Insight: Why the F1 teams are treating Malaysia’s Sepang circuit almost like a new track
Insight
Posted By: James Allen  |  27 Sep 2016   |  1:06 pm GMT  |  67 comments

Formula 1 moves to this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix with the drivers’ championship finely balanced, but changes to the track surface along with a change of date and greater tyre options mean that the teams are treating Sepang almost like a new venue.

We saw at the last race how race strategy can fundamentally affect a race outcome and this weekend we are likely to see a different kind of Malaysian Grand Prix from previous years. For a start there are likely to be more pit stops as the inclusion of the soft tyre, along with the medium and hard, is set to mix up the strategies and a number of drivers will do at least three stops.

Williams has already cliched the fastest pitstops award, having set the fastest stop at 11 races this season, which cannot be beaten. The outright fastest stop this year was 1.92seconds set in Baku on Felipe Massa’s car.

Felipe Massa

Track temperatures are always a key factor; last year the dial hit 56 degrees and this caused problems for the Mercedes team, as it lost out to Ferrari’s Sebtastian Vettel, who was able to do one stop fewer than the Silver Arrows cars. Hotter track conditions are still a point of weakness for Mercedes, but Singapore showed that they have made improvements in this area since last year.

Mercedes can clinch their third consecutive constructors’ championship this weekend if they score 26 points, regardless of their rivals’ result. There are other permutations, but a win and a fourth place will give them the title with five races to go.

Unlike Singapore last time out, Sepang is a track on which you can overtake, so teams can go for an aggressive strategy, knowing that their driver will have a chance to cut through the traffic. Last year there were 56 overtakes in the race, putting it at the higher end of the scale. The relative levels of thermal degradation on the tyres experienced by the different teams plays a significant role in this.

Malaysian Grand Prix 2015

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 in which drivers damage their front wing as the field gets pinched into the left hand turn, after the initial right, are common.

The circuit features a number of high energy corners among the 15 turns in total. 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. Sepang is the fourth hardest track of the year on tyres (after Silverstone, Barcelona and Suzuka).

Malaysian Grand Prix in numbers:

This weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix will be the 18th world championship race held at the Sepang circuit, the first F1 track to be fully designed by Hermann Tilke.

Malaysian Grand Prix

The race, at 192.879 miles, will be the longest on the 2016 calendar in terms of distance, and it returns to an October slot for the first time since the 2000 event, which was won by Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher.

There have been eight 1-2 finishes at the Malaysian race across the 17 events held since 1999 with the victories spread across seven constructors (Ferrari in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2015, Williams in 2002, McLaren in 2003 and 2007, Renault in 2005 and 2006, Brawn in 2009, Red Bull in 2010, 2011 and 2013, and Mercedes in 2014).

The Mercedes team is highly likely to seal the constructors’ title at this weekend’s race. To stop the German manufacturer securing a third consecutive crown, Red Bull would have to outscore it by eight points, or Ferrari by 23, to keep the championship going on to Japan.

Lewis Hamilton Malaysian Grand Prix 2014

In the scrap for the drivers’ championship, Lewis Hamilton has good recent form at the 3.44-mile Sepang track. He won the 2014 race from pole position and the world champion has finished on the podium at every Grand Prix for the last four years in Malaysia. He also has scored points in each of his nine starts at Sepang and has secured three of the last four Malaysian poles.

Nico Rosberg, who now leads the drivers’ standings by eight points after his win last time out in Singapore, is hoping to take the victory in Malaysia to become only the third F1 driver in history to win four consecutive races twice in the same season. Only Schumacher (in 2004) and Hamilton (in 2014) have previously done so and they both subsequently went on to win that year’s championship.

Rosberg’s Singapore win was also his eighth of 2016, and no driver has ever won eight races in a single season without going on to claim the championship.

Jenson Button

Two other drivers can make F1 history this weekend. At McLaren, Jenson Button will become the third F1 driver in history to reach 300 Grand Prix starts. Only Schumacher (306) and Rubens Barrichello (322) have started more.

Valtteri Bottas will make his 72nd start for Williams, and as the Grove-base squad is the only F1 team he has driven for so far in his career, he will tie Jim Clark’s record with Lotus for the longest F1 career exclusively with a just one team.

