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Malaysian GP set for thrilling McLaren in house battle
Posted By: James Allen  |  23 Mar 2012   |  10:27 am GMT  |  178 comments

Free practice on Friday ahead of Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix showed that, once again, the McLarens remain the team to beat. But the Mercedes looks quick too and the Red Bulls’ long run pace hints at the threat they could pose on Sunday, as long as they don’t give up too much ground in qualifying.

And after Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton’s opening round battle in Melbourne, we are set for another one here. In Melbourne Button set up his car with more wing than Hamilton’s to take care of the tyres in the race, while Hamilton took the pole. Here Hamilton will have to be on his guard for whatever plan his team mate is concocting about the best way to tackle this race. It looks like a three stop race, but the two tyre compounds are so close together in performance, there are a number of ways of doing the race strategy.

Lewis Hamilton topped the time sheets in both sessions, his time in FP1 a tenth faster than in FP2, with team mate Jenson Button also up at the sharp end, along with the Mercedes drivers.

Mercedes could challenge McLaren for pole, it seems, thanks to the gain from the passive F Duct and DRS system they have, but their tyre wear again looks more severe than McLarens with the result that their long run times are not as competitive as McLarens’ or Red Bull’s.

In overview, this track demands a car with lots of downforce, there’s less for the driver to do to make a difference than in Melbourne. Also the car has to be well balanced as the track causes significant degradation to the tyres. The afternoon was a session where many drivers were clearly unhappy with the balance of their cars, as we saw a far greater number of drivers coming in and out of the pits than usual for a Friday. Normally we see longer runs. We also saw drivers making use of the new rules which permit teams to use some of their Saturday tyre allocation on Friday. Most drivers used three sets of tyres, although McLaren used four.

Red Bull were pushing hard today, doing a great deal of work in the pits by their standards. Webber was 7th and Vettel 10th, complaining at one point about the balance of the car, calling it hard to drive.

Kimi Raikkonen’s chances of qualifying strongly were hit when he required a gearbox change at the end of the day, so he will take a five place grid penalty.

The Toro Rossos were impressive today, Ricciardo doing competitive times throughout the afternoon and managing to do long runs on both types of tyre. Team Mate Vergne was 8th. They will be worth watching this weekend. Ricciardo scored points in Australia and the pair of them to score more here.

Ferrari were also working very hard; they did back to back tests on a new front wing on Alonso’s car, the two time world champion ending the session 6th having tried two sets of hard tyres and one of mediums. Team mate Massa meanwhile ended up 16th, 1.3 seconds behind Alonso having used only the medium tyre in the afternoon session.

Kamui Kobayashi lost most of the session to a gearbox issue, but managed to get out with 15 minutes remaining.

Heikki Kovalainen also lost time with a hydraulics problem.

1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m38.172 28
2. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m38.533s + 0.361 34
3. Jenson Button McLaren 1m38.535s + 0.363 29
4. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m38.696s + 0.524 34
5. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m38.853s + 0.681 33
6. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m38.891s + 0.719 27
7. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m39.133s + 0.961 29
8. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m39.297s + 1.125 33
9. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m39.311s + 1.139 22
10. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m39.402s + 1.230 25
11. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m39.444s + 1.272 35
12. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m39.464s + 1.292 26
13. Paul di Resta Force India 1m39.625s + 1.453 20
14. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m39.687s + 1.515 16
15. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m39.696s + 1.524 29
16. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m40.271s + 2.099 27
17. Bruno Senna Williams 1m40.678s + 2.506 34
18. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m40.947s + 2.775 33
19. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1m41.464s + 3.292 25
20. Timo Glock Marussia 1m41.681s + 3.509 20
21. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1m42.594s + 4.422 18
22. Charles Pic Marussia 1m42.874s + 4.702 24
23. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1m43.658s + 5.486 18
24. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1m43.283s + 5.561 22

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Stone the crows

Kimi’s luck seems to be as good as ever!


Yep,its shaping up for a great season ahead. If,as it seems right now,mclaren are holding all the aces,then let battle commence! HamiltonVButton,death or glory!(only kidding)Interesting though that hamilton’s idol was a one a.senna,and so explains his driving style. There are comparisons. And then we have button with his admiration of a.prost’s driving,and again,the comparisons are there to be seen with button’s driving. Now i know some fans wouldnt want to see the bitterness,mistrust,and anger that summed up the senna,prost mclaren era? But for me,its like,bring it on lewis and jb. Formula1 has become very tame compared with back then. I dont think there would a much better narrative,if h&j fought in similar ways as their heroes. Actually,i see it more as their duty with us fans to win at all costs. Lets bring down the farce thats been those 2drivers so-called love in,at mclaren. No,what i want is swashbuckling action and daredevil manoveres! Lets make f1 angry and loud again!!


James (or anyone else) what is that lever that Michael Scumacher keeps operating on his left hand side – almost like a gear lever…. you can see him do this on the BBC inside coverage at 8 mins in… How come nobody mentions this?


