Sepang may reveal a different pecking order

2013 Malaysian Grand Prix preview

Start, Sepang, 2012With scarcely any time to catch their breath the teams head straight from Australia to Malaysia for round two of the 2013 championship.

The Sepang International Circuit tends to give a more faithful impression of the true competitive order than Melbourne.

That should be especially true this weekend as rain played havoc with the schedule in Australia and we had drivers qualifying in very cool temperatures on a drying track on Sunday morning.

The Malaysian weather can be relied upon to throw up some dramatic showers. But the teams are guaranteed warm conditions – to the point of being oppressively hot and humid.

Sepang’s fast corners, abrasive tarmac and high temperatures make it a punishing venue for drivers, cars and tyres. “We would describe Sepang as genuinely ‘extreme': both in terms of weather and track surface,” said Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery. “This means that it is one of the most demanding weekends for our tyres that we experience all year.”

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

For that reason drivers will have the harder of Pirelli’s two tyre choices, including the hard tyre which is now coloured a distinctive orange. While graining was a problem in the cool of Melbourne, degradation is likely to be the dominant factor here.

Despite the energy-sapping heat, the circuit is a popular one among the drivers. The first of the modern generation of new-build tracks it’s wide and fast with some tricky high-speed corners.

“After the first section, turns five, six, seven and eight are very quick and fun,” said Sebastian Vettel, who won at the track in 2010 and 2011.

“Turns 11 and 14 are similar, it’s difficult to find the apex of those on every lap, especially as the tyres become worn.”

The 14th corner, the penultimate bend on the lap, is where Sergio Perez’s hopes of wresting a shock victory from Fernando Alonso died when he slithered wide during last year’s race. “It’s very tricky to get right,” said Mark Webber, “but I’ve always enjoyed driving it”.

In Melbourne some drivers lost out on their strategies when they got stuck behind rivals – notably the Ferrari pair. But Sepang’s longer straights and twin DRS detection points should make life easier for them on that score.

Malaysian Grand Prix team-by-team preview

Red Bull

There was ample proof in Australia that the RB9 has plenty of pace. But having locked out the front row of the grid they slipped back during the race as Lotus and Ferrari performed better over a stint.

However Vettel’s pace in the warmer conditions on Friday in Australia suggests that the higher temperatures usually seen in Malaysia could suit them very nicely.

Ferrari

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Melbourne, 2013Both red cars were in the thick of the podium battle in Australia. Although the F138 is a clear improvement on its predecessor it seems to share the same trait of being weaker in qualifying than it is in the race.

Both Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa had to deal with being stuck in traffic at different stages in Sunday’s race. With a bit more clear air they may have had the speed to keep Lotus from the win.

McLaren

After a depressing first race weekend with the MP4-28 McLaren are looking on this weekend’s race as a chance to understand more about their truculent car. They hope that Sepang’s less bumpy surface might help them with the chronic ride problems they are experiencing.

Much like Ferrari 12 months ago, a good splash of rain would do them no harm. It played into Sergio Perez’s hands on that occasion as well:

“I had one of the best races of my career there last year where I was able to push Fernando for victory until the closing laps,” he said. “It?s a fantastic circuit, really fast and demanding. It would be great to pull off another unexpected result for the team this year.??

Lotus

Romain Grosjean, Lotus, Melbourne, 2013Finishing at the opposite end of the points to your race-winning team mates is never a good place to be and there were mixed views within Lotus on exactly why Romain Grosjean could only manage tenth in a race Kimi Raikkonen won.

Grosjean is eager to make amends this weekend: “I want to be scoring 25 points in a Grand Prix for the team,” he said before the race.

He described Sepang as “Probably my favourite track of the whole season. I first raced there in 2008 as part of the GP2 Asia Series and I really loved the circuit.”

“It?s nice and wide, with fast flowing corners and a lot of undulation which makes it great fun to drive. The last corner is a tricky one, but I enjoy everything about racing there. Well, maybe not the heat and humidity, but at the end of the day it?s just another challenge for the drivers.”

Mercedes

Mercedes has strong links to this race via title sponsor Petronas. Although Lewis Hamilton was pleased with his fifth place in Melbourne, the team looked capable of achieving more.

