Malaysia’s Sepang Circuit is quite interesting, and should be a better guide to the season as a whole than Australia. It also has quite a lot of straights, and this should help the Mercedes, particularly in qualifying when DRS can be used more than the race. So, we may well see a better qualifying than race performance from the Silver Arrows. The gearbox issue which afflicted Schumacher has been identified and is apparently a one-off (they had sound reliability in testing). Of greater concern is rear tyre shredding, which they think they can mitigate somewhat, if not eliminate. [There’s an interesting analysis of the issue here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/formula1/17484900]
Malaysia will see the medium compound return and the hard compound (last year’s medium) make its first appearance in 2012. However, degradation may still be a serious issue for strategy as the race tends to be very long and the heat means that the tyres won’t last as long as would otherwise be the case. In P2 Radio 5 had a Pirelli chap, and he revealed that teams saw between 0.1s and 0.9s divergence in lap time between the two compounds. So, as in Australia, the prime tyre might be better for the race, as lost time is not too bad and durability could be more important. People who start in 11th and 12th may be well-placed.
There’s just one DRS zone, on the starting straight.
Last year Vettel and Button had a strong performance in Malaysia, and both also had good races in Australia. The McLaren driver was adept at pulling out a lead from both the start and restart, and staying beyond the DRS window of the following car, suggesting the McLaren is good at rapidly warming tyres. He’s also good at managing them (as Vettel was last and probably this year). Webber did not seem to suffer serious degradation in the race (unlike the early part of last year) but he still leaves the handbrake on at the start.
Lotus could be the most intriguing team to watch. One driver had a stellar qualifying, the other a strong race performance. However, I wonder if they’ll suffer slightly from the extremely hot, humid and prolonged nature of the Malaysian Grand Prix. If they could manage to qualify and race well the car may well be capable of getting a podium, perhaps slotting between McLaren and Red Bull. They had a good race last year, when Heidfeld got a podium.
The practice times are still rather anti-social, but qualifying’s at the slightly more civilised hour of 8am, and the race starts at 9am. I might try giving RTL coverage a go.
No qualifying tip (again, due to the time difference). I’d guess it’ll be rather closer between the McLaren and Red Bull, but the Lotus and Mercedes could also be in the mix.
P1: Hamilton was fastest, followed by Vettel. Then were the two Mercedes, Rosberg and Schumacher, followed by Grosjean, Webber and Raikkonen. The top 10 were rounded out by di Resta Button and Hulkenberg.
P2: Hamilton fastest again, but this time followed by Schumacher. Button was just two one-thousandths behind the German, and followed by Rosberg, Ricciardo and Alonso. Webber, Vergne, Grosjean and Vettel complete the top 10.
It’s quite hard to read into practice, but both sessions were entirely dry at least. It seems that McLaren will remain the fastest, and Mercedes could do well in qualifying (although they seem to have a premium there due to the extra use of their DRS). Lotus and Red Bull could be in an interesting qualifying battle, but I’d be unsurprised if the entire top 8 were a mixture of those drivers in various positions.