F1 2011 Round 02 – Malaysian GP Preview

Welcome to Round 2 of the 2011 Formula 1 season – the Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix at the Sepang International Circuit, Sepang. The 3.44 mile track is the first purpose-built race venue of this season and as circuit designs go, it is certainly one of Hermann Tilke’s better efforts. With two long straights, slow hairpins, several medium speed and fast corners, it is a stern test of a car’s aerodynamic efficiency and mechanical setup. A dry race will shed light on the relative pace of the cars, while a little bit of rain will give us a great race and a chance for someone to stop the Red Bull juggernaut.

As we saw in Australia, the RB7 is certainly the class of the field this year – and Vettel’s dominant performance has raised concerns that this could be a one-sided championship. The Malaysian track is quite likely to allow other teams to close the gap, although the reigning world champions will be extremely difficult to beat. For one thing, the circuit will have better grip compared to Albert Park, since it is a permanent facility. Secondly, the temperatures on Sunday evening are expected to be higher than those we experienced in Melbourne, possibly helping out Ferrari and Mercedes. The two long straights will allow KERS and DRS to make a bigger impact this weekend after a rather underwhelming debut in Australia.

And yet, for all that, the RB7 demonstrated a crushing pace advantage even without the KERS, which was left unused owing to reliability concerns. So if Red Bull get it running reliably this time around, we could even see a repeat of the dominance witnessed a fortnight ago. Sebastian Vettel will be keen to maintain his flying start to the season, and Mark Webber will be burning inside after Seb beat him comprehensively in Australia. While both men will be eager to beat the other, they might be ambushed by one or both of the McLaren drivers. Lewis Hamilton demonstrated a remarkable turnaround in performance by the British team in the season-opener, and Button was equally quick.

Ferrari and Mercedes had a torrid start to the season, and I expect them to put on an improved showing in Malaysia. For one thing, the 2011 Ferrari is not slow – indeed, Massa was able to set fastest lap in Melbourne, and Alonso came back to 4th from 9th at the first corner. Their qualifying pace and tyre management were the main reasons for the lack of a competitive performance. Mercedes had setup issues on both cars rather than an outright lack of pace. So expect these two teams to return to the sharp end of the field at Sepang.

Apart from the higher track temperatures, the other factors favouring the chasing pack include the start of the race – Albert Park had a very short straight, and this negated the KERS boost, but Sepang will be a lot more conducive to KERS usage at the start. If RBR don’t get it working properly, McLaren and Ferrari will be all over their cars when the five red lights go out. The DRS will be put to better use here as well – the RB7 has poor straightline speed thanks to its high drag coefficient and could be a sitting duck on the two long straights.

All that remains now, is the question of rain. It is a matter of how much rain and when – not if – it will rain. The weather in Malaysia at this time of the year is quite peculiar – scorching hot in the afternoons and massive thunderstorms in the evenings. And there’s no question of a drizzle – when it pours, it turns the track into a proper lake. And conditions like these almost invariably produce mistakes in strategy, gambles from teams which have nothing to lose, and a crazy grid order for the race. Last year’s rain-affected qualifying made both McLarens and both Ferraris start from the back. This year it could even be Red Bull – and I for one, would like to see just how good the Red Bull performance margin is, in the wake of a slower car.

A storm could also make things easier for the ‘new teams’ to qualify – and maybe even score some points with luck. I just hope the rain isn’t so bad as to stop the race. Ideally we ought to have enough rain to shuffle the grid, but not so much as to cause a race stoppage. I would rather see Heidfeld, Petrov, Rosberg or Adrian Sutil winning for the first time than a Red Bull one-two in a dry procession.

Let’s have a look at the track and race details.

Session Timings

Race Local Time :

Friday, 8th April

Practice 1 – 10:00 to 11:30

Practice 2 – 14:00 to 15:30

Saturday, 9th April

Practice 3 – 13:00 to 14:00

Qualifying – 16:00

Sunday, 10th April

Race – 16:00

Indian Standard Time :

Friday, 8th April

Practice 1 – 07:30 to 09:00

Practice 2 – 11:30 to 13:00

Saturday, 9th April

Practice 3 – 10:30 to 11:30

Qualifying – 13:30

Sunday, 10th April

Race – 13:30

Weather Forecast

Source : BBC Weather

Circuit Details

Race Date : 10 Apr 2011

Circuit Name : Sepang International Circuit

Orientation : Clockwise

Number of Turns : 15 (10 Right, 5 Left)

Number of Laps : 56

Circuit Length : 3.44 miles (5.543 km)

Race Distance : 310.408 km

Lap Record : 1:34.223 – JP Montoya (2004)

Circuit Map

A flying lap of Sepang International Circuit with Alexander Wurz

“It’s usually very hot and humid in Malaysia, so the race is a big challenge for the brakes, the engine and also the drivers. The circuit is a great challenge too, so it’s a pretty full-on weekend for the teams.

To take you around the track: you arrive at the first corner in seventh gear, at about 310kph (192mph). There is a lot of grip from the asphalt, so you can brake really late before turning-in in third gear. The rear gets a bit light at this point. You then have the left-hander at Turn 2, which is the slowest corner on the circuit. It’s first or second gear, depending on your gearing, and it has a camber change in the middle, so it’s quite difficult to find the right differential set-up for it.