Hamilton was on course for a better result until he locked his tyres and spoilt his strategy. And Nico Rosberg’s race came to an early end.

Rosberg looked especially racy during the wet qualifying session and he’s hoping for more of the same this weekend: “It often rains heavily and from my experience with the performance of the car in the rain in Melbourne, wet conditions would certainly be welcomed by me.”

Sauber

Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber, Melbourne, 2013After a strong showing in this race last year, Sauber’s return to Malaysia will indicate whether their C32 is a good with its tyres as the C31 was.

Following the disappointment of Melbourne, Nico Hulkenberg will be eager to finally get his season started, one week later than everyone else.

Head of Track Engineering said Tom McCullough said the team are aiming for a double points finish this weekend.

Force India

Adrian Sutil, one of the stars of last week’s race, is among the drivers who are less keen on Sepang:

“It?s not my favourite track, but it depends on the car. If the car is quick and stable, you enjoy it more, but sometimes you really struggle with the balance, and then it?s a real challenge ?ǣ the corners are so long, you need a lot of aerodynamic grip. It?s a track I like to drive, but it?s not like a Monaco or a Spa.”

Williams

Australia was a tough weekend for Williams but they believe they have identified some gains they can make with their car: “The team has regrouped and been working hard to solve the problems we encountered last weekend,” said technical director Mike Coughlan:

“We have a good idea where to focus our efforts and learnt a lot in Melbourne which we will implement in Malaysia to continue working to improve the performance of the FW35 throughout Friday testing and into the weekend.”

Toro Rosso

Daniel Ricciardo, Toro Rosso, Melbourne, 2013Toro Rosso left Australia point-less but both drivers believe they have seen potential in the STR8. Jean-Eric Vergne set the race’s second-fastest lap and only missed out on the points after flat-spotting his tyres.

Team mate Daniel Ricciardo was also encouraged by the car: “I set the fastest lap at that time with the exhaust issue that ended up forcing me to retire. So I think we probably had pretty good speed once we got up to it.”

“I think there’s definitely some potential in this year’s car,” he added. “I think we’ve unlocked a bit of it but there’s still a bit more to go so that’s a bit exciting to know that I think we’ve still got a bit more to get out of ourselves.”

Caterham

This is a home race for British-based but Malaysian-owned Caterham.

Australia confirmed they have slipped behind Marussia as the slowest team in F1 but Giedo van der Garde thinks the car will be quicker on the harder tyres: “We saw in Australia that our car performed well on the [mediums] so we?ll look to build on that this weekend.”

Marussia

With little time between the two races there will be no upgrades for Marussia’s car this weekend. After an encouraging outing in Australia team principal John Booth is eager to raise their sights above merely not being last:

“One race does not make a season and we will need to work hard, particularly in these early races, to continue to take the fight to the midfield, which we have shown to be a target realistically within reach.”

2013 driver form

Q avg R avg R best R worst Classified
Sebastian Vettel 1 3 3 3 1/1
Mark Webber 2 6 6 6 1/1
Fernando Alonso 5 2 2 2 1/1
Felipe Massa 4 4 4 4 1/1
Jenson Button 10 9 9 9 1/1
Sergio Perez 15 11 11 11 1/1
Kimi Raikkonen 7 1 1 1 1/1
Romain Grosjean 8 10 10 10 1/1
Nico Rosberg 6 0/1
Lewis Hamilton 3 5 5 5 1/1
Nico Hulkenberg 11 0/1
Esteban Gutierrez 18 13 13 13 1/1
Paul di Resta 9 8 8 8 1/1
Adrian Sutil 12 7 7 7 1/1
Pastor Maldonado 17 0/1
Valtteri Bottas 16 14 14 14 1/1
Jean-Eric Vergne 13 12 12 12 1/1
Daniel Ricciardo 14 0/1
Charles Pic 22 16 16 16 1/1
Giedo van der Garde 21 18 18 18 1/1
Jules Bianchi 19 15 15 15 1/1
Max Chilton 20 17 17 17 1/1

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2013 Australian Grand Prix

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Images ?? McLaren/Hoch Zwei, Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo, Lotus/LAT, Sauber, Red Bull/Getty

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58 comments on Sepang may reveal a different pecking order

  1. Ilanin (@ilanin) said on 20th March 2013, 16:05

    This may be one of Perez’s better chances to beat Button. While conventionally you’d expect the new driver in a team to get closer to the established one as time went on, we all know that Button is more adversely affected by a bad car than most drivers. As the MP4/28 (hyphens are for losers) improves, then, the gap may widen. Meanwhile, Sepang was Perez’s best race last year, so he clearly likes the circuit.

