Rain may be the single biggest factor in Malaysia. Last season it was so torrential the race had to be stopped halfway through and half-points were doled out. This may present an opportunity for wise (and perhaps numerous) tyre changes, as well as making it likelier that a safety car will be needed.
But, before we get into that, here’s how practice went.
A dry session which saw McLaren and Mercedes do very well, with Hamilton leading followed by Rosberg and Button, with Schumacher in 4th. Kubica and Sutil were 5th and 7th respectively, and the Ferraris seemed a bit off the pace, Alonso coming 8th and Massa 11th.
Also dry, which may make predicting the race or qualifying tricky if either is wet. Once again, Hamilton topped the timesheets, with Vettel in second, followed by Rosberg, Button and Schumacher (identical to P1 save for Vettel coming 2nd). However, both Red Bulls had reliability issues, with an engine/gearbox problem (probably) for Webber and power steering issues for Vettel. Alonso was 7th and Massa 15th. Kubica came 6th and Sutil 10th.
Webber led, followed very closely by Hamilton, who was just ahead of Vettel. Button came 4th followed by Schumacher, Rosberg and Massa came in 8th. Barrichello, Kubica and Sutil came I in the 9th to 11th spots.
BBC – heavy rain showers
Wunderground – 40% chance of a thunderstorm at 5pm, 30% chance at 2pm
Weather-forecast.com – rain showers
So, it looks like rain is a distinct possibility for qualifying, but not an absolute guarantee. The effects of rain should be borne in mind for qualifying bets, but shouldn’t be the sole factor considered.
I’m backing Hamilton for pole. He topped two sessions and came a very close second in P3. He’s also good in the wet, and probably feels he has something to prove after Australia. I’ve backed him at 5.6, and would readily take 5 or over [does make me wonder whether I should’ve just backed him after P2 when he was 6.8 though].
I’ve also laid Massa to get into Q3. Bit risky, but on average worth it, I feel. He was 11th, 15th and 8th, which average between 11th and 12th. Laid him at 1.18 after P2, though presently he doesn’t have good lay odds. I’d try to lay at 1.2 or less, if possible, and wouldn’t go over 1.3.
Other bets I looked at were laying Vettel at 2.4 for pole or backing Webber at about 7. Decided against both because Vettel has done very well in qualifying, despite his car consistently exploding in-race, and Webber has less chance than Hamilton despite being fastest in P3 (he came 6th, and 20th earlier).
It’s possible, perhaps even likely, some cars will go off at turn 11 and escape the rather feeble gravel trap there, as many have during practice. Be interesting to see if the Red Bulls get through without any issues.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on qualifying, hopefully one or both will come good. It starts at 9am UK time, hence the earliness of this article.