“Next comes a long right-hander, which is easy-flat even in the wet, and then you’re braking for the right-hander at Turn 4. The braking area is really bumpy, which makes it a bit tricky, and then comes a really nice part of the circuit.

“You enter Turns 5 and 6 in fifth gear, at 230kph (143mph), and the entry to turn 5 is almost flat so you really have to squeeze the throttle and make sure you have a very late apex. There’s an immediate change of direction and at this point we pull about 4.5g. You might touch the brakes to stabilise the car into Turn 6, which is incredibly bumpy and the rear gets very light. Don’t forget that we are still at 220-230kph (137-143mph), with not much run-off, and I really enjoy it!

“Then comes a double right-hander, which is easy to get wrong if you overdrive and it leads to a hairpin. It’s first or second gear and it’s very important to have a good exit because that gives you pure lap time.

“Then we go to another flowing section, which leads to the penultimate corner. It’s very difficult here because you enter it very fast and the rear gets very light. You have to brake down to second gear while turning and the car is oversteering the whole time. It’s very easy to overdo it. The last corner is another hairpin and we again brake very late, from 300kph (186mph), down to second gear.”

Source : Honda F1

On-board lap of Sepang International Circuit

Technical Requirements

Sepang is what can be termed a ‘complete’ circuit in its demands on the chassis. It has high-speed corners, rapid changes of direction (particularly turns 5 and 6), and slow hairpins. In order to achieve optimum performance for these contradictory requirements we must, as always, find the correct compromise on the car set-up.

The car must be stable and well-balanced in the fast corners, and in the braking zones for the slow corners. We will use relatively stiff settings to achieve this, while still maintaining them soft enough to have good traction in the slower corners.

We use medium high downforce to optimise the car performance in the high-speed corners and under braking.

This will be a key factor and will play a significant part in our set-up choices with the car. The quick corners coupled to high ambient temperatures put the tyres under significant loadings, and the rear tyres work particularly hard at this circuit. Tyre degradation will be a key parameter.

Given the high temperatures expected in Malaysia, the effective general cooling of the car will be a key to success this weekend.


Performance: With 72% of the lap spent at full throttle, Sepang is now one of the most demanding engine circuits of the year and represents a significant change to the V10 era. This is because of the high number of high-speed corners on the circuit.

Operating Range: The operating range of the engine is not particularly demanding at this circuit, as the engine is rarely used at very low revs. However, the high speed sections can pose their own particular problems, particularly through turns 5 and 6. The drivers use partial throttle openings at high revs on this part of the circuit, and if this is not properly managed, it can result in a phenomenon named ‘blow-by’ which can damage both the pistons and piston-rings, with gas escaping from the combustion chamber.

High Temperatures: More so than in Bahrain, we will have to contend with the acoustic offset caused by the high temperatures. The higher temperatures, and thus lower air density, modify the intake acoustics, and mean that maximum power is produced at higher engine speeds than at lower temperatures. This means the operating range is pushed higher than usual.

Cooling: If we need to use higher engine revs in order to extract maximum performance from the engine, this will require an increase in the already significant cooling capacity at this circuit. As always, the compromise on cooling will be between keeping the oil and water temperatures within their specified limits, and sacrificing a minimum amount of performance in order to achieve this.

Source : Renault F1 and Formula1.com

2010 Flashback – Qualifying chaos, Alonso’s drive without a clutch and Red Bull’s easy 1-2

The 2009 race in Malaysia was (literally) a damp squib for everyone, with the race being stopped due to a massive rainstorm and half points awarded. Last year, we had rain at the right time, in the right quantity, bang in the middle of qualifying. While Red Bull followed conventional wisdom and set a banker lap before the rain got worse, Ferrari and McLaren stayed in their garages, expecting conditions to improve. It proved to be a disastrous strategy call, and when the four cars went out towards the end of the session, the rain was so heavy that they were not able to even make it through to Q2. Jenson did, but he went off the circuit and took no part in Q2, so it was as good as being relegated. The result was that two Ferraris and two McLarens were starting from the back of the grid.

With a mountain to climb, all four drivers were expected to scythe through the pack. Unfortunately, Alonso’s clutch gave up the ghost at the start, putting him at a huge disadvantage straightaway. But the Spaniard showed tremendous skill and perseverance and drove around the car’s problems for the entire race distance. It reminded me of Schumacher’s spectacular drive at the Spanish GP of 1994, where he drove 42 laps of the race stuck in 5th gear. All we knew was that Alonso had a mechanical problem, since his car was emitting painful engine sounds every time he slowed down. Despite this problem, Alonso kept pace with his rivals, and even overtook Jenson after harrying the McLaren for several laps, only for his engine to blow up moments later. Irrespective of the result, it was the drive of a champion, and was one of the best drives of the season.

Far away from the chaotic midfield, Red Bull Racing notched up an emphatic 1-2, with Nico Rosberg completing the podium. Mark Webber, who started from pole, was disappointed to lose the win to his team mate, who started third, but after a poor start to the season, Red Bull were more than happy with the 43 points they went home with that day. With McLaren and Ferrari scoring just 12 and 6 points respectively, it was a profitable day for the Austrian team. Although the 2009 GP was a massive let-down, Sepang delivered a brilliant race in 2010. Hopefully 2011 will be even better. Watch this space.


One Response to “F1 2011 Round 02 – Malaysian GP Preview”

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