Mercedes set the pace but eyes will be on Red Bull

2014 Malaysian Grand Prix preview

Start, Sepang, 2013The two week gap after F1′s newest generation of cars passed their first test in racing conditions in Australia will no doubt have been very welcome, but now the teams face an even tougher challenge for round two.

The Malaysian Grand Prix has always been one of the toughest races of the season on the drivers, and now the long straights and energy-sapping heat of Sepang will prove just as threatening to the health of their cars.

But the heat is not the only hazard here as the timing of the race often coincides with the downpours which can be relied upon to hit the region in the late afternoon.

When the rain stays away, the Malaysian Grand Prix tends to produce a fairly straightforward race that often provides a better indication of the true pecking order than Albert Park. But when the rain arrives, chaos often follows.

Two of the last five Malaysian races have been red flagged due to extreme wet weather conditions – with the 2009 race bring abandoned after just 33 laps.

Hosting its 16th grand prix, the Sepang International Circuit is characterised by its long straights and long corners. With a mix of high speed sweepers and slow hairpins, aerodynamic efficiency is key around this 5.5km track.

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 International Circuit
track data in full

The long corners and multiple traction zones mean that Sepang is one of the hardest circuits on tyres on the calendar, and Pirelli will bring their two hardest compound tyres as usual for this race.

Overtaking is certainly possible due to the lengthy straights that straddle the main grandstands with DRS helping to make passing even less of a challenge in recent seasons. Top speed will be crucial and the speed trap figures for the new generation of engines will make interesting reading – two weeks ago in Melbourne the cars were quicker in a straight line than they had been last year.

On the back of a dominant victory in Melbourne, Mercedes arrive in Sepang with a clear advantage over the rest of the field. But with Lewis Hamilton’s engine related retirement showing that the Mercedes are by no means bullet-proof, a Mercedes victory in Malaysia is not guaranteed.

With reliability still a major concern and the new cars set to undergo heavy development as the season progresses, even a race as early as this could ultimately play a pivotal role in the outcomes of this season’s championships.

Malaysian Grand Prix team-by-team preview

Red Bull

Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, Albert Park, 2014Red Bull were mired in controversy at this race last year and return to the track under a cloud once more. How they will approach this weekend following their Australian Grand Prix disqualification and pending the outcome of their appeal will be one of the major talking points.

In Australia the team ignored the FIA’s instructions on how to allow for variations in the reading given by their fuel sensor, which they believed was faulty. As a result the FIA found the team repeatedly violated the maximum 100kg/hour fuel flow rate on Daniel Ricciardo’s car.

But what if they find themselves in a similar situation again this weekend with another faulty sensor? Ignoring the FIA’s advice a second time would demonstrate the strength of their convictions, but would lead to certain disqualification. Whereas obeying the FIA could be seen as a tacit admission that they did the wrong thing in Australia.

It may not come up, but if it does Christian Horner will have to decide whether he gambles another weekend on Red Bull winning their appeal, or hedges his bet and hopes it doesn’t weaken their case before the FIA on April 14th.

Regardless of the appeal outcome, Red Bull can take heart from the improved performance of the RB10 in Ricciardo’s hands at Melbourne, not all of which will have been down to their fuel infringement.

Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Albert Park, 2014Despite a victorious opening race weekend in Australia where they secured pole, led all 57 laps and took the first win of the season, Mercedes may well be disappointed to arrive in Malaysia with only 25 points to their name.

Having won with pace in hand in Melbourne, Nico Rosberg will realise that only his team mate or a mechanical failure will likely prevent him from taking two wins out of two this weekend.

After engine troubles forced him into a frustrating retirement in Australia, Lewis Hamilton will be on a mission to make up the disappointment of Melbourne with the first Malaysian victory of his career.

Twelve months ago the team chose to call off the contest between their two drivers in the closing stages of the race, much to Rosberg’s chagrin. With the W05s the class of the field, it’s surely a question of when rather than if they will feel the urge to impose team orders again.

Ferrari

A fourth and seventh place finish was not the result that Ferrari would have been hoping for as they began their latest attempt to win a championship for the first time since 2008.

The team will be hoping that history repeats itself this weekend as both of their world champion drivers have previously won the Malaysian GP for the Scuderia – Raikkonen in 2008 and Alonso in 2012.

But that may prove difficult as the team has admitted they are lacking in top speed – a potentially serious weakness on Sepang’s long straights.

Lotus

Heading into the second round of the season, the Lotus E22 is still yet to successfully complete a full race distance.

Despite a weekend of almost endless problems in Melbourne, the fact that Romain Grosjean was just 14 laps away from the chequered flag on Sunday will have been seen as a promising step forward.