What are you expecting from this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.

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1

With Rosberg winning so many races, and Lewis having the majority of the bad luck, if Rosberg fails to win the championship, think it says more about how phenomenal Lewis is than anything. What else can Rosberg do, from what we've read, he's focused and spends all his time working on F1, while Hamilton parties. He's won so many races, avoided bad luck, but still could come up short, think that hurt mentally if it happens.

2

I think it shows how hard Hamilton is on the equipment and how many mistake he makes.

3

Gary, you think Lewis' driving style caused his MGUH to fail?!

4

Yes, absolutely. As the MGUH is both a generator and an electric motor, it is entirely possible that in the pursuit of a faster qualifying time and/or for overtaking during the race that Hamilton elected to use a "higher mode" than the MGUH could sustain. Or it could be that he simply accidently chose the wrong mode. That could be time, load and/or rpm related and it could be in the harvesting or the generating modes.

5

Actually Gary it was traced to sub standard insulation within a batch.

Subsequently modified for 'extra' reliability.

But don't let that get in the way of a good dig.

Ask yourself how in your scenario rather than the above, it has not happened before, or since?

6

Gary. That really is nonsense, his MGUH failed in twice in qualifying when it would have been at the maximum anyway, and both times well before its intended working life had been completed. I realise that some people like to blame Lewis for everything, but I haven't heard one expert try and blame him for those failures. I am not aware of higher modes being available for the MGUH, my understanding is the amount of power it can generate is limited by regulation.

7

Gary's at least be consistently inane in claiming that Hamilton is responsible for his equipment failure.

Of course then he did say Chris Amon was unlucky in his era, an era where the driver was far more likely to contribute to mechanical failures.

Basically a poster conveying the message that he's not serious with most every post.

8

this is exactly the type of nonsense I comment against. why is it with you Lewis fans when rosberg had a chance of winning the championship with less wins than Lewis you guys were going on and on about how undeserving he was. the only reason Lewis got ahead was by crashing into him in Spain and disrupting his momentum. up till then rosberg was doing a good job. is it his fault that Lewis keeps crashing into other drivers like bottas etc or pushes his engine more. now he has an unfair engine advantage but you not commenting on how much fresher his engines are compared to rosbergs

9

Mostly dribble as usual, but I think you'll find that in 2014 I thought it would be bad if the title winner had 5 less wins (half) than the driver with most wins.

There have been a few instances where the title winner won less. The biggest gap was 3 race wins in 1987, when Mansell won 6 to Piquet's 3.

It would be bad if Nico won 12 and Lewis won 8 races yet won. It would take a DNF for Nico for that to ever happen though.

Ideally the title winner will win the most races, but taking into account Nico's three freebie wins (CHN, RUS, BEL), Lewis wouldn't be undeserving if he won 1-2 less.

10

Quite - it was really bad form of Hamilton to reverse into Bottas at the first corner like that. He should be banned from racing.

11

TG, I love how you complain about the lack of balance in jamie's comments with a rant full of half truths, wild exaggerations and downright falsehoods, all designed to portray Lewis in as bad a light as possible!

12

There you are

13

"Mercedes can clinch their third consecutive constructors’ championship this weekend if they score 36 points, regardless of their rivals’ result. There are other permutations, but a win and a fourth place will give them the title with five races to go."

Any 36 points will do, yes, but a win immmediately takes 10 points out of Red Bull's reach (i.e. their best remaining available result that race falls from 1st & 2nd to 3rd & 2nd), so a win and a _tenth_ place would be sufficient for the title for Merceds.

14

Where's Toto? I want to be reassured the championship is still on a knife edge!

15

Added to that you can't score 36 points in a race without one of your cars winning

16

Using you logic 538+26= 564
RBR 318+33(2&3) =351 at Malaysia
Big IF they win 5x43 or 215 total 566 & RBR can Theoretically still win by 2pts after Malaysia.. ouch wouldnt that hurt!.

The answer is 1st & 8th or 29pts as per my comment above

17

...and now I've got a headache...

18

Correction RBR have 316 pts so Mercedes would need 27 points or 1st & 9th to win by pt.

19

You've tried to correct A-P twice now and you're still wrong. Mercedes only need level points with RBR due to more race wins.