Brake bias, front and rear. Many drivers do it


The concept of Red Bull being better in race trim than qualifying is going to taking some getting used to.


It’s great to see Jenson back on top

I think he has shown he is more than capable of having a really competitive season.


Hard to believe that LH has put his car on pole two sessions running and still he gets negative feedback??? I was never a believer in conspiracy theories but I am now wondering. Gary Anderson almost payed LH a compliment at one stage but then went into JB mode. F1 is about driving the fastest car the fastest but now it seems not!


James, great report on the FP!

Could you perhaps make the name of the teams bold for the lap time chart, thereby making it easier to read?

Thanks, keep up the great work!


I think kimi will be up there. He could possibly challenge for pole. Grosjean was less than 4 tenths down from the Macs in Australia. So I think Kimi has a very good chance to be at this stage 4 tenths quicker than Grosjean which would put him on pole for Melbourne and a real contender for pole here. There is no real sign so far that Kimi cannot contend for this pole. It would be a surprise for many, but a possible one.

Also I think hulk is on great form he should have a good weekend.



I was just playing with your strategy calculator. Very cool and fun tool. Is your team planning to build in more options in the future (i.e., qualifying position, taking into account possible strategy of other drivers, etc) or is this just a bit too much. Maybe it is. I had fun with the tool anyways. Thanks.


I can’t wait for quali tomorrow to put the RBR doubters in their place ;)Priceless.


hmm no mention of Timo splitting the two Caterhams? Only FP2 i know but still…Marussia only now in testing stages! The car looks solid to me.

James, i did a 3 stopper in your Race Strategy and my graph was over the default by some margin, is that good or bad? cant figure out if its supposed to be under or over to be better.

did lap 10(new soft)lap 24(used hard) and lap 40(new hards)


Over is faster. But did you use used options, as you would have to do after quali?


for the first stop? Why would i? they’re already on the car. The first pit stop is to swap those for different tyres…right?

So then you could ‘upgrade’ the RSC by including the tyres you want to quali on 🙂

…if thats what you’re referring to


Quote from Christian Horner on today:

“Hopefully with some productive discussion going forward a solution can be found to make Formula One cost-controlled for the top teams, but also make it affordable for the teams in the middle of the grid and at the back of the grid,” he said.

Well I got your solution: Reverse the prize money payout each season! Last place gets the most, winners the least. That should help.

No, too drastic? Ok how about a sliding scale of allowed budgets based on finishing position?

No? So then you don’t really mean it, do you, F1.

Didn’t think so.


James, would love to hear your prediction for the top three podium this Sunday? I’m going with Button, Hamilton and Grosjean.


Good call.

I’m going Hamilton, Button, Vettel


Solid line up James. We will see how things pan out. Two things – do you think the high heat in Malaysia will benefit teams the have trouble getting heat in their tires, as Ferrari seemed to in Oz after the safety car?

Secondly, I was hoping this week you might shed some light on the supposed cost cutting proposal letter that went to 10 of 12 teams except the two Red Bull owned ones. What is your opinion on Christian Horner’s speech about not receiving/ not agreeing? I mean which is it, the whole thing confused me. My current opinion is Red Bull are the most shady team in F1..

Tornillo Amarillo

Hamilton, Vettel, Button


I may be alone here, but am I the only one to note that at the end of FP2 when invariably teams do long runs the Williams cars where lapping consistently within a tenth or two (sometimes quicker) than Button’s McLaren and quicker than the tyre eating Mercedes? I’m obviously not aware of the respective fuel loads or tyre compounds but Bruno Senna validated what I saw by confirming the FW34’s long runs were good. If they can behave themselves during qualify & the race I think Williams could be as much a dark horse as Lotus, thoughts?


Great pace from the Mclarens they surely look like the car to beat especially in qualifying but as the BBC analysist Garey Anderson noted, in Melbourne, Vettel’s Red Bull was faster than Jenson’s car every lap of that race with the exception of the first lap.

So it seems the ban of the blowing of gases is affecting the Red Bulls in qualifying for their race pace is still there.

Of course will poor qualifying, this makes Sundays that much harder for those Bulls & can even lead to collisions within the pack.

Yeah with the Mercedes engine lock out in FP2 it’s quite clear they will have the upper hand this season especially on power circuits so the Renault engine teams are already at a disadvantage & this includes Red Bull.

Now, am not expecting miracles from Ferrari despite Alonso’s top 10 showing for not only did Alonso tell us not to expect any but also said the car is pretty much the same one from Melbourne so me thinks they took out some fuel for a glory run as a tribute to moto gp’s Marco because Alonso should really be around Massa’s vicinity.

Right, seeing as Mclaren has never been on pole at this track & also taking into account the fact that Hammy tends to have one problem or the other in qualifying at this venue in terms of penalties or rain, I say Mercedes & in particular Schumi is to pole this with the Lotuses not far off.

My prediction for qualifying









really?! Vettel was faster except first lap? You need to take another look at your figures. The fastest lap always takes place late in the race and was taken by Button which by my reckoning means Vettel must have been slower….