But getting to the chequered flag will not be any easier in the unrelenting Malaysian heat than it was in Australia.

McLaren

Kevin Magnussen, McLaren, Albert Park, 2014For the first time since Bahrain 2012, McLaren arrive at a grand prix as leaders in the constructors’ championship. Top-three scores for both cars in Melbourne – albeit pending the outcome of Red Bull’s appeal – was likely the best result they could have expected.

Kevin Magnussen will be brimming with confidence following his Driver of the Weekend winning performance at his Grand Prix debut. Unlike Melbourne, he’ll have the support of father Jan with him in the paddock in Malaysia.

Team mate Jenson Button was only promoted to the podium on the back of Ricciardo’s disqualification in Melbourne but believes the performance of the MP4-29 was promising.

“Even if we don’t yet have the pace to take the fight to the front-runners, we should have a car that’s decent in every sector, and which we’ll be able to hustle through the race,” he said.

Force India

A positive start for Force India in Melbourne was hailed by team principal Vijay Mallya as “the best start we’ve had since I took over the team”.

Nico Hulkenberg looks to record his eighth points finish in ten races this weekend, while Sergio Perez needs a clean start to the race after a first lap puncture in Melbourne inflicted by Esteban Gutierrez severely compromised his afternoon.

Sauber

Two years after almost winning this event in 2012, Sauber return to Sepang in 2014 looking to score their first points of the season. Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez were classified 11th and 12th respectively in Melbourne.

Both drivers were lapped in Melbourne but Sutil remains open-minded about the car’s potential. “I am curious to drive the car on this track where the aerodynamics play a huge role,” he said.

“If a car is good in Sepang, then it will be fast on other tracks as well.”

Toro Rosso

Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, Albert Park, 2014Having endured a difficult winter the opening race in Melbourne was a welcome relief for Toro Rosso, who saw both cars score points in the season-opener for the first time since 2009.

Having become F1′s youngest ever points scorer in Melbourne, Daniil Kvyats says he appreciates the chance to start a race at a venue where he has driven before.

“I took my first ever single-seater win here for BMW in 2010 and actually this is also where I drove my very first single-seater race, so I have plenty of memories of this circuit,” he said.

Williams

Valtteri Bottas made two comeback drives in one race in Melbourne for an eventual result of fifth, softening what was an otherwise frustrating weekend of misfortune and missed opportunity for Williams. However, ten points means that the team eclipsed their entire 2013 total in the first race of the new season.

The FW36 clearly has good pace and with aero efficiency key in Malaysia, Williams will likely be hoping for a normal race weekend free of rain or incidents to allow them to show just how good a car they have this year.

Marussia

Max Chilton, Marussia, Albert Park, 2014Despite both their cars having started from the pit lane in Melbourne, Marussia will have left Australia pleased to have had both cars running at the finish and Max Chilton recording what could turn out to be a crucial 13th place.

This came after a distinctly unpromising run-up to the season in testing. “The data that has yielded could not have provided us with a better baseline for our development programme,” said team principal John Booth.

“We have spent quite a bit of time since Melbourne analysing that information carefully to enable us to have a more straightforward and successful weekend in Malaysia.”

Caterham

Melbourne was an up-and-down weekend for Caterham: they failed to set a time on Friday, then aw Kamui Kobayashi reach Q2 on Saturday, only for him to crash out at the start due to a braking problem.

A trouble-free build-up to the race is their first goal. Like Kvyat, rookie Marcus Ericsson has some prior experience of the circuit to count on which will be valuable if the CT05 doesn’t run any better in practice than it did two weeks ago.

2014 driver form

Driver G avg R avg R best R worst Classified Form guide
Sebastian Vettel 12.00 0/1 Form guide
Daniel Ricciardo 2.00 0/1 Form guide
Lewis Hamilton 1.00 0/1 Form guide
Nico Rosberg 3.00 1.00 1 1 1/1 Form guide
Fernando Alonso 5.00 4.00 4 4 1/1 Form guide
Kimi Raikkonen 11.00 7.00 7 7 1/1 Form guide
Romain Grosjean 20.00 0/1 Form guide
Pastor Maldonado 21.00 0/1 Form guide
Jenson Button 10.00 3.00 3 3 1/1 Form guide
Kevin Magnussen 4.00 2.00 2 2 1/1 Form guide
Nico Hulkenberg 7.00 6.00 6 6 1/1 Form guide
Sergio Perez 16.00 10.00 10 10 1/1 Form guide
Adrian Sutil 13.00 11.00 11 11 1/1 Form guide
Esteban Gutierrez 22.00 12.00 12 12 1/1 Form guide
Jean-Eric Vergne 6.00 8.00 8 8 1/1 Form guide
Daniil Kvyat 8.00 9.00 9 9 1/1 Form guide
Felipe Massa 9.00 0/1 Form guide
Valtteri Bottas 15.00 5.00 5 5 1/1 Form guide
Jules Bianchi 18.00 0/1 Form guide
Max Chilton 17.00 13.00 13 13 1/1 Form guide
Kamui Kobayashi 14.00 0/1 Form guide
Marcus Ericsson 19.00 0/1 Form guide

