I’ve still yet to see a suggestion that the races not be held when most of the US is still deep asleep (5am West Coast, 8 am on the East Coast). 2 pm at all venues would help to ensure that at least some races are held at reasonable viewing times for at least most areas.

  8. AdrianMorse (@adrianmorse) said on 24th March 2012, 14:14

    With regard to the new rules on defensive driving, has the FIA said whether these do or do not apply to the start of the race? Would Vettel’s start of last year still be allowed, for instance?

  9. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 24th March 2012, 14:22

    Just… wish… Mark… doesn’t suck at the start for a change.

    He could’ve a shot at the win if he doesn’t. But that’s too much to ask, I think…

    • In Melbourne it wasn’t his fault though; there was a clutch problem and Mark performed the start process just fine. His starts also got much better towards the end of 2011.

  10. Lin1876 (@lin1876) said on 24th March 2012, 14:29

    I’m looking forward to this. Hopefully Schumacher will be able to jump the McLarens and back up the field a bit. Granted the Mercedes may well fade later on, but the wet is something of an unknown for everyone, so that should spice things up a but if it arrives.

    Whatever, I’ll certainly be up early tomorrow.

    • nonameatall said on 24th March 2012, 16:12

      +1, and remember: Schumi is the rainmaster, so if he gets ahead and it rains=first win for Schumi since comeback =)

      • kyle (@kyle) said on 24th March 2012, 22:37

        +1, I am very happy to see him yesterday with Lewis and Jenson waving the fans. The first time for many years. I shouted a big “YESSSSS” and my wife teasing at me. :) Hope he can do well today.

        • Eric Morman (@lethalnz) said on 25th March 2012, 0:18

          i certainly enjoyed seeing Schumi up there as well and i am not a fan of his,
          but did you see how the other two never even acknowledged he was there.
          and i am a McLaren fan. shameful i thought.
          as for the rain, remember this the tires are also a new compound to what Schumi is used to.
          certainly will be a exciting start, both Merc’s will hit the front at the start, they are so fast off the line.
          go Ham.

  11. Young One said on 24th March 2012, 14:41

    I saw the Mercs locking up too often into the first corner, so that punctures any hopes of a dash they have for the 1st corner.

    • Sandhurst5 (@sandhurst5) said on 24th March 2012, 18:27

      Rubbish ‘Young One’! They were consistently setting the fastest time in the 1st sector during this weekend when it mattered so they’ll have no trouble pouncing on slow starters whether it be from simply pulling off the line better with acceleration, slip stream or out-braking them at the apex of the first corner.

      • lee1 said on 24th March 2012, 20:46

        Remember that in quali they can use drs at any point but in the first laps of the race drs is disabled and hence their main advantage is disabled too.

  12. Dev (@dev) said on 24th March 2012, 14:49

    the car which is fastest in sector 2 will be the car which will have upper hand in wet conditions…

    in dry conditions i expect McLaren & Button to dominate. Hamilton will face Schumacher threat in turn one & two… if his McLaren stays ahead then it will be Button who will be threat to Hamilton’s lead… as always tyres will be the key.

  13. Think everyone getting carried away with Mercedes tyre wear. Paul Hembery played Nico’s tyre wear in Melbourne down this week.

    He said it was pressure Nico was under to defend – and the aggression required to overtake that caused the incremental tyre problems Nico suffered, not the car per. se.

    If Schumy gets the jump on the Mclarens he may be in a fantastic position to control the race.

    • gwenouille (@gwenouille) said on 24th March 2012, 15:26

      I’d say so !
      P1 is ususally a good position to control a race !

    • Preekel (@preekel) said on 24th March 2012, 15:40

      Paul will say this though wont he!

    • nonameatall said on 24th March 2012, 16:10

      But after quali, Nico said that he must be always aware to keep his tires alive. No room for aggressive driving, just looking after tyres. So I don’t think that their tyre problem is being taken out of context. So if Michael gets in front tomorrow he will be under MASSIVE pressure, as was Nico in Melbourne, and his tyres will probably go down heavily!

    • Nigel said on 24th March 2012, 18:54

      I doubt controlling the race from the front will be that easy, especially for Mercedes, if it doesn’t rain.

      Mclaren can probably extract a lap or two more of performance from the tyres, which means that in a situation where Schumacher took an early lead, they can either stay out longer if he pits early, or undercut and run a longer second stint if he doesn’t. Either way they could avoid being trapped behind, and run at their best race pace.

      The fact that most teams will be running the second and third stints on the prime gives several laps of flexibility in race strategy. In a three stop race, the prime doesn’t degrade fast enough to force you stop on a particular lap – there’s a two or three lap window. The best race pace, rather than tactics, ought to win here.

      Of course, if it rains, it’s more of a lottery.

  14. Kimi is gonna come hard from 10th and destroy everybodies ego with superb speed. he will have the best race between drivers in the top ten.

  15. alelanza (@alelanza) said on 24th March 2012, 16:02

    Keith, what does this mean?

    “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”

  16. sumedh said on 24th March 2012, 16:11

    This is Hamilton’s race to lose. He has set the fatstest time inspite of a lock up and he also didn’t do a second lap.

  17. himmatsj (@himmatsj) said on 24th March 2012, 16:45

    Hi, just to be sure, if the track is damp at the start or if it is drizzling slightly before the race begins, must they start behind the safely car?

  18. timo said on 24th March 2012, 18:22

    Why is Räikkönen after Webber with the same time? Can someone clarify the rules? Thank you!

  19. Palle (@palle) said on 24th March 2012, 18:34

    We don’t know their relative speed without DRS and with heavy fuel load as in the beginning of the race. In Melbourne Schumacher was under heavy pressure from Vettel, and it seemed to me, it was only a matter of time before Vettel would pass him, when – very unlucky – the Mercedes gearbox failed. Maybe Vettel will not be as fast in the first stint due to the hard tyres, but if not him, then other drivers will pressure Schumacher from behind.

    • blackmamba said on 24th March 2012, 18:42

      Well observed. One thing though, I hope Schumi isn’t too desperate to put on an impressive performance for his critics that he goes too hot into the first lap and causes a crash.
      Him and Hamilton
      Side by side
      Both hotheads
      Who gives ground……………. I shudder to think about it!

  20. racinguf said on 24th March 2012, 18:53

    I see good start MSC takes webber slow start and Button bettering Ham as usual for granted and shoots for turn 1 outside – turn 2 inside, big caos on turn 1 and 2 with Mac’s and MSC slowing to avoid DNF due crash, with G-Lotus gaining pass all the confution, Alonso may sweep thru with webber or stay behind that caos, well if not taken out by Rosberg joining the line after going around Vettel, Perez a Kimi will be safe to push on strategy right behind if not taking out by one of maldonado starts.
    Hehe well it will be awesome anyway !

    • matthew said on 24th March 2012, 21:18

      as usual?it happened once and now all of a sudden ppl are talking like it happens all the time.
      and incase you didnt notice,lewis had a clutch problem at the start which caused wheel spin.
      do you expect that to happen at the start of every race?

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