Daily Archives: March 30, 2010

Malaysian Grand Prix preview

As I said earlier, the Malaysian Grand Prix of 2009 was a complete washout, with the race only completing half distance. This year, we hope that everyone has learned their lesson, and we can get back to racing at this very demanding circuit.


This year there are thunderstorms predicted for this weekend, which could hugely affect the race again. Just have a look at the BBC’s weather forecast page if you don’t believe me. Humidity will be high, as well as very heavy showers and possibly storms. Temperatures will be between 25 and 32 degrees for the weekend.

The sapping humidity is the biggest challenge for the drivers here. Most of them lose a litre of body fluid per hour here, due to the extreme heat and humidity. Therefore, keeping cool is obviously the challenge. Most teams could well simply enlarge their drinking water supply, but that would leave less room for mechanical components.

As well as the drivers, the cars will take a beating as well. The hot, dense air in Sepang means the quality of air going into the engine is poorer than usual, which could mean the engine will overheat or excessively wear down. Expect Renault’s engines to explode at some point during the weekend. While there is less time here spent at full throttle than in Malasyia, the oil temperatures will have to be kept in check, to keep the engine running smoothly.

The track

The Sepang circuit is one of the best tracks produced by Herman Tilke, but that’s not saying much. There are 8 high speed stretches, 3 slow corners, and 2 main spots for overtaking. The tricky Turn 1 will be the best opportunity to overtake, especially on the first lap. Apart from this, Turn 3 is also a good braking zone, which results in a few overtakes here. However, most of these overtakes would result from the driver in front failing to get good traction after Turn 2.

Turn 4 is very difficult in the wet, as shown last year when Sebastien Buemi spun out at this turn. Turn 9 is susspectible to a spin or 2, as corner entry and exit is very difficult, due to a huge loss of speed while on a sloped part of the track. Turn 14 is difficult, but rarely gets overtakes here, apart from Button getting past Alonso last year.

The final corner going onto the back straight is crucial for getting traction, as it leads onto the main straight, and an ideal overtaking spot. Red Bull have explained the track in further detail, with Mark Webber:


For this race, Bridgestone are bringing the hard and soft tyres, as they did last year. There weren’t any problems with tyres last year (apart from the rain) so there should be little change this year. Since Australia, the softer tyres have proven themselves to be the much better of the two compounds, being powerful and can also be very durable.

For this year, expect most drivers to start on the soft tyres. Then they will try and use them for as long as possible, up to half distance if possible, and then switch to the hard tyre. Of course, if rain falls like it could, then all strategies are out the window. If this happens, then that means both dry compounds do not have to be used, and the proper racing begins.

Of course, there is one more thing to consider when talking about tyres in Malaysia. Ferrari used a very clever strategy in 2001 to take a 1-2 victory here, by taking advantage of the circuit’s strange rain patterns. In Sepang, when it rains, it pours, as everyone knows. In 2001, it did, and nearly everyone took on extreme wet tyres. Ferrari, however, instructed Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello to take on intermidiates, even though the track was completely saturated. At one point, they couldn’t catch up with the safety car, and they were aquaplaning on the straights. But, the Sepang circuit has a habit of some parts of the track drying off extremely quickly. Ferrari knew this, and watched as the other’s extreme wet tyres fell apart after a few laps. Schumacher and Barrichello scythed their way up the grid, and performed the easiest overtakes on Hakkinen and Coulthard they had ever seen. By the time the conditions were right, and everyone switched to dry tyres, the Ferraris were miles ahead.

That sort of strategy would rarely be used, because of the many circumstances that would have to be in place for it to work, but this is Malaysia, and it could well happen again.

My predictions

My initial instinct is to support Sebastian Vettel for the win again, but I don’t think it’s going to happen here either. His Renault engine, or his mechanical parts, simply won’t hold up against this track’s serious heat and humidity.

His team-mate, Mark Webber, isn’t a likely candidate either. While he holds the same machinery as Vettel, he doesn’t have the raw pace to beat the other drivers, although he will probably get better reliability than Sebastian. This leaves Ferrari as my choice for the win. Their package still beats McLaren’s, and as long as they don’t have engine problems like they did in Bahrain, they should be out front.

The question is which driver? Fernando Alonso is in front of Massa in the driver’s championship, but Massa did well last race to hold him back. Fernando has had problems in the past with overheating, so I think that Massa will take his first win of the year here. Alonso could get on the podium if possible.

