Malaysian Grand PrixView

By on Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull/Getty Images

After a low-key opening round to 2015, the Formula 1 circus moves on to the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia for the second race of the campaign.

In Australia it was Lewis Hamilton who got his title defence off to the perfect start as Mercedes dominated proceedings. 12 months ago the Briton claimed his first victory in Malaysia as he controlled the race from start to finish; he’ll be seeking another win to increase his early championship advantage over team-mate Nico Rosberg.

Malaysia is also set to be Fernando Alonso’s first appearance of 2015, eight years after he claimed his first McLaren victory at the circuit. Having suffered a small tear in the annular part of a disc in his lower back during qualifying in Australia, Williams’ Valtteri Bottas is also set to make his first start of the campaign, though both drivers will have to pass the FIA’s assessments on Thursday.

Manor Marussia is also optimistic regarding its chances of competing, with the hope that Roberto Merhi can make his Formula 1 debut alongside former Caterham racer Will Stevens.

The circuit

Sepang opened its doors in 1999 and has been present on the calendar ever since; this year’s event will be the 17th Formula 1 race in the country.

The 5.543km circuit has remained unchanged since its inception, with the track characterised by a mixture of medium and high speed corners, punctuated by two long straights and a couple of hairpins.

Williams F1 Team

Williams F1 Team

The nature of the circuit means that braking is crucial, but the long straights allow the brakes to be cooled sufficiently. The lateral loads and bumpy surfaces places an extra emphasis on tyres, with Pirelli bringing the two hardest compounds from its allocation. High ambient temperatures – allied to extreme humidity – also places pressure on power units, with efficient cooling systems required.

Those conditions also have a human impact, with the drivers losing up to three litres of fluid during the race, while temperatures for mechanics in the pit garages can reach 40°c.

“The track in Sepang is quite challenging and is very different compared to Melbourne,” says Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg.

“The various sectors have unique characteristics: there is a nice variation of high and low-speed corners and two very long straights. You need to balance your setup between top speed and downforce to make the most of your car in each of them.”

A car with good downforce is a requirement on any circuit but at Sepang, corners such as Turn 5-6 will test the limits of the machinery, with rapid changes of direction required. The best overtaking prospects come at the end of the two long straights, with the DRS zones placed on the back straight and over the start/finish line.

The race

This year’s 56-lap race will begin one hour earlier than the 2014 event after proposals put forwards by the FIA following Jules Bianchi’s accident at Suzuka last year – a note for Europeans is that several countries change time zones this weekend to shift into summer time.

Sahara Force India

Sahara Force India

As already mentioned, Pirelli will bring its white-banded Medium tyre as the Option, with the orange-liveried Hard tyre as the Prime. Last year a three-stop strategy was Hamilton’s approach, but the Intermediates and Full Wets could well be in use, with the climate in Malaysia conducive to heavy and sudden downpours, which can drench the circuit in minutes. Such weather caused chaos in the early stages of the 2001 event and caused the 2009 race to be abandoned, with half points awarded.

Having resolved its legal case with Giedo van der Garde, Sauber will actually use three drivers this weekend – Ferrari protégé and reserve pilot Raffaele Marciello will participate in the opening practice session before handing back over to Felipe Nasr for the remainder of the weekend.

Timetable (GMT +8):

Friday 27 March

  • Practice One: 10:00 – 11:30
  • Practice Two: 14:00 – 15:30

Saturday 28 March

  • Practice Three: 14:00 – 15:30
  • Qualifying: 17:00 (60 minutes)

Sunday 29 March

  • Race: 15:00 (56 laps or two hours)

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