It’s unlike for Gary Anderson to get his fact wrong, but JB recorded a number of fastest laps and topped it off with the fastest lap of the race. 1m29.922s


Kimi has a five place grid penalty for a gearbox change which is a shame, hopefully he can fight through the field again.


Hope you had a good birthday gofe!

But..I don’t understand your logic. You say Alonso should be in Massa’s vecinity in terms of pace…but Alonso hasn’t been around Massa for more than a year…

I seriously struggle to understand the logic you go about..



But..I don’t understand your logic. You say Alonso should be in Massa’s vicinity in terms of pace


Why thank you, yes I sure did have a fun birthday, it almost felt like we were celebrating a WDC.

Whoops, I wasn’t clear in my comment.

I didn’t mean that Alonso should have shown the same pace as Massa but rather that Alonso should have ended FP2 outside of the top 10 e.g. In 12th place or 13th place.


Gofe..that’s exactly what I understood..and doesn’t make sense to me.

You say that they took the fuel out so Alonso would get a quick lap..because his pace should be where Massa’s is, right? But Massa and Alonso have been miles away from each other in terms of pace in the last year.

anyway..lets move on from this.


Hi James

Paul Hembrey said that the mercedes’ tyre degradation is being blown out of proportion. Do you agree with him? Why did we not see this being an issue during testing? What does it take to fix degradation?


Great comment and question I would also like to know how Mercedes would tackle the tire question. Great site James, the first one I go to for F1 news! Love it!



Precisely how much of a gain does Mercedes get from the passive F Duct and DRS system? Are we talking +10km/hr down the straight?

If so, and assuming the Mercedes’ tires last, they could be very difficult to overtake on Sunday and really screw Red Bull race strategy.


3 or 4 tenths in quali, not race


What’s the forecast like, I heard it could be a wet qualifying and race.


Hey James! Great article! I love how this season is starting out already with the boys at the top getting really mixed up. It’s going to be a great battle with McLaren and Mercedes really fighting hard with Red Bull. And some of these younger drivers are really looking impressive.

I wanted to let you know about my newly launched website for connecting F1 fans with drivers. I tweeted to you about it yesterday as well. Check it out at! Thanks!


This was a funny quote from Jean-Eric Vergne after the practice: “Since last year, I’ve driven the track at the simulator a lot, but they don’t have the heating turned to maximum in Milton Keynes!”


That is funny. Maybe funnier than Kimi’s blue flags or Alonso’s, “Ah yes, then there are the gravels.”


The Mclarens would go even faster if they had silver wheels instead of black.

Black wheels is a dated look

Cheers for Mac!


James, is there a view about what the weather will be like for race day? It’s always unpredictable but any insight what the teams are thinking?

Edouard Valentine

Hi James,

How much faster, over the duration of the race, is a three stop strategy over a two stopper assuming we do not have a safety car?


Try it for yourself on our Strategy Calculator –

Edouard Valentine

I did indeed try that – I can’t say I will be headhunted as a F1 strategist anytime soon.


4 stops worked for me!

I think that the story of this season will be the thrilling McLaren in house battle. It was already trilling enough last year…


Hi James

I went to the Melbourne Grand Prix and sat near the start of the main straight so I could see and hear the cars come flying down, slow and then speed up again. One thing I noticed is that both the McLaren and Mercedes AMG handled those corners beautifully. But my second observation and a question to you is that when the Red Bulls and Renault cars slowed they distinctively sounded different and to me sounded like they had or were using traction control – something that is very distinctive and I first heard at Silverstone so I know what it sounds like. Are you able to explain why they (Renault) sound different?


The reason is the Renault engines are still blowing, it is cold blowing only, and it is for reliability, it helps keep the exhaust valves cooler. This was the reason they couldn’t ban blowing alltogether last year, it would unfairly affect Renaults reliability.


Mercedes too have queried the Red Bull sound, although they suggested that the engine was being cut by more than four cylinders.

The FIA though have dismissed that theory.


OK, here’s my theory:

Just before they get to the braking point they lift early and cause the extra hot gases thing. These are immediately collected in a large balloon. When *in the corner they are throttle-legal and the balloon blows all those gasses into the diffuser.


I read its something to do with engine misfiring to create exhaust gas.


Running on less cylinders. Ted Kravits suggested they’re (legally) using it as a kind of traction control mechanism. Somewhat ironically as the cars are sliding all over the place! 🙂


You are not the only one who smells something fishy about RBR/Renault:


Mercedes have flagged this to the FIA (there is an autosport article about it), but the FIA have said there is nothing untoward.


Nice day for Hamilton, I really hope he will have a nice weekend as well.

I can only hope that I won’t see Nicole S. here (yes, I totally believe she is “evil” and the source of all Lewis’ problems).

It was funny reading Lewis is betting on a race setup, while Button bets on qualification))) Tomorrow is really going to an interesting day!

As a bit offtopic – I just read Massa’s excuses about his pace today… can’t wait for Ferrari to sack him for good.

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