Jenson Button has improved a lot in McLaren, and I think he will be able to beat Lewis Hamilton again this race. Lewis must be hugely frustrated after Australia, and with no manager at the moment, he might not be able to restrain himself properly. Jenson’s tyre managment skills will come in very useful in the hot and humid Sepang, but mostly in the dry rather than the wet. If it does rain, then Hamilton will be the one to beat, and would end up on the podium at least.

Unfortunately, the Mercedes cars will take some time to catch up to the top 3 teams, if at all, so I don’t think even a podium is at stake here for them. As long as it stays dry, that is. If it rains, then Schumacher could very well blitz his way up the field and annihilate everyobody like we saw years ago. Rosberg, like Barrichello did in Malaysia 2001, should be following him all the way, but won’t get past. Being realistic, though, the best they can hope for is one driver on the podium.

Force India claim this year’s car is better suited to medium-downforce circuits, so let’s prove their claim. Vitantonio Liuzzi should be the driving force again this weekend, as he has shown great pace so far this year. Adrian Sutil could do well, but if it rains, then the explosion of a Force India taking out a grandstand will be heard in my attic on the other side of the world. If it stays dry, then a handful of points would be good work for the team. If it rains, less so, but still a few.

Williams, Toro Rosso and Sauber are teams I’m all tipping to struggle this weekend. The new boys of Hulkenberg, Kobayashi and Alguersuari (he still counts for a few more races) will hardly be expected to get into the top ten, especially if it rains. As for the other drivers, I don’t think any of their machiery is up to the job of doing well here. If anyone from any of these teams were to get points, I would say Rubens Barrichello of Williams, since he has huge experience of this circuit, he’s good in the wet conditions, and he knows a bit about tyre strategy here.

As for the new teams? You really can’t expect much from them, in the dry or the wet. The hot and humid conditions will blow their hydraulics and engines to pieces in the dry. None of these teams exactly have a good downforce setup, so they would struggle even more in the wet. The 3 new drivers out of these teams (Senna, Chandhok and Di Grassi) may well fall prey to the body-sapping nature of this track. However, if any of them got to the finish, it would be a great achievement for them.

But these are all my thoughts. What happens in Sepang this weekend will certainly be exciting, and may well throw up a few surprises, especially if the local weather forecaster is correct again.

Fauzy to drive in Malaysia practice

Fairuz Fauzy testing for Lotus in the winter

Fairuz Fauzy testing for Lotus in the winter

Lotus have announced that reserve driver Fairuz Fauzy will drive their car in Friday Practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix.

He will temporarily replace Heikki Kovalainen at the wheel. The former GP2 driver has been involved with several test sessions with Lotus before the season began.

While it’s good to see reserve drivers being given the chance to test their skills in an F1 car, I feel that this isn’t the right idea for Lotus. The car needs as much improvement as possible, and Trulli and Kovalainen are the right people for this job. While allowing Fauzy to drive is good for him, the sponsors and the investors (the 1Malaysia group), I would think that the return of having a better developed car is better than pleasing the sponsors and the home croud.

Of course, this is the Malaysian Grand Prix, a country that hasn’t had an F1 driver since Alex Yoong, and he didn’t exactly set the world on fire, so maybe Fernandes and Lotus want to promote Malaysia’s next top F1 driver.

2009 flashback: Storms cut Malaysia race short

Jenson Button, alongside Nick Heidfeld and Timo Glock

Jenson Button, alongside Nick Heidfeld and Timo Glock

In a new series, before each race, I will look back on the race in 2009, and look forward to 2010. This time round it is the Malaysian Grand Prix.


In the days after the Australian Grand Prix, Brawn GP were already looking forward to win the Malaysian Grand Prix. When Jenson Button took pole position, it seemed as if it could be two in a row. Jarno Trulli joined him on the front row, which gave more evidence towards Toyota’s pace this year.

But neither led at the first corner. Nico Rosberg, who started from fourth, mugged both of them into the first corner, and took the lead. Jenson was struggling to heat his tyres, and lost further places to Trulli and Alonso as well. Fernando had made perfect use of his KERS at the start. He started ninth on a heavy fuel load, but was third by the first corner. But, once Button had his tyres sorted out, he took third back at Turn 13 on the first lap.

Rosberg steals the lead from Button at the first corner

Rosberg steals the lead from Button at the first corner

For the second race in a row, Heikki Kovalainen was out on the first lap. He was struggling for grip, and lost control on the difficult Turn 5, and spun into the gravel trap. He was travelling beside his team-mate Hamilton. Robert Kubica was also in trouble, with problems getting off the line, and an engine failure soon after.