20

@Shalan- Why did you not correct James then? Or me 2posts ago . Its easy to rely on & pick apart the details of others & offer nothing yourself. Neither you or A-P broke it down when correcting the subject matter did you?

Besides, theoretically its not finished if you Tie on points and rely on countback of wins, because if for some reason Mercedes did not start a GP/s then it could then be disputed at year end on participation rules. I recall Marussia were going to lose that 1pt in 2014 and the prize money for not participating in the last few Gp's.

Dont come to the party empty handed!

21

Again, I still disagree. Even if Merc get 1st and 9th-- who's to say they won't lose more than 1 point for failing to start multiple races?
Marussia had 2pts in 2014 anyway. So surely you meant that they were going to lose both points.

In fact, who's to say they won't get disqualified like Mclaren in 2007? You still see teams celebrating with races to go even though they might get disqualified.

So really, your 1st and 9th doesn't actually cover anything...

The article wasn't explicitly incorrect. It said Merc needed 26 points (which I agree with and you disagree with) and that 1st and 4th will do (technically not incorrect but somewhat misleading as 1st and 10th will achieve the required 26 points in the "easiest" way).

22

Except RBR have 316 points, not 318...

23

I am expecting Mercedes pace advantage to continue in decline, giving rivals at least a sniff at victory. I am expecting at least one Mercedes to have a poor start giving us racing fans some hope throughout the race. The battle for the WCC was over in Australia and I could not care less which of the fortunate pair crosses the finishing line first for the WDC. If it does end up a bit boring after all, there is always the chance of a thunderstorm.!!

24

That's the thing, isn't it. "rivals at least a sniff at victory" ... we'd need just ONE car to get the lead. Being behind another car drops the Merc pace a great deal. Once that's done we need good strategy to keep that one car ahead ... and that's a problem as well so it would seem :p At least if it's a Ferrarri ...

25

Yes, Malaysia has been one of Tilkle better tracks as it has fast corners and is easier to overtake and with many pitstops expected, this can only lead to a thrilling race

With hot track temperatures being the norm, this would normally favour Ferrari as they're soft on their tyres however, their 2016 car doesn't appear to do so well in the hot

Regards Williams it's a shame they're good at the pitstops and yet their car isn't very competitive

As for the championship, it will be interesting to see if Rosberg can extend his winning run as he has had a 100% winning record in Asia in 2016.

26

They went well in Bahrain and Singapore, so their still pretty good in the heat. Its just that perhaps Mercedes have improved their hot weather running a little this year

27

@ Elie

I don't know maybe the tyres were made harder because we haven't had a situation were Ferrari are making one less pitstop

28

Spot on I believe. Mercedes have been fortunate for the last 3 years in that regard. They used to turn tyres into bubble gum after a handful of laps before Pirelli introduced the rock hard range.

29

@ goforet....remember what it was that ettore bugatti said when asked about how good the brakes were on his cars? ' I make my cars to go, not stop'!!!

30

@ kenneth

Cheeky comment from bugatti

31

Some Malaysia stats:

Been racing since 1999

a) Vettel 4 wins, Schumi 3 wins,
Alonso 3 wins, Kimi 2 wins

b) Ferrari 7 wins, Red Bull 3 wins,
Mclaren 2 wins, Renault 2 wins

c) The only back to back victors
are Schumi & Vettel

d) The only drivers to have won in
different teams are Kimi, Vettel and
Alonso

e) Ferrari hasn't gone more than 3
seasons without a win.

f) Whenever a number 1 driver has won from pole, he has also gone on to clinch the title e.g. 2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2011, 2013, 2014.

g) With the exception of Vettel in
2010, whoever has beaten the
pole sitter to the win, hasn't been
able to win the title e.g. 1999,
2002, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2008,
2012, 2015

h) Kimi has the record of having gone 5 seasons before his next win

32

What about Webbers win?
...err..!!!!

33

@ LKFE

But Webber's win got swallowed up by multi 21

34

Yes, that was my point. Still very painfull...

