How the F1 teams will approach the Malaysian Grand Prix
Strategy Briefing
Posted By: James Allen  |  21 Mar 2012   |  8:49 am GMT  |  130 comments

This weekend F1 is straight back on track for the second round of the world championship at Sepang in Malaysia. The teams will be dealing with a different kind of track, one with high energy corners, longer straights and one that punishes the tyres far more than Melbourne.

This Briefing is designed to give you the readers a closer understanding of what the teams aim to get right when approaching the race in terms of preparation and strategy planning.

Our Race Strategy Calculator has now been reset with Malaysia settings. This includes a sophisticated tyre model based on the performance of the Pirelli medium and hard tyres being used at Sepang. Three stops were the way to go last year, so when you’ve read our Race Strategy Briefing, why not have a go at finding the fastest race strategy for the weekend? You can try it out by clicking HERE

Track Characteristics
Sepang International Circuit; 5.54 kilometres. Race distance: 56 laps = 310 kilometres, 15 corners in total, a mixture of slow, medium and fast

Aerodynamic setup – Medium/high downforce. Top speed 312km/h (with Drag Reduction System on rear wing) – 300km/h without.

Full throttle – 70% of the lap. Total fuel needed for race distance: 153 kilos.

Time spent braking: 15% of the lap. 8 braking zones. Brake wear: Medium.

Loss time for a Pit stop = 16.5 seconds
Total time needed for pit stop: 22.5 seconds.

The pit lane speed limit in Sepang is 100km/h, which means faster pit stops than Melbourne.

Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.36 seconds (average/high)

The Sepang circuit is one of the first F1 venues to have been designed by architect Hermann Tilke and features his trademark long straights, hairpins and fast esses. It also has a distinctive first/second corner complex, which turns right and then left and always results in drivers winning or losing several positions at the start of the race.

The first and third sectors of the lap at Sepang feature long straights and hairpin bends, while sector two has some medium and high speed corners, which load up the tyres.

Form Guide

As far as drivers’ form is concerned at Sepang, Michael Schumacher has won the race three times, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel have won it twice while Jenson Button has also won here.

Likely tyre performance and other considerations

Pirelli tyre choice for Sepang: Medium (Option) and Hard (Prime)

Pirelli has chosen to bring the medium and hard tyres to Sepang, so a step harder on both choices than for Melbourne. The difference in terms of lap time performance between the two compounds is projected to be around 0.8 seconds on the first lap in qualifying and 0.6secs in the race, which is more than in Melbourne

Sepang has three major differences from Melbourne, which make it more challenging from a race strategy point of view: higher track temperatures, a rougher track surface and the presence of medium and fast corners, which load up the tyre. There is also the underlying threat of rain.

Temperature is critical; Sepang experiences track temperatures of up to 45 degrees, some of the highest of the year, which is at the top end of the tyres’ operating range. The opening stint with 150 kilos of fuel on board is very hard on the tyres. If it is cooler then the tyres will last longer and less stops will be needed. The pit lane time is short so that encourages more stops anyway.

The long straights at Sepang mean that the adjustable rear wing (DRS wing) is quite effective, making overtaking possible. This means strategists of leading teams will not have to be overly concerned about bringing their driver out from a pit stop into slower traffic. In qualifying the DRS is worth over a second per lap at Sepang.

Number and likely timing of pit stops

Last year Pirelli brought the soft and hard tyres to Sepang and the winning strategy was three stops by Vettel.

This year, because the tyres will be closer on performance there are a number of ways to approach the race, one of them to base a strategy on what happened last year with stops around laps 12, 23 and 40, running three stints on options and a final stint on primes (this is the default strategy in our Race Strategy Calculator). If you can get good life from the hard tyre a longer stint on that in the middle of the race could pay dividends at the end in terms of track position.

Rain can always affect the outcome at Sepang as it can come at any time and can be very intense. There must always be a degree of flexibility built into race strategy when planning for Sepang.

Teams will use the four hours of practice time to assess the fastest way to run a dry race; it will be important to establish how long the medium tyre will last in order to decide which strategy to pursue. It will be important to establish whether a pit stop might be saved by using the hard tyres earlier in the race and running long on them. This could save over 20 seconds plus help to gain track positions.

Chance of a safety car

The chance of a safety car at Sepang is incredibly low, by F1 standards, at 14% over last 7 years and an average of 0.1 safety cars per race. Where a safety car has been deployed it’s usually been because of heavy rain, as in 2009.