There was soon a train of cars behind Alonso, as his KERS wasn’t enough to keep his third position. Button got past first, and by the time Barrichello had got through, Jenson was 6.5 seconds up the road. On Lap 10, Kimi Raikkonen got through, followed by Mark Webber two laps later. Timo Glock tried to get through, but failed because of damage to his front wing after previous contact with Webber. Sebastian Vettel was behind Glock, followed by Lewis Hamilton and Nick Heidfeld.

Rosberg pitted from the lead on Lap 15, and Trulli followed him two laps later. This gave Button clean air to push, and after a few blistering laps, he pitted on Lap 19, and emerged in the lead. By now, everybody knew the rain was going to fall, as there were dark clouds everywhere, but it was just a matter of when. The common knowledge in the paddock is “when it rains in Malaysia, it pours”. Even though the rain wasn’t falling yet on Lap 18, Ferrari decided to pre-empt the weather by sending Kimi Raikkonen out on extreme wet tyres, even though the track was still dry. Kimi was running well, so this was a huge gamble.

The rain unnerves the teams as the pit stops approach

The rain unnerves the teams as the pit stops approach

The rain eventually fell on Lap 21, but nowhere near as heavy as people thought. It wasn’t the downpour that was expected, but it was still enough to change tyres. Fernando Alonso was caught out, and nearly spun out into the gravel. More than half the field pitted for extreme wete on Lap 22, but Timo Glock went risky and took on intermidiates. Since the rain fell slowly at first, this was a huge advantage at first for the Toyota driver. While the others had to nurse their tyres until the rain got heavier, Glock sailed past most of the field.

Once the teams realised intermidiates were the way to go, they all changed tyres again, and Glock was in the lead. He was nearly 30 seconds behind Button before his strategy, and was 5-10 seconds a lap faster. Jenson didn’t react quickly enough, and lost the lead when he stopped for intermidiates on Lap 29. Button emerged from the pits just behind Glock, but just then the rain got heavier, making conditions even harder to read.

The next lap, Button made his move to retake the lead, but as he did, Timo pitted again for extreme wets, again outthinking the rest of the field. Sure enough, the rain turned torrential that very lap, cathing out Giancarlo Fisichella, Sebastian Vettel, Sebastien Buemi, and several others. Immidiately the rest of the field pitted for extreme wets, as the safety car was deployed on Lap 32 for dangerous conditions.

Button attempts to sail an F1 car across the Pacific Ocean

Button attempts to sail an F1 car across the Pacific Ocean

As the safety car pounded around the track, there was a problem – the F1 cars couldn’t keep up. The wooden blocks under the cars, used to stop the cars bottoming out in dry conditions, were turning the cars into giant rudders. The leaders, Button, Glock and Heidfeld, all struggled around the track at incredibly slow speeds. By this time, the track resembled a swimming pool, and the race was red-flagged at the right time.

While the other drivers worry about a restart, Kimi feasts on ice-cream and Coke...

While the other drivers worry about a restart, Kimi feasts on ice-cream and Coke...

The cars all lined up on the start finish straight to wait for the race to be resumed. Some waited in the cars, some stood under umbrellas, while a certain someone decided to head off and have an ice-cream. Kimi’s early stop for extreme wets did not pay off, as by the time the rain arrived, his tyres were completely destroyed, and he fell to near the back of the grid. When the race was red-flagged, he had an electrical probelm that meant he wouldn’t be able to restart the race. He changed into a t-shirt and shorts, got an ice-cream and Coke from the Ferrari vending machines (didn’t make that part up!) and hung around watching the drivers anticipate a restart. Good man Kimi, but mint Feasts are much better.

Meanwhile, while Kimi felt the need to cool down in storm rain conditions, the teams soon realised that the race wouldn’t restart. Even though the rain had stopped, the track was completely saturated, and sunlight was falling fast. FIA race director Charlie Whiting correctly decided to cancel the restart, end the Grand Prix after 32 laps, and award half points. This meant that Jenson Button was declared the winner, ahead of Nick Heidfeld and Timo Glock. These two had to swap positions after the race, after it emerged that Glock had overtaken Heidfeld on the lap before the race was abandoned, which is the lap that is left out of the race result.

For the first time n 18 years, a Formula 1 race hadn’t reached the 75% mark, so half points were awarded. However, this race will most likely be remembered for the fact that this ending could have been avoided. Bernie Ecclestone had requested a later start time for this race, so European viewers could get a better time to watch the race. However, he completely ignored the locals who knew perfectly well that a 5pm race start was right in the middle of a monsoon storm time area. Also, since the race was later, the race couldn’t resume, because it was too dark. Hopefully everyone has learned their lesson for this year.