  2. I’m hoping we have a dry weekend: wet weekends are all very well and good and are often highly entertaining, but we are still in the dark as to where everyone is relative to each other pace wise. Malaysia is a good opportunity to expose the weeknesses and strengths of each car, so warm temperatures and dry conditions in combination with the more representative track layout of the following racetracks should mean we get a much clearer form guide.

    As for that form guide, I’m going to stick my neck out with a reduction and say that Red Bull will be the top qualifiers but they and Ferrari will be jostling for position in the race, and Lotus will be there as well. I think Mercedes have a great chance also of breaking into the top 3, and I expect Williams to run much better this weekend along with Sauber. Toro Rosso I think will fall back as a consequence, and Force India will remain firmly with (or slightly ahead) of the midfield. McLaren though don’t look at all promising, and I think they will be with the midfielders also. I might have to eat my previous words thinking that they haven’t “done an F2012″…

    • Ilanin (@ilanin) said on 20th March 2013, 16:28

      If McLaren’s primary problem is their ride, the smoother Sepang track ought to make things better. But since even if it’s their primary problem it’s not their only problem, I don’t forsee a big improvement. Enough to leave Button not needing rain to get into Q3 and to finish around 6th, maybe.

      • @ilanin – I think you might be about right on that. The problem doesn’t necessarily appear to be ride primarily, but just a general lack of set-upability (I invented that word just there!). I think the car does have potential, but they may not be able to tap into it. That in combination with the fact they have a very set-up specific lead driver it appears and the signs aren’t great…

        • Kingshark (@kingshark) said on 20th March 2013, 18:12

          @vettel1
          Fun thing is that, the run from pole position to the first corner is very long in Sepang. Much longer than it was in Australia. Last week in Melbourne Ferrari’s both launched like a rocket off the line, Alonso was unlucky to be blocked by Hamilton, otherwise he would’ve been up to second place by the first corner, and Massa’s start was no less impressive.

          Hence why, if Red Bull qualify on the front row and Ferrari on the second row, Ferrari are going to own the hell out of RBR off the line. Yeah, it’s gonna be fun to watch.

          • @kingshark – I don’t necessarily agree with your opinion assessment, but that is very true that the Ferrari is lightening off the line. Surely the other teams must be looking into a copycat system, because it’s obvious they hold a clear advantage at the start!

          • Kingshark (@kingshark) said on 20th March 2013, 18:28

            @vettel1
            Interestingly, when Alonso drove his Renault’s back in the mid-2000’s, they too were astronomical off the line. Maybe Fernando took a little technical secret from Renault to Ferrari? ;-)

            That being said, how many places do you bet Webber is going to lose by the first corner? I bet five.

          • zippyone (@zippyone) said on 20th March 2013, 18:53

            Maybe they did as Lotus are not too bad off the line either.

            I raise your bet and bet 6 places for Webber.

          • @kingshark

            how many places do you bet Webber is going to lose by the first corner?

            I reckon he’ll be top 3 and he’ll lose two to the Ferrari’s and then another two, so 4 ;) Maybe so with the Alonso comment though! It must be something that not so much Red Bull but Lotus could be investing in.

          • Alesici (@alesici) said on 21st March 2013, 12:49

            No, Kingshark.
            The overriding reason the mid-2000s Renaults were quick off the line was because they had extremely rearward weight distribution, perhaps partially due to their very wide V angled engine. I’m not certain, but as far as I know, the 2011 regulation has still been retained restricting the front:rear weight distribution to quite a tight envelope. I think this was introduced to ensure that no team got a massive and (annually) insurmountable advantage from guessing the optimum distribution for the introduction of the new Pirellis.