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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:

2014 Malaysian Grand Prix

Browse all 2014 Australian Grand Prix articles

Images © Red Bull/Getty, Pirelli/LAT, McLaren/LAT, Marussia/LAT

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41 comments on Mercedes set the pace but eyes will be on Red Bull

  1. Lucas Wilson (@full-throttle-f1) said on 27th March 2014, 12:47

    What I would like to see this weekend:

    1. Another Rosberg win would be great!
    2. Both Williams getting high into the top ten
    3. Perhaps some points for Marussia?

    • Herp said on 27th March 2014, 14:08

      Seconded. I’d love to see Williams scoring regular podiums, even grabbing a few wins. It’s been too long. And it’ll be worth watching the whole race just to see Pastor Maldonado’s grumpyface as he walks back to the garage again contemplating whether a dramatic flounce has ever been more badly timed while the commentator on the trackside PA blares out about how well his old team are doing.

  2. JCost (@jcost) said on 27th March 2014, 12:54

    After engine troubles forced him into a frustrating retirement in Australia, Lewis Hamilton will be on a mission to make up the disappointment of Melbourne with the first Malaysian victory of his career.

    Hamilton is set to re-use the engine that him down in Australia, wouldn’t it be safer to give him a brand new one and invest more time in fixing the failed one for later into the season?

  3. Robbie (@robbie) said on 27th March 2014, 13:04

    “obeying the FIA COULD be seen as a tacit admission that they did the wrong thing in Australia”…but I personally won’t take it that way. They now know the potential penalty for doing what they did, so I suspect that while this is under appeal they won’t be playing with fire, and I will only see it as the proper and normal thing to do while their case is under appeal, to go by the FIA rule book until there is further clarification for them from the hearing. I think in following the FIA guideline they’ll only be admitting that that is what they have to do for now, and imho, likely for the season, even if they don’t like it.

  4. Sepang has 2 long straights but the performance of Ferrari should be much closer to mercedes and so will be the red bulls not to mention that the track rewards downforce.

    • Paul (@coreblimey) said on 27th March 2014, 13:38

      No amount of trimming out the wings is going to Ferrari or red bull, is going to give them enough straight line speed there not to get blasted by on the straights

      • @coreblimey Mercedes after some gps analysis believe that the Renault power unit isn’t lacking in peak power but they definitely faded through the race in Melbourne. As an overtaking spot the straights will kill slow cars but I’m positive that Red Bull will dominate the 2nd sector and perhaps go for pole, I also suspect that Ferrari could qualify just behind the Red Bull’s as 3rd car nevertheless I’m sure Mercedes will have the race pace.

        • Kingshark (@kingshark) said on 27th March 2014, 19:14

          @peartree

          I’m positive that Red Bull will dominate the 2nd sector

          I have no idea where you got that assumption from. Mercedes dominated the 3rd sector in Melbourne, in both the wet and the dry.

          • @kingshark S3 in Albert Park is relatively slow, besides the chicane at its beginning. It is not particularly aero-dominated, unlike S2 in Malaysia.

            And the observations of many pundits (I believe Brundle included) suggest that the Red Bull is right up there in terms of exit speed in Albert Park’s few high-speed corners, so there is reason to suggest they can be reasonably confident in Malaysia. Far from dominant, but nor do I expect Mercedes to be dominant in S2.

            Where I expect Mercedes to be dominant is S3: long straights and (slower) corners.

          • Kingshark (@kingshark) said on 28th March 2014, 5:43

            @vettel1

            S3 in Albert Park is relatively slow, besides the chicane at its beginning. It is not particularly aero-dominated, unlike S2 in Malaysia.

            Turn 11 = High speed
            Turn 12 = High speed
            Long straight
            Turn 13 = Medium speed
            Turn 14 = High speed
            Turn 15 = Slow speed
            Turn 16 = Medium speed
            Long straight

            “Relatively slow” ???

            I think that it will be Merc >>> RBR = Ferrari in S2 Malaysia.

          • @kingshark A day later and I’m proved right, Since it’s friday I better drop my euromillions, it may not mean I’ll win the prize.

