Malaysian Grand Prix preview

Can anyone stop Red Bull in Malaysia?

Can anyone stop Red Bull in Malaysia?

The second race of the 2011 Formula 1 season is at Sepang, Malaysia. A tweak of the DRS rules, as well as ominous weather in the region, is sure to make the race unprecictable this weekend…

DRS

The Drag Reduction System didn’t have a particularly large effect on the Australian GP (not necessarily a bad thing), but with the longer straights of Malaysia, the device will have a much bigger role to play here.

The operating zone has been extended from 600 to 700 metres. Also, race director Charlie Whiting hinted at placing more than one DRS zone on the track. This has not been confirmed for Malaysia, but it is being looked at for other races.

Several drivers, including Felipe Massa, have voiced their concern over this suggestion. However, for Sepang at least, the main straight will be the prime place to pass.

As with 2 weeks ago, a significant advantage can be played to the Red Bulls, if they are able to deploy their rear wings earlier out of the corners in qualifying.

Weather

Unusually cool and overcast weather in Melbourne led to cooler tyre temperatures and reduced tyre wear. No matter what happens this weekend, the same will not happen this time around.

A tweet from Lotus technical director Mike Gascoyne reads: “Lots of heavy thunderstorms around every day so the weather will be unpredictable this weekend.”

Most of the time, Malaysia suffers from searing heat of up to 40 degrees Celcius. Any other time, rain hammers down like a tropical storm.

Weather forecasters are predicting heavy showers on Saturday and Sunday. The rain is more likely to hit in the evening time, which is onimous considering the 16:00 start time for qualifying and the race.

Tyres

As previously mentioned, cool temperatures in Australia quelled fears briefly about over-wearing tyres, but the debacle may well return this weekend.

40 degree heat will have an exponentially larger effect than the 17-18 degree conditions from Melbourne. Pirelli are stating that up to 4 pit stops may be required.

That would be presuming that raceĀ  day was dry. If it is wet, then all bets are off, because nobody is sure yet how the extreme wet Pirelli tyres stand up to a full tank of fuel at the start of a race.

Predictions

One third of a lap in Sepang is spent in braking and cornering areas. This will play right into the hands of Red Bull, whose RB7 is renowned for ripping up tarmac with its unbeievable amounts of grip. On the other hand, the Red Bull is quite slow on the straights, which could hamper them on race day, if they come under pressure from their rivals.

Ferrari’s tyre conservation could prove crucial if the race is dry. A lack of race pace was highlighted in Melbourne, so strategy is what is needed to put them back on top. McLaren and Renault are the two main teams to challenge Vettel and Webber this weekend, but it is difficult to see how they can match their pace.

It will be interesting to see how Sauber fare. Their illegal rear wing may well have been the reason why they were so fast through the speed traps in Australia. If their top speed remains high this weekend, then we know they have a properly fast car.

At the back of the grid, speculation is mounting as to whether Virgin and HRT will even be able to qualify. A new front wing is being delivered to Hispania, while changes in the technical department are occuring for Virgin. However, I fear that it may not be enough for these backmarkers.

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