            Sadly the FIA never ever seem to consider the *removal* of regulations, and I think that’s one which could do with being dropped now that the tyres are better understood. The crazy design of that Renault really mixed the field up from race to race, as it had big advantages and disadvantages depending on the particular track layout, e.g. when Trulli won at Monaco.

      • @ilanin I just wanted to add up by saying that according Gary Anderson, the McLaren package seems to be very sensitive to yaw and pitch, causing air detachment problems especially in the front wing and at the rear, making the car pretty twitchy, having an hard ride may lessen the issue but it appear also to govern the ride.

    • @vettel1 I hear but the last time Malaysia was dry it was pretty much the worst race of that season.

  3. Nomore (@nomore) said on 20th March 2013, 16:21

    In dry I see Ferrari as the favorite for the win.
    In wet I see Mercedes as the favorite.

    • Gilles V said on 20th March 2013, 18:19

      IMO, with all the tight regulations and funny tyres, F1 looks like Nascar. It`s more like a lottery. Too bad…

      • 5150 (@) said on 20th March 2013, 18:37

        I disagree. I prefer “lottery” to 2 same drivers winning all the time. Racing, for me, was never only about outright speed, but also about outsmarting others with different strategies. Nobody drives or has ever driven 110 percent all the time. Nobody.
        I would also ban mandatory use of two different set of tires. I would prefer not to know, who is on which tire and if or when they’re going to stop for fresh rubber.

        Sometimes too much information is bad. It takes uncertainty away.
        Thank you Pirelli!

      • Stop talking about what you don’t know, last year I bet that people were also stating that racing had no skill and was all luck, all rubbish I say. Fanatics just start being childish when their favourite team don’t win. Racing is everything, it’s not like the tyres or the weather work with the push of a button, or like yellow flags in NASCAR.

      • HxCas (@hxcas) said on 20th March 2013, 21:28

        lottery

        I don’t think people should use this word when they have no idea what it means.

  4. D (@f190) said on 20th March 2013, 16:21

    Should be an interesting one. I get the feeling the Mclaren may be quite good here, after Australia I really don’t know why I’m saying this.. but it’s just a feeling I have. Any rain here could make the result a complete lottery, I mean who would have predicted the 2012 podium based on the results from the first race ? If its dry then again tyres will be everything, and witnessing the louts dance around Australia last week, my money is set on Raikonen or Grosjean ( let’s not forget he did well in a few races last year, and didn’t have the same parts on his car all weekend). Wet ? Who knows, I wouldn’t write anyone off as pitting at the right time could win anyone the race ! 2500/1 worth a £1 bet on Bianchi ? Can’t wait :)

  5. Osvaldas31 (@osvaldas31) said on 20th March 2013, 16:28

    If Red Bull will get on top of their tyre problem seen in Australia, they have big chance running away with easy victory this weekend. I hope Kimi qualifies much higher this weekend and can push Red Bull. If it rains, then it’s a different story. Mercedes and Ferrari in my view are very strong in wet conditions, while Mclaren and Red Bull are stronger in intermediate conditions. All in all exciting weekend is in prospect.

  6. Tayyib (@m0nzaman) said on 20th March 2013, 16:30

    Will be really interesting how the teams get their setups right and who performs well on a purpose built race track thats needs good downforce.

  7. electrolite (@electrolite) said on 20th March 2013, 16:32

    My money’s on Alonso again.

  8. Cyclops_PL (@cyclops_pl) said on 20th March 2013, 16:33

    I think that the conditions and the nature of track itself will cancel themselves out as far as Red Bull’s race pace is concerned. They may be quicker in the corners, but the long straights will hurt them. Also I think they won’t manage tire degradation any better (if not worse), so IMO Red Bull’s domination on Sunday is out of the question. It remains to bee seen however whether Lotus will extend their advantage over the race distance, or will it be cut due to the conditions and being on a proper race track. Ferrari on the other hand seem to be most comfortable, as their cars have recent history of being well-rounded. SF will be battling for podium. But with who?

  9. Aimal (@aimalkhan) said on 20th March 2013, 16:44

    Can anyone explain the difference between Tyre Degradation, Graining and blistering please ?