          • Kingshark (@kingshark) said on 28th March 2014, 18:58

            @peartree
            Fuel loads of cars? You should wait until qualifying before making a judgement about sector times. ;-)

  5. Paul (@coreblimey) said on 27th March 2014, 13:22

    I can only see merc engined cars fill the top spots all week end, if they hold together, with the speed advantage they all have over the field

  6. craig-o (@craig-o) said on 27th March 2014, 13:31

    This is really the first balanced track on the calendar and usually the car that wins this race ends up taking the constructors title, in a dry race anyway. After the chaos in Melbourne, I think we will truly see where each of the teams stand at this stage of the season.

    • Lucas Wilson (@full-throttle-f1) said on 27th March 2014, 13:45

      True,

      Apart from 2002, 2003 and 2012, as well as 2007 (though McLaren were DQ from the CC, even though they probably would have won it), every team that has won the Malaysian Grand Prix has won the Constructors championship.

  7. HiPn0tIc (@hipn0tic) said on 27th March 2014, 14:17

    I’m seeing Mercedes beeing the same since Melbourne and dominating with more or less difficulty, RBR should improve from Melbourne and Vettel should be on good plane, RIC will mantain the same form and hope that they will run again like they did at Australia.
    Williams should get in front and perhaps a 1st row place???

  8. ME4ME (@me4me) said on 27th March 2014, 14:31

    Let’s hope Williams and Mclaren can give Mercedes a good run for their money. Im not expecting too much from Redbull, as they’re just underpowered. It will be interesting to see tho how much Renault has improved. Ferrari is a bit of a wildcard in my oppinion, they seem to have a good car, but aren’t able to fully extract every bit of performance from it. Personally, i hope it rains slightly all weekend so the race is run on Inters.

    • Steven (@steevkay) said on 27th March 2014, 14:50

      The different power delivery of these PUs are really fun to watch in the wet. Really cool to see Hamilton’s pole position lap from the onboard camera, where you see him go opposite-lock on one of the turns yet still manages to set the fastest lap in the conditions. Hopefully more of that is to come!

  9. But what if they find themselves in a similar situation again this weekend with another faulty sensor? Ignoring the FIA’s advice a second time would demonstrate the strength of their convictions, but would lead to certain disqualification. Whereas obeying the FIA could be seen as a tacit admission that they did the wrong thing in Australia.

    Exactly what I and some others said last week! This aspect will be very very interesting to follow closely throughout this weekend.

  10. HoHum (@hohum) said on 27th March 2014, 15:23

    Suggesting that the pace of the RBR at Melbourne was only possible because they were exceeding the fuel flow limit ignores the fact that the Mercedes were emphatically faster all weekend.

    Another point, is it not time for the realities of Malaysian weather to be accepted and race time bought forward to minimise the chance of a race redflagged due to afternoon thunderstorms, given that racing no longer continues in these conditions.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 27th March 2014, 15:42

      @hohum

      Suggesting that the pace of the RBR at Melbourne was only possible because they were exceeding the fuel flow limit

      A claim the article specifically does not make, so I’m not sure what you’re referring to.

      • Robbie (@robbie) said on 27th March 2014, 16:07

        I wouldn’t hold my breath for “Mr. Sprinklers” to head a movement away from a potential rainy race.

      • HoHum (@hohum) said on 27th March 2014, 17:00

        @keithcollantine, my comment was not directed at yourself or this article but at the tone adopted by many of the more virulent comments on this subject since the AGP and seemingly accepted as fact by people continuing to underrate the potential power of the Renault PU. I apologise for any miunderstanding on this.

        • Robbie (@robbie) said on 27th March 2014, 18:55

          Speaking for myself of course, I haven’t accepted as fact that RBR/Renault needs a higher fuel flow to perform, but when I combine the knowledge of how it went for them in pre-season testing, and the fact that they refused to acknowledge FIA’s requests during the AGP, does make me at a minimum wonder what would have happened had they just obeyed FIA’s requests and gone with the sensor flow rates. ie. they would have obeyed the FIA if it made them lap the same or faster, no? Conversely, I can see them risking ignoring the FIA if they knew to do otherwise would make them slower.

          • HoHum (@hohum) said on 27th March 2014, 19:01

            @robbie, the problem was not so much how it went for them in pre-season testing but more that it it never really went for them, pre Melbourne.

