Drafting the Circuits
Formula 1 Report
Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix Preview
By Steve Aibel
The Heat is ON!
The Formula 1 championship returns for round 2 as the paddock moves from Australia to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. The Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix offers up the challenges of the Sepang International Circuit along with the heat, humidity and always a chance of rain….hard rain.
The Hermann Tilke designed circuit features 2 DRS zones that are essentially back-to-back. Using DRS on the first straight may result in a pass, but also presents an opportunity to re-pass immediately on the next straight. The circuit presents a mixture of low, medium and high-speed turns which make the teams strike a compromise between downforce and straight line speed.
Rain is usually a factor at some point during the race weekend. Last years qualifying was delayed due to rain. Pole position was settled in wet conditions as Lewis Hamilton secured the pole on Pirelli blue striped wet weather tires.
Many of the drivers have been in Malaysia training for the heat and humidity. Daniil Kvyat, who suffered a gearbox failure in Australia, remarked “it’s a tough race and challenging race for a driver because it’s known for being so hot. This is why we train quite hard and get our arses kicked during the winter season by our trainers! Sepang is one of those races where you see where you are in terms of your physical preparation.”
THE HEAT IS ON for Kvyat and Red Bull Racing.
Red Bull Racing has been very vocal in their disappointment with the Renault engine, which team principal, Christian Horner feels is holding back the team. The Renault power unit has struggled with power and drivability. This has hampered both Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso. This power differential in Australia was estimated at a 100 horsepower differential and may relegate Red Bull to a mid pack team which will not set well with the championship tone they bring to Formula 1.
Horner has been rallying his flag, trying to influence the FIA to implement measures that would restrict Mercedes and bring them back to the field. Horner remarked on changes made to the rules package when Red Bull and Renault were dominating between 2010 and 2013.
A title for Red Bull looks far away at the moment
“We had to adapt from fuelling to no fuelling, bodywork changes, double diffuser, no double diffuser, blown diffuser, engine mapping changes mid-season… you name it. Unless there is an intervention [from the FIA] like that, then we are set for a season with quite a broad running order.”
Sports are designed to maximize potential and Mercedes have certainly done so. Although this may make the year a bit uneventful, you don’t penalize great preparation, planning, and execution. It is the job of the field to catch the front running Mercedes. I would think that a race win would be somewhat hollow if Mercedes is limited to less than their full potential. Red Bull racing will need to set tight as Renault continues to develop their engine package.
Red Bull fans, cross your fingers!
But Red Bull is not the only team with something to prove in Malaysia.
For McLaren THE HEAT IS ALSO ON!
While Jenson Button finished in 11th position, he was the last car running at race end. McLaren’s qualifying pace was close to 3 seconds behind the pole time of Mercedes. And worse, poor Kevin Magnussen’s race ended on the installation lap when his engine failed. Since Magnussen was running Alonso’s car, this will leave Fernando with only three power units for the rest of the season when he returns to his race seat.
Hopefully the team will be buoyed by the return of Alonso in Malaysia. We are still waiting for confirmation that he will race this weekend. All indications signal a go! Reports from Spain indicate that he passed FIA medical tests on Sunday, March 22nd, which will indicate if he has fully recovered from the concussion suffered in testing. Three independent physicians from Cambridge University conducted the concussion tests. He will now need to demonstrate that he can extract himself from the car within 5 seconds for the FIA doctors and he will be good to go.
Alonso had a good day in the simulator practicing qualifying and race procedures and all indications are that he is ready to go.
So with Button and hopefully Alonso returning to the track for McLaren, the full power of the Honda engine will be tested. The two long straights at Sepang will test power of the Honda package. If they gets their engine to full song, it may be the first time we see what they have created.
McLaren ran their engine at less than full power to increase odds that it would finish in Australia. A successful race weekend this week would be cars that run at full power for some segment of the race weekend and two cars that finish.
Finally, THE MALAYSIAN HEAT IS ON for Manor!
Manor did an admirable job in bringing their team and cars to the opening Australian Grand Prix. But they never got them onto the track due to an IT issue. While a nice start, we will need to see the Manor entry on the track this weekend. With an untested chassis and a Ferrari engine with 2014 specs, Manor will certainly be a long way from being able to manage points.
Acquiring points, as was done by Jules Bianchi in Monaco in 2014, will be essential to the team’s success moving forward. Given that the paddock is much more competitive through the middle, a lone point or so will be unlikely to keep Manor in the top 10 for the year.
Who will win in Malaysia?
Favorable money is, of course, on the Mercedes squad. In a home race for the primary sponsor Petronas, Toto Wolff and Paddy Lowe have all the incentive in the world to duplicate the 1-2 showing from Australia. With Sepang being a power circuit, look for Mercedes to dominate as they did in 2014 when Hamilton and Rosberg took the top two steps of the podium.
We very well could see a repeat of last year’s podium if Sebastian Vettel does well for Ferrari. Williams would also be expected to do well in Sepang, but last year they struggled with an 7th and 8th place finish. I would expect more from them as the Williams FW37 is much more refined at this point of the season compared to last year.
On to Malaysia for round 2!
- Lewis Hamilton 25
- Nico Rosberg 18
- Sebastian Vettel 15
- Felipe Massa 12
- Felipe Nasr 10
- Daniel Ricciardo 8
- Nico Hulkenberg 6
- Marcus Ericsson 4
- Carlos Sainz Jr. 2
- Sergio Perez 1
- Mercedes 43
- Ferrari 15
- Sauber 14
- Williams 12
- Red Bull 8
- Force India 7
- Toro Rosso 2