Malaysia Grand Prixview

By on Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The chequered flag may only have just fallen in Australia but already it’s on to muggy Kuala Lumpar for Round 2 of the 2012 championship. It doesn’t seem like a long time since the Sepang circuit joined the calendar, yet the race this Sunday will be the fourteenth running of the Malaysian Grand Prix. Weather is always notoriously difficult to predict, with a high chance of thunderstorms likely late in the afternoon - exactly when most of the on-track action takes place.

Memorable moments

After a couple of exciting affairs in Malaysia, switching the race to an earlier date in the season saw entertainment in 2001. On the third lap, both Ferrari drivers shot off the track at Turn 6 and a lap later the heavens opened. The Safety Car came out as several drivers spun off in monsoon conditions. The chaos meant that it was a classic Michael Schumacher fightback to win the race. Two years later Sepang was the scene for the maiden victory for Kimi Raikkonen as the young Finn dominated to win by almost forty seconds. The 2009 running of the event saw plentiful of overtaking before the wet weather intervened. Usually in Sepang there’s either a downpour or nothing at all yet the slow encroachment of the rain three years ago led to confusion in the pits as drivers grappled with the unpredictable conditions. Eventually the rain did pour down and the red flag came out and stayed out, meaning that half points were awarded for only the fifth time in F1 history. Last season, the high degradation of the Pirelli tyres led to drivers undertaking a four stop strategy and Sebastian Vettel emerged to win in Malaysia for a second consecutive season. Can he make it a hat-trick this year?

Sepang Circuit: Fast, flowing corners and two long straights

The Track

It’s fair to say that Sepang is a mixed bag in terms of what is required to win. A relatively fast and flowing circuit is joined together by two very long straights, meaning that you need a car with good straight line speed but also high down-force levels. The fact that Red Bull has been the team to beat for the last two seasons here suggests that the latter of those components is more important. Turns 1 and 2 are fairly difficult, as the driver has to spot his braking point and a small mistake here will hurt all the way up to Turn 4. Positioning at the start is also crucial as the outside becomes the inside and the potential for losing a front wing is high. The make-or-break sector is ultimately the middle one, comprising the heavy braking zone of Turn 4, the fast left-right of 5 and 6 followed by the double right hander that has caught out drivers in the past. The start of Sector 3 includes Turn 10, the tricky right hander that tightens and whose apex is difficult to hit. The penultimate corner is also tricky as the angle of entry means almost every racer takes a different line into the turn. It’s an important entry as an error will hurt all the way down the long back straight, while during the race a good exit will help with either defence or attack.

Just who is in the midfield? Photo credit: Ferrari S.p.A.

So, just what is going to happen?

Australia gave a picture of how the season progresses. Sadly said picture is currently covered up and a long distance away. Melbourne can never be seen as an accurate representation of the true order of the field, but we can say with some assurance that the title will be fought between Red Bull and McLaren. Now it remains to be seen which of those teams and drivers is superior either in qualifying or the race or simply whether both cars are so evenly matched that the advantage will ebb and flow at different events. Behind the leading duo, there appears to be the remaining teams – bar Caterham, Marussia and HRT – battling to be seen as the third best team. If it wasn’t for the continued brilliance of Fernando Alonso, Ferrari would be seen as languishing in the lower half of the midfield. Nevertheless, Ferrari, Lotus, Mercedes, Sauber, Williams, STR and Force India all appear to be separated by mere tenths and like at the front, that battle should change depending on what circuit we’re at. Lotus suffered from some unfortunate luck in Australia, so there’s a probability that they will lead this battle with Malaysia set to be a struggle for Ferrari and Mercedes. Both teams suffered from high tyre wear in Australia and last season drivers had to stop four times in Sepang. Hot track temperatures won’t help either team, while the F2012 is a fundamentally flawed machine. In a congested midfield, driver talent will really stand out this season.

 

Colourful gravel and dark clouds. It must be Sepang.

Timetable

All times GMT. Please note: In some countries, clocks go forward by one hour at 01:00 on Sunday

  • FP1 – Friday 02:00
  • FP2 – Friday 06:00
  • FP3 – Saturday 05:00
  • Qualifying – Saturday 08:00
  • Race – Sunday 08:00

Statistics

Previous winners:

  • 2011 – S. Vettel (Red Bull)
  • 2010 – S. Vettel (Red Bull)
  • 2009 – J. Button (Brawn)
  • 2008 – K. Raikkonen (Ferrari)
  • 2007 – F. Alonso (McLaren)

Previous F1Zone Race Ratings:

  • 2011 – 8.14
  • 2010 – 6.37
  • 2009 – 6.98
  • 2008 – 6.55

If you liked this post then share it with your friends on social media websites. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date with the latest F1 news.