The Malaysian Grand Prix is the second round of the 2014 FIA F1 World Championship and – from a reliability point of view – far more of a challenge for the teams than Melbourne.
The intense heat and humidity will stretch the cars’ cooling systems to the limit. With the new hybrid turbo power units and the powerful batteries in the Energy Recovery System, cooling is critical this year.
We may see several teams being forced to open the bodywork to improve cooling, which will hurt their aerodynamic performance and in some cases the stability of the cars in the corners. The 2014 cars have less rear end stability already than the 2013 cars due to the removal of the exhaust blown diffuser and one element of the rear wing.
The new tyres from Pirelli look pretty durable; the medium tyre showed very little degradation in Melbourne, although the rougher surface and higher cornering forces of Sepang will stress the tyres more, especially the front left.
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.
The start is always critical here; the distinctive first corner turns right and then left and always results in a big change of field order, with drivers winning and losing positions at the start of the race. Collisions like Alonso’s which broke his front wing last year, are common.
The circuit features a number of high energy corners. 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.
Aerodynamic setup – Medium/high downforce. Top speed 312km/h (with Drag Reduction System on rear wing) – 300km/h without.
Full throttle – 65% of the lap. Total fuel allowed for race distance: 100 kilos.
Time spent braking: 15% of the lap. 8 braking zones. Brake wear: Medium.
Total time needed for pit stop: 22 seconds.
The pit lane speed limit in Sepang is 100km/h, pit lane length is 425 metres.
Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.36 seconds (average/high)
This is the 16th running of the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang. As far as drivers’ form is concerned; Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel have both won the race three times, Kimi Raikkonen has won it twice, while Jenson Button has also won here. Alonso, Vettel and Felipe Massa all have two pole positions at Sepang. Button and Lewis Hamilton have one each. Hamilton and Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg are both looking for their first win in Malaysia.
Likely tyre performance and other considerations
Pirelli tyre choice for Sepang: Medium (Option) and Hard (Prime) – this is the same choice as for the last two seasons.
This year, with the greater demands of the powerful hybrid turbo engines, the Pirelli tyre compounds are all a step harder than in 2013. Despite this, Pirelli has once again chosen to bring the medium and hard tyres to Sepang, the hardest compounds in the range, to cope with the high temperatures, abrasive surface and faster corners.
Temperatures are also raised by the high wheel rotation speeds on the long straights. And with the high levels of torque this year, wheelspin is a problem under acceleration; this also damages the tyre.
The difference in performance between the two compounds should be between 1.3s and 1.5s per lap, which is a very significant gap.
Teams will want to establish this during Friday practice. With limits on engine mileage this year, as there are only 5 power units per driver for the 19 race championship, they will not get a complete picture from practice, so tyre models will be vital. As we saw in Melbourne, it is essential to know how long the optimum stint length is on each tyre, to have an attacking race strategy.
The data on the Medium tyre from Melbourne showed that the longest stint was 25 laps by Jenson Button’s McLaren. Sepang will present a far stiffer challenge.
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 front left tyre is the most stressed at Sepang and can reach temperatures of 120 degrees centigrade. It is the fourth hardest track of the year on tyres (after Silverstone, Barcelona and Suzuka).
Number and likely timing of pit stops
The last two years have seen rain affected races, with multiple pit stops. If this year’s race is dry we can expect to see a two stop races, with teams using Medium-Medium-Hard as the preferred strategy. The performance gap between the two compounds is significant, so getting the right balance between an extra stop and a longer stint, losing time on the hard tyre will be vital.
From a strategy point of view a pit stop at Sepang is similar to Melbourne at 22 seconds. The long straights mean that the adjustable rear wing (DRS wing) is quite effective, making overtaking easy. So strategists can plan for the fastest race for their driver, without being concerned with losing time in traffic, unlike Melbourne, where it was very hard to overtake, even with a significant straight line speed advantage. On some laps, McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen had a 36km/h advantage over Daniel Ricciardo, but still could not pass him. That will not be a problem in Sepang.
The forecast for the weekend is for temperatures of 32-34 degrees, thunderstorms and a 60% chance of rain on race day.
Rain can always affect the outcome at Sepang as it can come at any time and can be very intense. For the last two years the race has been affected by rain. In 2012 the race was delayed by heavy rain. There must always be a degree of flexibility built into race strategy when planning for Sepang.
Chance of a safety car
Despite the weather hazards, 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.
Pit stop League table
A measure of the total time it took the team and driver to make their fastest stop, based on the car entering and leaving the pit lane. This measures the team effort, including the driver in getting the car into the pit box.
1. Ferrari -21.825s
2. Lotus – 22.264s
3. McLaren -22.273s
4. Red Bull – 22.427s
5. Force India – 22.497s
6. Marussia – 22.656s
7. Toro Rosso – 22.978s
8. Williams – 23.117s
9. Caterham – 23.238s
10. Mercedes 23.673s
11. Sauber 23.797s
Start League Table
An indication of trends of drivers gaining and losing places at the start. Where drivers have had first lap incidents which dropped them to the back of the field, they are not included above, but are detailed in the notes marked * below. This affects other drivers’ gains and adjustments are made for that, but the sample still shows prevailing trends of places won and lost at the start.
1. Bottas, Maldonado +5 places
2. Ericsson +4
3. Raikkonen +3
4. Rosberg, Hulkenberg +2
5. Magnussen, Chilton, Sutil +1
1. Hamilton, Vettel – 3 places
2. Alonso, Button, Vergne, Kvyat -1 place
Melbourne Notes: Kobayashi, Massa eliminated in a first corner accident; Perez, Gutierrez pitted at the end of Lap 1; Bianchi, Grosjean started from pit lane.
The Race Strategy Briefing is prepared by James Allen on F1 with input from strategists from several F1 teams, from JA on F1 technical adviser Prof Mark Gillan and from Pirelli