35

You need to enjoy the fresh air goferet.
Think you've been couped up in front of your computer too long 🙈🙉🙊

36

@ Fast Freedy

Hahaha unfortunately I am not an out doors fan

37

I'm hoping the change of month for this year's Malaysian Grands Prix and track changes provides some sort of adversity for Mercedes. The Mercs are even more dominant than ever, despite the improved racing this season has provided. Having said that, my predictions are if it's hot, Rosberg will win due to better tyre preservation, but it's wet, Hamilton will win due to his superior wet race record (Rosberg is still yet to win a rain-afflicted race).

38

i think you will find that the real reason the teams are treating Sepang as a new track is because it's been re-surfaced and many of the corners have been re-profiled, some from +2 deg to -3 deg of camber. The reprofiling is mainly to improve drainage. also half a kilometre of new kerbing has been laid. Even the pit lane has a new surface.

39

Yeah I was half way trough the article and was wondering ... so when are they going to mention all the track changes ???

40

Actually Mercedes need 29 pts to win championship or 1st & 8th
Mercedes currently have 538 +29=567
Red Bull is 318 +33(2nd/3rd) =351.
5 races x 43 (1st /2nd) =215 for a total of 566
Mercedes wins by 1pt

41

Correction RBR have 316 pts. Mercedes only need 27pts or 1st & 9th.

42

Oh dear Elie, a post about the Malaysian track and you've forgotten the importance of the 2003 GP - when a fresh faced, clean shaven Spaniard had his first pole position and led for the first time in a Formula 1 event, and when a fresh faced, clean shaven Finnish driver emerged victorious in a grand prix for the first time.....................how could you forget that??!! With the benefit of hindsight, the 2003 MAL GP was a changing of the guard, although no one could have known the implications at the time.

[Mod]

43

@Gaz Boy- Bwoah -I havent forgotten anything , I unfortunately referred to it in a previous post.

44

If you're going to correct someone, at least make sure your information is correct...

45

@Shalan- And if your going to correct me- tell us all what the correct details are. Rather than using peoples efforts against them.You've been trawling &criticising posts &offering nothing in return,
[mod] At least Ive made effort to explain myself- and I stand by my corrected posted for the reasons Ive mentioned elsewhere

Pot > Kettle> black

46

Said the 2 star via 5 star to the 4 star
I feel a Simon Cowell vote is on the Horizon from another 2 Star😄😄😄😄

47

56C track temperature...........that's toasty. Factor in a drivers seat is just a few inches off the ground, and you can understand why last year there were a few Kentucky Fried posteriors - Jenson Button grilled medium rare?

Racing drivers really do suffer for their art (or another a-word..........)

48

It's more than just a resurface that's been done. They added positice camber tI most corners to help with drainage, which will result in faster corner speeds.

The final hairpin has been reprofiled, and has significant negative camber. The braking zone is heavier and the traction zone is off camber.

The surface is also very grainy and porous, to help with wet conditions. Leads to high tire deg in the Dr though.

I learned all that from WSBK earlier this year

49

I'll never forget Schumacher first qualifying session since the leg break. Turns 7 and 8 with opposite lock on the wheel.

50

When I say opposite lock, I mean the wheel straight/slightly to the left when turning right. Full/half opposite lock in any track car is slow. He had that perfect amount of rear sliding when you just hold the wheel straight.

If there's one thing online racing has tough me. It's that the steering wheel is just a suggestion indicator for the car. "We are next turn right or left". The majority of the turning is done with your feet.

51

Or the way he bolted off into the distance at the race start to show his true form before slowing down and playing rear gunner for Irvine.

52

I'll never forget 2013....

53

And in the race he put on the finest no.2 driver performance ever seen. He would have lapped the field if he hadn't been helping Irvine.

54

Schumacher unintentionally humiliated Irvine that weekend. Schumacher was so much faster than Irvine he had to actually let Irvine by twice in order for Irvine to win!

55

Is there a video of this on youtube? I can't find it. I guess I'll have to load in my 1999 VHS season review now thanks to you!

I did find this little gem with an exciting car and steering wheel position 17s into the lap. Oh...that sound!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uoq5nvl3t4g&list=PLa28DiuCXaY2cu_4p5Pj1mEVwezrb4bYg

56

Sorry no you-tube video, (Haven't looked). I used to record all quallys and races. Hell, I don't even know where my Sepang 1999 video is right now.

57

Teams are treating it as a new track.
This will be good for Lewis.
Another superfast track for the Mercedes engines. Though cooling may be an issue for all cars.

