Start, Sepang, 2013

Mercedes set the pace but eyes will be on Red Bull

2014 Malaysian Grand Prix previewPosted on | Author Will Wood

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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2014 Malaysian Grand Prix

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