Recent Start Performance

Start performance is hugely important to strategy, as we saw with Button taking the initiative from Hamilton in Australia at the start. At Sepang it will be influenced negatively if teams do not have KERS or choose not to run it, as the run to the first corner from the start is quite long at over 600 metres. KERS confers a minimum 7-10 metres advantage over a non KERS car.

As far as 2012 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season as follows:

+10 Perez
+6 Massa, Glock
+4 Raikkonen, Alonso,
+3 Kobayashi, Pic
+2 Rosberg
+1 Button, Schumacher, Vettel, Maldonado, Kovalainen

Held Position – Di Resta, Petrov


-1 Hamilton
-3 Grosjean
-4 Webber
-5 Vergne

* Senna, Ricciardo and Hulkenberg were all involved in accidents on 1st lap

Pit Stop League Table
Of course good strategy planning also requires good pit stop execution by the mechanics and we have seen tyre stops carried out in less than two and a half seconds by F1 teams.

The league table below shows the order of the pit crews based on their fastest time in Australia from the car entering the pit lane to leaving it. The 2011 league table positions are in brackets.

1. Ferrari 21.910s (5)
2. McLaren 22.837s (3)
3. Red Bull 22.915s (1=)
4. Mercedes 23.017 (1=)
5. Williams 23.166 (7)
6. Toro Rosso 23.257 (8=)
7. Lotus 23.310 (6)
8. Sauber 23.832 (8=)
9. Caterham 24.397 (8=)
10. Force India 24.579 (4)
11. Marussia 25.046 (11)

HRT – No stop yet. Did not race in Australia

The Race Strategy Briefing is prepared by James Allen on F1 with input from strategists from several F1 teams

Why not have a go at trying to find the fastest strategy for Sunday’s race using our Race Strategy Calculator. Click HERE

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Hello everyone,

I’ve run all the strategies posted here for Malaysia on the simulator and drawn a classification on how the race could have ended with those strategies:

P = Prime

O = Option

UP = Used Prime

UO = Used Option

The winner is… Nigel!

+0,00 Nigel (3) 12/27/42 P/P/P

+0,70 Horno 12/29/46 P/P/O

+1,10 Kristian 13/30/45 P/P/P

+1,65 Nigel (4) 14/30/44 P/P/P

+2,85 Eawn 12/32/48 P/P/O

+3,25 Supercujo 10/30/45 P/O/O

+3,75 Nigel (2) 15/33/48 P/P/O

+4,10 Nigel 15/37 P/P

+4,35 Glennb 16/37 P/P

+4,85 Simmo 14/38 P/P

+6,85 Ryan Eckford 12/24/36/47 O/O/P/P

+7,50 Soren Kuhle 19/39 P/P

+10,95 Chris 14/26/40 PU/P/PU

+11,25 Sam 11/26/42 UO/O/P

+13,20 DC Corey 20/40 P/O

+16,10 Anand Murthy 13/27/41 UO/UO/P

+16,85 Sam (2) 12/24/40 UO/UO/P

+18,25 JAF1 default 15/26/42 UO/UO/P

Nigel won with a 3-stop strategy, but he also devised the best 2-stop strategy, slightly faster than Glennb 2-stop.

The 3-stop could have been actually a little bit faster with the following strategy:

11/27/42 P/P/P

which is 0.15 faster than the winning one.

Looking at the strategies, it seems that Prime tires were often a better choice than Options; despite the rain, this was also somewhat confirmed in real race, infact JA wrote in a recent post:

“Nevertheless in that final stint we saw something that gives great encouragement for the season ahead. After six laps we had reached a crossover point where the hard tyre was the faster tyre than the medium. This is something Pirelli had been hoping to achieve this year and it will make the strategies extremely interesting.”

I can’t wait to see if this is confirmed in the next race, it looks very interesting for strategies 🙂



I note that the ‘select’ option in the simulator allows only the current race.

Would it be possible to leave up the option for the previous race as well, so that we can check how close it was to actual race data ? (I understand it’s not going to be exact, as track conditions, weather etc are not entirely predictable ahead of the race.)

It’s a really good feature, anyhow. Thanks.


We thought about it and will leave it up for a week or so after this race, then switch to Shanghai when the Strategy Briefing comes out on Tuesday before the race


James, Next time you speak to Paul Hembery, can you ask him if Pirelli are looking at changing the colours of the sidewalls of the medium and hard tyres. They look too similar on TV.