58

'Teams are treating it as a new track.
This will be good for Lewis.'

Just out of interest, why do you think that's the case?

59

Valteri Bottas. 72 starts for Williams.
Once rumoured to be Ferrari bound, he must now think he is well and truly buried in the [Mod]-based squad.

60
Tornillo Amarillo

Rosberg’s Singapore win was also his eighth of 2016, and no driver has ever won eight races in a single season without going on to claim the championship.

But this season has more races...

Let me say it. I want Hamilton win this season. He wanted 3, but we are now and here for 4 crowns, like Prost, more than Senna.

After that, next year, it doesn't matter, it's enough, he can win more, but there are more fun around too.

Hamilton wanted a HAMILTON-VETTEL rivalry, but with Seb not havint a winning car, it doesn't really matter anymore.

Is it attractive to have HAMILTON-RICCIARDO rivalry, or HAMILTON-VERSTAPPEN, or or or.... There are no hard guys anymore out there, they "nurse" the car here and there. What is the point? Ricciardo got overtaken Bottas for P3 or P whatever and the journalist saying it was the pass of the siecle or something?

So, coming back to the point, I think it is good next year ROSBERG get his Championship if he insists in doing what he is doing now, while HAMILTON makes more and more money off track, in America. So Lewis would be in another level, a star, a legend, etc.

That's why Lewis need this one. I can cheer for Nico next year, no problem, for sure!!

61

It will be a great race.
Nico Rosberg will win and Lewis will sulk.
Vettel will use 800 words to answer a 5 word question.
Toto will try to convince us that's it's gonna be close.
Everyone at Mclaren will deny any Apple connection.
Bernie will say something stupid.

62

Dream on "F1 can maker"
Lewis doesn't sulk this season he has chilled into a mature champion.
Try looking at Rosberg👎 when he is telling tall stories regarding his radio messages📣 about full lock on the steering. Or when he has been schooled by a teenager in racing skills😨.
As for Vettel he can say what he likes he is a champion👍.
As for Toto what else would he say he has to neutral though he'll be giving Rosberg👎 a jaffa cake when he looses.

Mclaren and Apple is a no no. Will not happen. It's Dennis 👍trying to get his shares back from the Bahraini [Mod]👎.
Bernie saying something? I'll let you have that one 👏

63

The question isn't "will Bernie say something stupid?" It's "will Bernie kick any photographers?".

64

'when he is telling tall stories regarding his radio messages📣 about full lock on the steering'

Is it possible for you to post a comment without mentioning the above?

65

If this race is the one that gives Nico the momentum then fair play to him...leaving aside the whole the other issues (eg Lewis' car problems, the coming togethers -whoever faluts they were) ....but as a Lewis fan (or fan-boy as some call it) I am still hoping he wins.
Never been bothered by his off-track antics...I mean let's face it it was OK when James Hunt and Barry Sheen (boy-hood heros by the way) where cavorting around and getting up to all sorts of shenanigans but in the modern era when Lewis does it...it's akin to blaspheme hahahaha

Funny how no one has looked at the other side of his of track antics such as all the charity work he does. Interesting how comentators (from both sides) are quick to judge and only use 'facts' that suit their argument and casually ignore the rest.

On a last note, a lot has been said about Lewis' starts this year and to some extent it was the same last year as well. Fine, this year there was a change on the spring on the clutch on the steering wheel (if you can call it that...looks more like something out of KITT) but I remember not too long ago he was nailing his starts and the whole one lap thing but it was during the race where he would suffer....I distinctly remember folks saying he needs to concentrate on his race pace as well not just the one lap blast. What's happened? He's swung too far to the other side of the spectrum...he now nails the race or at least is more calmer and happier (so to speak) not to throw points away...but he doesn't nail quay. Yes I get the whole car issues thing...and yes to me he is still great to watch on the track but sometimes I think he needs to remember that it's a race weekend. I.e.no point getting pole if he doesn't nail the start the next day.

What ever happens I hope the next race is entertaining and eventful for all the right reasons.

66

Anyone got a weather forecast for the weekend?

67

Pray for rain, pray for rain, have I said I'm praying for rain?
Oh wait, hot damn, they don't race in the rain anymore......

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