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. Cosmas (@cosmas) said on 20th March 2013, 19:24

    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.

  2. Aled Davies (@aledinho) said on 20th March 2013, 19:56

    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

    • Jono (@me262) said on 20th March 2013, 23:59

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

    • Nick (@nick101) said on 21st March 2013, 12:59

      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!

  3. Rahim.RG (@rahim-rg) said on 20th March 2013, 19:57

    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??

  4. Carl Craven said on 20th March 2013, 20:47

    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.

    • “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.

      • D (@f190) said on 20th March 2013, 21:46

        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.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 21st March 2013, 4:13

      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.

  5. Glimiril (@glimiril) said on 20th March 2013, 21:49

    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.

  6. Ryan (@rgbargie) said on 21st March 2013, 2:04

    Just checked the weather for Kuala Lumpur, thundery showers and heavy showers all weekend virtually. Around midday on Friday/Saturday/Sunday are thundery/heavy rain showers. Will be very interesting! May place a cheeky bet for a Force India podium, or a Marussia (Bianchi) point,.

  7. William (@william) said on 21st March 2013, 8:51

    It’s going to rain for qualifying and race with thundery showers as well but I like it when it’s wet because it provides drama and action and here in Australia we will listen to Greg Rust, Darryl Beattie and Alan Jones while Sky Sports F1 are on the ground. As my predictions were right all along

  8. Jason (@jason12) said on 21st March 2013, 11:45

    Hamilton was on course for a better result until he locked his tyres and spoilt his strategy

    This is just RUBBISH.
    Lewis lost almost 10 secs to Kimi is his first stint alone.
    The Merc just did not have pace right from the beginning (probably couldn’t switch it’s tires on). Even at the biginning of Lewis’ 2nd stint Kimi was significantly faster with older tires.

  9. 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.

    I wouldn’t pin that on the car. Fernando Alonso has spent his entire career being weaker in qualifying than in the race. Here’s a thought – perhaps Alonso is simply weaker in qualifying than in the race?

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