  10. flatbeat said on 20th March 2013, 16:51

    Hope it doesn’t rain otherwise the race will be delayed or cancelled, races don’t happen in the wet anymore. Health and safety culture gone too far.

  11. BBQ2 said on 20th March 2013, 17:11

    “Can anyone explain the difference between Tyre Degradation, Graining and blistering please ?”

    Here we go:
    Degradation: Tyre surface peeling out due to mostly cold conditions.
    Graining: Tyre is broken in chunks (just like when you bit out a doughnut …. yummy) mostly due to bad set up, heat and overdrives. BTW, the marbles you see on track side is as a result of graining.
    Blistering: just imagine a boil on your skin which then bursts ….. that is probably how the tyres feel. This is caused mostly by hot track and hot weather conditions.
    All three have one thing in common: they make the car slow.
    My 2cents ….. hope that helped a bit , and Welcome to F1 …… ;-)

    • Aimal (@aimalkhan) said on 20th March 2013, 18:07

      Thanks buddy.

    • Lol you got you got it slightly wrong.

    • MaroonJack (@maroonjack) said on 21st March 2013, 10:08

      Degradation – it’s sometimes used as a blanket term, encompassing all kinds of damage suffered by the tyres during the race, but most commonly it’s a “natural tyre wear”. The track is a little bit like a sandpaper. Tyres biting into it will give you a lot of traction, but abrasion will cause small pieces of rubber to fall off with every turn of the wheel. If degradation is uniform across the width of the tyre, then the car has the right set-up for the race. As it progresses, your lap times will drop in more or less linear fashion (ie. 0.1s per lap) until they hit the cliff and start dropping rapidly, as there is not enough rubber left on the tyre. Flat spot is an example of extreme tyre degradation caused by driver’s mistake (locking wheels under breaking).

      Graining – so you have the car sliding and moving across the track, which causes tiny (and I mean itty-bitty) pieces of rubber to detach from the tyre and re-attach in a different place. This shift of rubber is very small, but it decreases the contact area between the tyre and the track. This seemingly small change affects handling in a big way.

      Blistering – this happens when the tyre gets too hot under the surface, the rubber softens too much and breaks off in chunks.

      All kinds of tyre wear cause pieces of rubber to stay on the track. Pieces of rubber re-attach to the tyres of other cars, but only for brief moments. As soon as they form big enough “clumps” they detach and are thrown outside of the ideal racing line. This makes overtaking harder, because to overtake you have to deviate from the ideal racing line and you will catch a lot of this unwanted rubber, losing grip.

  12. timi (@timi) said on 20th March 2013, 17:22

    TV times? I’m assuming the press conference tomorrow will be very early UK time..?

  13. Rahim.RG (@rahim-rg) said on 20th March 2013, 17:26

    Malaysia is gonna be fun…Ferrari vs Lotus again i think…once again red bull will be lost by it tyres..Mercedes cud be fighting with red bull i feel…and you can definitely not rule out Force india…its always been competitive in race trim on this track with its high speed…if see a Lotus on the podium again this sunday…i’m counting them a serious challenger for 2013 title..

  14. DaveW (@dmw) said on 20th March 2013, 18:09

    McLaren are going to suck again. The track is smoother but it is not smooth. If they have a problem getting the car properly damped with good dynamic characteristics they are going to have it again. If they have a problem maintaining ride height and rake, the fast sweepers are going to kill them. Also the track surface is hard on tires. So that’s even worse.

    I don’t see any reason why Ferrari and Lotus won’t be up front again. Mercedes is still a question mark. In Australia Hamitton qualified well in the dry, Rosberg not really. Both were trying a “tortoise” strategy in the race so not sure where their real pace is.

  15. Colossal Squid (@colossal-squid) said on 20th March 2013, 19:19

    I remember Mercedes had good qualifying pace here last year, and Rosberg could have been on or near the front row if he didn’t make a few mistakes on his final qualifying run. I expect both Mercedes drivers to be up there, probably challenging if not beating the Ferraris and Loutses for the first few rows.
    Absolutely no idea how they’ll do in the race!

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