Theres many other colours they could use..such as orange or even pink


Will do


My prediction, in China, Hamilton will be unbeatable. Can’t say about this race, but come Europe Redbull will be a lot closer to Mclaren.. Yet this is a Mclaren year.


Quali: 1 Ham 2 But 3 Vet 4 Web 5 Sch

Race: 1 But 2 Vet 3 Web 4 Ham 5 Sch



James, love the website and really happy you’ll still be reporting for Ten here in Aus this year. I especially like the Strategy Reports and other analysis.


Thanks for your input


James, German news sources have reported on Mercedes having discovered a very strange engine noise on Red Bull cars during Vettel’s overtaking maneuver in Australia. Any substance to this allegation?


yeah it was vettle screaming 🙂


Based on what we’ve seen in pre season and Melb I wont be surprised to see both of the Merc’s on the front row here. Now if they can manage their tyre issue then we should be in for a great race…. a sprinkling of rain would also spice things up nicely for the race 🙂


Michael on pole this weekend… Anyone?


Would be fantastic!


Thanks for the feature, great info as always.

Interesting that Ferrari had such incredible pit stop times – almost a whole second quicker than the next best team.

Looking forward to seeing what Bruno can do this weekend in that wonderfully quick new Williams 🙂


I read somewhere that either Perez or Sutil is ready to replace Massa at Ferrari. Well, the sooner the better!


Which issue of ‘Somewhere’?


Will we see a change in trend come qualifying? If McLaren show and feel that they have an advantage during the free practice sessions, will they attempt to run the slightly slower but more durable Hard tyre in Q3? Even if they fail to take pole but manage both cars in the top 4, that will put them in a prime position for race day. A 2 stop strategy based on a longer than normal first and second stint followed by a change to the Medium tyre for the final shorter stint is surely a possibility. Mercedes will be strong in Qualifying but will they fail to deceive come race day? Probably, unless they opt or are forced to adopt a 3 stop strategy. The nature of the circuit coupled with the abrasive surface, the extra heat and the fact that tyre wear is greater on the W03 compared to its rivals, may force Mercedes into a 3 stop strategy. Redbull may approach the weekend as a damage limitation weekend and opt for the strategy that gets them most points knowing that a win may be slightly out of reach. The weather may also have a say with what happens on race day. Either way, its going to be intriguing to watch.


WRT the two stop strategy. That would require huge amounts of intestinal fortitude to take that gamble.

I can’t see any top running team roll the dice like that this early in the season.


One thing I am strugging to understand at the moment is that no one seems to be commenting on the fact that the Mercedes DRS activated “F-Duct” will only really give them a big advantage in Qualifying, where they are allowed to use DRS all over the circuit. They will be able to qualify artifically higher on the grid due to the all over track advantage from the device when DRS is allowed, but in the race they will only get this once a lap if following someone closely (in Sepang at least)… So I expect Mercedes to go backwards in the races until everyone else has this device for Qualifying too… Am I right or am I missing something??


If Mercedes take 1-2 it is likely that in first stint we will have “Truly train” because now one will be able to overtake Mercs on straight… Supposedly Mercedes will go first for new tires and one who get his tires better preserved during “Truly train” will have advantage of a few laps more before pit…


This topic has been done to death – everyone agrees with you. Check out the “Button Bragging Rights” post…..



Webber has confirmed (already reported) that he did not have KERS during qualifying in Melbourne so his effort was pretty good. Do you know or can find out if it was an overheating problem again with the system or something else? Was it the same issues as last year?

RBR made the comment that they had no issues with it in testing however the much colder temp in testing may have helped.

Going to the Malaysian heat again with KERS issues will seriously derail any chance they have in quali and the start as you pointed out and then passing in the race.


James, in their Malaysian GP preview, Team Lotus claim that the tyre options for Malaysia are soft and hard Pirellis, not medium and hard as you say.


Must be a typo. Pirelli issued the tyre choices with medium and hard.


No, it doesn’t seem to be a typo. This what they say:

[quote] Pirelli’s soft and hard compound tyres will be used in Malaysia, meaning a greater gap between compounds than in Albert Park where soft and medium were used. The track is very demanding on tyres due to its aggressive surface, heavy braking areas, long straights and wide variety of speeds and corners.[/quote]


Well it’s not correct. It’s medium and hard. Sorry


Just read Pirelli’s preview. The Paul Hembery part states soft and hard tyres will be used.


