Start, Sepang, 2012

Sepang may reveal a different pecking order

2013 Malaysian Grand Prix previewPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

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.


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.


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.??


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 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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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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Who do you think will be the team to beat in the Malaysian Grand Prix? Have your say below.

And don’t forget to enter your predictions for this weekend’s race. You can edit your predictions until the start of qualifying:

2013 Australian Grand Prix

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

58 comments on “Sepang may reveal a different pecking order”

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  1. 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.

    1. “(hyphens are for losers)”, I may be proven wrong but I suspect that by Sunday evening it will definitely be the MP4-28 then.

      1. hahah nice one.

  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″…

    1. 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.

      1. @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…

        1. @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.

          1. @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!

          2. @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.

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

            I raise your bet and bet 6 places for Webber.

          4. @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.

          5. 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.

      2. @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.

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

      1. @peartree – that is very true, but as I have said I wouldn’t mind a little “boredom” if it gave us an accurate picture! We don’t get that with a wet race, so as much as they make for great viewing I would trade one for an accurate form guide!

        1. @peartree
          Malaysia ’11 wasn’t that bad at all.

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

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

      1. 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!

      2. 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.

      3. lottery

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

  4. 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 :)

    1. just imagine if all of the sudden a marussia would be on the podium, i think i’d be screaming out of excitement hahahaa

      i also agree with you on the lotus theory, if it’s dry, they’ll be doing great!

      1. Remember Olivier Panis.

  5. 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. 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. My money’s on Alonso again.

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

    1. First one is wear. Also used to describe the rate of wear or the change in the rate of wear. Second one is when rubber rolls up on the tire’s surface reducing grip. This sometimes cures itself restoring some grip. Blistering is just like it sounds. It reeduces grip, likely accelerates wear.

      1. thanks.

  10. 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.

    1. It’s not the rain but the lack of light under black clouds near sunset.

  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 …… ;-)

    1. Thanks buddy.

    2. Lol you got you got it slightly wrong.

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

  13. 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. 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. 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!

  16. According to the article i mention above ( about tyre degradation) except of the higher temperatures also the layout of the sepang circuit -which is more fluid and “rear-limited”- will likely eliminate the graining.
    If lotus manages to be here so competitive as in Melbourne then this will be an indication of a good allrounder. Blistering is more likely, but because of the two big straight’s where the core temperature of the tyres drop i don’t thing this will happen either. I expect RedBull and Ferrari setting the pace.

  17. If it stays dry we should get a clear picture for the true order! With higher ambient temperatures and a purpose made track. I think Mercedes could be strong, ferrari be strong in the race but how will they do in qualifying? Red Bull I dunno, its definitely quick but will the longer straights (and the now ban on unlimited use of DRS in qualifying) affect them here~?

    Who knows! In all honesty I think Australia might have been a random result with Lotus being as strong as they were!

    Mclaren still be nowhere though I reckon…cue a weekend of moaning from Jenson haha

    1. @aledinho kimi knows what he’s doing and jens has got no grip..

    2. Yeah, and in case he runs out of things to moan about on the car, perhaps he could have a moan about ‘fricken ridiculous’ drivers, or perhaps he could just not set the car up very well and then tweet some pictures of the telemetry just to prove he wasn’t driving slowly and that it was the car’s fault!

  18. One question…From Melbourne…its been observed Lotus is gentle on its rear…and degradation is more on the front compare to the rear…will it be an advantage or what is Malaysia??

    1. i meant in* malaysia??

    2. @rahim-rg, good point. I expect you need the rear tyres when accelerating out of slow corners, and the fronts in high-speed corners, so Malaysia is not necessarily a circuit that will suit Kimi better.

  19. Although Lewis Hamilton was pleased with his fifth place in Melbourne, the team looked capable of achieving more.

    I don’t get this, how were Mercedes to have extracted more? Lewis had a good start and let’s face it, he really would have come 6th if it hadn’t been for Webber sliding back in the order. I think the Lewis extracted more from the Mercedes than it was capable of and that Mercedes did what they did most of last year. Look threatening in qualification, go backwards during the race.

    I think Lewis did a great job, but I won’t be fooled. Mercedes’ improvement is nothing more than marginal and they have the Mclaren effect to help them out, something they are partially responsible for with their off track destabilizing activities with the suggestion that Mercedes are not even sure what they are going to do with Lowe according to recent articles and that he might not even have a place at Mercedes.

    1. “I don’t get this, how were Mercedes to have extracted more?”

      Because they initially tried to do a 2 stop race, which means dialing your pace back a bit in order to look after your tyres, but it became apparant that it wasnt going to work, so switched to a 3 stop. If they started the race knowing they were going to do a 3 stopper, they could have better managed their stint lengths, and thus, their pace.

      I think at best though, 4th was possible.

      1. I’m not so sure, In interviews after the race Hamilton seem shocked at the speed they pulled away from him. I know they were trying a two stop, but even so on the first stint I’m pretty sure Hamilton would have been flat out, after all its the mediums that would make a two stop possible, everyone expected the supersofts to last around 10 laps max, so I think Mercedes struggles on higher fuel loads.

    2. As the next paragraph says, it’s not hard to believe had he run to his original strategy he’d have had a better result.

  20. I think this is one of those tracks where a driver can make a difference in qualifying, but in a race given consistent conditions over race weekend where the team that uses tyres well, in combination with quality of the car (from an aerodynamic point of view) will eventually shine.

    Though, and it’s a big THOUGH in my view. Depends on who qualifies 11-15 and strategy. I say this as last year until most teams got consistent performance from the tyres, the pecking order and development race established ( not including luck factor). Those on Fresh rubber have a more distinct advantage over those 5-6 places above, and can often ruin a potentially quicker car. Something I am tired off (pun intended).

    There are at least 2-3 areas where a driver makes a difference on this circuit depending on how the car over-all gives the driver confidence.

    Red Bull are more confident it “seems” in more straight line speed also, I would expect them to be in the mix for pole and win, “Lotus” (imo name only) will be strong, from evidence all be it in changeable conditions as there are many corners that need that rubber. Ferrari are always in the mix. Mercs I think will have a better picture off where they actually are this weekend. I haven’t mentioned McLaren it’s a much as a shock to me not to have thus far, playing the catch up development race has proven over many recent years to be fruitless, though with the occasional flash to wet the appetite of enthusiasts.

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