          • Robbie (@robbie) said on 27th March 2014, 20:17

            @hohum Oh for sure, and it’s not like I thought it would be impossible for them to do some work and make some strides ahead of Oz, but a podium surprised many. They’re an awesome team so on the one hand perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise…it’s just that…there’s the ignoring of the FIA to the point of a dsq…so…what should one surmise, right? I don’t think it is a huge stretch to surmise they felt performance would suffer going with the FIA sensor readings. Yet they seem to be keen to prove no performance advantage and therefore shouldn’t be penalized, knowing that is not the point…it’s not whether or not an advantage was gained but that they ignored the FIA and made their own rules, and even if that is hard to take…being given the worst rental go-kart on the track to use an analogy of mazdachris’s…was it really better to be dsq’ed?

          • uan (@uan) said on 27th March 2014, 23:01

            it’s not whether or not an advantage was gained but that they ignored the FIA and made their own rules

            @robbie can you point out in the sporting or technical regulations where ignoring the FIA is an excludable offense? And what exact rule did RB make up?

            RBR was dq’d specifically for Tech reg 5.1.4, exceeding 100kg/h fuel flow, which then put them in violation of the sporting regs. However, RBR will undoubtedly be able to show that they were compliant with 5.1.4.

            I don’t have the source at hand, but apparently they did retest their injector with the FIA present that validated the accuracy of their data – it’s one of the reasons why they are moving forward with the appeal.

            Appealing interpretations of the rule is how the sport works. It happens quite a bit actually. Remember 2 years back and the RB had the holes in their floor? People claimed RB broke the rules, but it was found that they did not, and then the rules were clarified to exclude those holes.

            Of course there is a performance “advantage” to running 100kg/h fuel flow than running at 99.5kg/h or 96kg/h or whatever. But that is the actual regulation and available to all the teams. The issue is that several teams could not run at 100kg/h due to the sensors, including Mercedes (acknowledged by Toto Wolff).

            The one thing that’s really missed in this whole thing is how Newey incorporated the mandated cameras directly into the nose of the car. That was awesome :)

          • Robbie (@robbie) said on 28th March 2014, 0:14

            @uan No nothing says ignoring the FIA is an excludable offense nor have I stated that it is written in the books, but my intention is that had they heeded the FIA’s warnings they certainly would not have been excluded. As to making up their own rule…ok, perhaps awkwardly worded but obviously the point being where everyone else acted as FIA requested, they did not. ie. acted like they have their own rule book.

            Some have suggested said request is not a regulated part of the rules either…merely a suggestion or an opinion by the FIA regarding the sensors, yet all the suckers, I mean teams, fell for it somehow, and RBR who didn’t finds themselves on the outside looking in.

            You present a case that sounds bulletproof in that all they have to do is prove accuracy in THEIR readings, which they sound confident they will do, and they will win their appeal. Happens all the time.

            I would not say ‘it happens all the time’ that a driver is disqualified after a race, and with the hours of deliberation taken, I’m just not convinced the FIA will care if they can prove more accuracy. If that was the relevant issue, and no doubt RBR would have expressed their findings to them all weekend after the warnings let alone after the race, would FIA have leapt to disqualifying DR?

            Holes in the floor did not see someone dsq’ed, nor did that have to do with a dispute in measuring methods.

            I merely suggest that they must have done something to deserve this unusual penalty, and merely not drawing a line in the sand would have saved them. Perhaps in complying the FIA would have then looked at the race as everyone on the same level, all with poor sensors, and as soon as RBR ignored them to an irreversible point in time, they were no longer playing on the same level. Will the other teams cry foul if RBR wins and is reinstated thus leaving them in hindsight disadvantaged in the first race from having heeded FIA’s warnings? They should be penalized for obeying the FIA?

            Will teams start designing their own tests for wing flex etc which as long as their tests prove the numbers, can be used instead of the FIA’s? Who’s running the show?

  11. electrolite (@electrolite) said on 27th March 2014, 23:07

    Lewis and Nico were pretty closely matched here last year, so I’m really looking forward to that battle – provided the W05 holds up!

    As for the DRS here, well it proved a bit silly last year at least – the DRS zone on the main straight only discouraged overtakes into the corner that precedes that. Doesn’t that defeat the point a little bit…

  12. Jay Menon (@jaymenon10) said on 28th March 2014, 0:25

    So what do we make of Eddie Jordan’s prophecy of Fernando Alonso being at Mclaren Honda in 2015? Very unlikely now I suppose. K Mag will well and truly be Ron’s golden boy, I wonder how JB will deal with it.

    Anyways, its going to be the same old same old from Ferrari. I am honestly fed up, Im sure many fans are too. 6 years is a long time to get your act together, especially in a business such as F1. They might get some performance when the European season kicks off, might even win a race or two, but that will be it.

    The wait goes on for me….no driver I have ever supported has won the WDC!

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