Paul Hembery was quoted on Formula 1,com as saying “even though there is a whole step missing between the soft and the hard compounds that we have chosen for the race”

I also think it is soft and hard.


James, if the new f duck on the merc is going to give a resonable speed advanage when using the drs, is this not a bit of a disadvantage during the race, as their gearing will be a little more compromised when not using drs?

thanks fraz


I have a quick strategy:

Lap 14 – Primes

Lap 38 – Primes

The benefit of this is you do less pit stops, because you stay out for much longer on primes. You gain lots of time by skipping the second pit phase by being on less wearing primes. This means that you are more or less the same after your final stop, but they still need to pit.


Hi James, are we going to see an epic battle within the Mclaren camp?….

Was Australia GP more to do with set up work on Hamilton’s car was perfect for one lap and not the remainder of the race? or was the gap their due to fuel saving?

Are we also going to find out soon if Hamilton will be continuing with Mclaren for 2013 and beyond or will he join Mercedes or Ferrari?



I tried a two-stop strategy, coming in on lap 20 and bolting on a set of new primes and again on lap 40 for a set of new options. The simulator puts this strategy fractionally ahead of the default strategy.

Of course I’m assuming I had a set of options available that late.

Give it a try and see what you get.

Love the simulator. Haven’t tried it before. Your site continues to raise the bar of F1 coverage with terrific information, analysis and features. Very much looking forward to the next podcast.

p.s. any chance of a fan forum in Montreal?


I love how you change the header pic for every race! Excellent preview of the race just by looking at each pre-race event pic!

Nice touch.


Hi James any chance I can update your logo? Happy to do it for free. Just email me if your interested.


Hi mark, I would suggest maybe submitting James or the website some of your concepts & ideas via email rather than asking him on here?


A fast qualy lap with their DRS downforce balancing system, and then a massive top speed advantage on the 2 boulevards, sorry, straights, I like Mercs chances…


In my honest opinion, I personally think that Mercedes have an Achilles heel with race tyre degradation. They may prove strong in qualifying but I think they will fade during the race, forcing them into what may be an extra pit stop compared to its rivals. If this does happen, they may be very quick in the closing stages of the race and make things interesting.


Well even Mercedes admit they were caught out & surprised by the tyre wear at Melbourne, all indications from testing were that Mercs were using their tyres well, so it might have been more to do with the low grip surface of Melbourne, especially with all the rain that cleaned the track repeatedly over the weekend.

Quite a few teams seemed to have the same issue at Melbourne, whereas Lotus & Mclaren seemed to be the only teams that didn’t really have tyre wear issues at Melbourne.


However, when you also consider…

(1) Mclaren were veery fast, even though they were down on fuel/in fuel saving mode for large part of race

(2) Merc tyre wear/degradation problem

…you start liking Mclaren chances much more.


So Red Bull are saying they could have gone faster and are a match for Mclaren. Face saving bulls**t, Red Bull are desperately putting on a brave face but they know they’re on the back foot. Desperately trying to hang on to the top dog tag even after it has been lost. They were 7 tenths down in qualfying and slower than a Mclaren saving fuel on the slower tyre in the race. That’s about how much Red Bull were ahead of Mclaren at the same stage last season and see what happened.

Red Bull are behind and they have known it for a while. That’s the real reason why they introduced the RB8B and wanted to test it in private together with Ferrari. Adrian Newey is back with another dog and soon they will have their hands full of Lotus and Mercedes. No wonder all threats of protests over the Mercedes rear wing? They are on the back foot alright and bravado won’t change anything.


I wouldn’t be counting any chickens yet. If Red Bull follow form, they’ll spend whatevers needed to be in front again.

Maybe I’m cynical, but haven’t they been questioned by other teams, the last 2 years, as to their proper spending?

With them and Ferrari out of the RRA, who’s checking their accounts anyway?


I gave it a try, and you can come out 15 seconds ahead of the default with a 4 stop strategy. I can’t imagine anyone actually trying it in the race but think of the fun we would have trying to figure out everyone’s relative position if some teams ran a one stop (Sauber comes to mind) and some went for four (Ferrari seems to have some tire issues).


MSC did it a couple of years back (Canada, I think) with a risky 4 stopper and came out tops! But that was on the old Bridgestone with compounds different from today, ie cliffs were gradual…


The strategy calculator is a great feature. I’m not sure I understand everything about it yet, but I had fun playing with it.

In the model used is the fact that the track is rubbering in taken into account?

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