It’s make or break time for Ferrari as they look to recover from their disastrous opening lap in Singapore. This weekend sees the Malaysian Grand Prix take place for the last time, a race that has been kind to Ferrari and Vettel over the years, with Ferrari notching up a record 7 wins here, while Vettel has the most wins of any driver here with 4. Of course, last year’s Malaysian Grand Prix didn’t deliver the best opening lap for Ferrari, so all eyes will clearly be on Sebastian Vettel to see if he can handle the pressure as the lights go out on Sunday. Not only does Vettel have the best record of any driver around Sepang, he also has a tendency to come good when the pressure is on in the run in to a championship. With all the talk of the dominant Red Bull which ‘won’ Vettel’s titles for him, it’s easy to forget that he had to come from behind late in the season for both his first title in 2010 and his third title in 2012, and when the pressure was on Seb certainly delivered, so all hope is not yet lost for a first Ferrari’s drivers champion since Kimi Raikkonen pulled off another amazing comeback in 2007! Lewis Hamilton was the man who lost that title, and will have to be on his guard if he is not to let another title slip through his fingers, so we are in for another fascinating race on Sunday. Red Bull can be expected to cause trouble as usual, and behind there will be interest in seeing how Pierre Gasly fares on his F1 debut, and if Jolyon Palmer can end his F1 season on a high, and possibly keep his F1 career alive into the bargain.
Sebastian Vettel is the man who holds the record for most Malaysian Grand Prix victories with 4, taking his first Ferrari win here in 2015 to add to the 3 he enjoyed while at Red Bull. Fernando Alonso has 3 wins with 3 different teams (Renault, McLaren and Ferrari), and is tied with Michael Schumacher, who would have had four had Ferrari not ordered him to support Eddie Irvine’s championship bid in 1999. Kimi Raikkonen has two wins (one each for Mclaren and Ferrari), while Lewis Hamilton has just the one Malaysian Grand Prix victory to his name back in 2014 for Mercedes.
Last year’s race saw heartbreak for Lewis Hamilton, as victory and any hope of a third consecutive championship was taken from as his Mercedes suffered an engine failure. Sebastian Vettel tried the Kvyat line into Turn 1 on the opening lap, bumping off Verstappen and torpedoing into Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes. Vettel was out, while Rosberg dropped down the order, it wasDaniel Ricciardo, who benefitted most from Vettel’s lunge to move into second place. Ricciardo would take full advantage of the track position, holding onto his second place after coming under pressure from a hard charging Max Verstappen, who had changed tyre strategy after losing out in the first corner incident. Max looked like he could at least keep Lewis honest to the finish, but would have to get by his team-mate first – Ricciardo held firm though as the two Red Bulls went wheel to wheel, and when Lewis engine went, it was game over, as the Red Bulls held station to record a great 1-2 result for the team, Ricciardo catching a break after losing out in Spain and Monaco earlier in the year . Rosberg recovered to claim third despite a penalty picked up for barging his way past Kimi Raikkonen, taking a major step towards the driver’s title along the way. Valtteri Bottas brought his Williams home in fifth place.
There is a long history of motorsport in Malaysia, with a non championship War Effort Johore Grand Prix being staged around public roads around Johor Bahru as far back as 1940. The Jahore Grand Prix was revived in 1948, with a revised course around the streets of Johor Bahru that ran along the seafront and through the town. The first event to carry the title Malaysian Grand Prix was staged on the Thomson Road Circuit in Singapore in 1962 which had staged an Orient Year Grand Prix in 1961. The Thomson Road race would be run under the banner Malaysian Grand Prix again in 1963 and 1965 before it was renamed the Singapore Grand Prix for 1966.
With the temporary road tracks being dangerous in nature a purpose built track was eventually realised when the Selangor government leased land for the construction of a permanent course at Batu Tiga, which was later renamed the Shah Alam Circuit . The Malaysian Grand Prix thus found a new home from 1968, when the non championship Malaysian Grand Prix would be staged at the Shah Alam circuit. A Malaysian Grand Prix was staged here ever year until 1982, with a further race to take the Malaysian Grand Prix staged there in held in 1995. The circuit is now gone, with the land being sold on for development after the lease was not extended by the government, houses now occupying the site of the former circuit.
In the early 1990s the idea of a staging a Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix started to gain traction, and after state-owned Petronas entered the sport backing Sauber in 1995, the push for a Grand Prix would eventually lead to a brand new track being constructed. Hermann Tilke designed the new track to be situated at Sepang close to Kuala Lumpur airport. The track, built onto an oil palm plantation, features two long straights connected by at one end by a tight hairpin, with a fast and flowing track winding around to connect the other two ends. It’s first grand Prix was staged in 1999, a race won by Eddie Irvine in a Ferrari but remembered for the return of Michael Schumacher from his broken leg. The track has hosted a Grand Prix every year since, and with the possibility of serious rain at the event has seen plenty of exciting action over the years.
Up until last year there were no major revisions to the Hermann Tilke track. Prior to last year’s race a major resurfacing job was carried out at the track which aimed to remove some of the existing bumps and reprofile the track to help improve drainage.
Malaysia is another tough test for the cars, with the conditions at the circuit providing a challenge for driver, car, power unit and tyres alike. The conditions here are hot and humid, and the drivers are in for another tough workout. There is 22 meters of elevation change around the circuit, with two long straights connected by a hairpin meaning plenty of work for the power units which will have to work hard in the humid environment. The tyres are worked hard here as well, with 15 corners of various demands to be negotiated, with two heavy braking zones at the end of the long straights
From the starting grid the cars have a long run into the first corner, and with plenty of room on the straight we should see the plenty of movement as the cars fight for track position heading into Turn 1. Turn 1 is a long curving right hander that winds around and heads down into Turn 2, a looping left hander. Turn 1 should see plenty of overtaking attempts during the race, as the start finish straight is one of the DRS activation zones, and moves can carry over into Turn 2, with Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India keeping the inside line to Turn 2 and refusing to yield to Daniil Kvyat’s Red Bull here in 2015 as Kvyat went past on the inside in Turn 1, with the Red Bull bumped into a spin and Nico handed a penalty as a result. From turn 2 the cars curve right on exit down to the lowest point of the track, Turn 3, a flowing right hander, where Nico Rosberg bumped a disgruntled Kimi Raikkonen out of the way last year. Exiting Turn 3 leads onto a short straight climbing back uphill before braking hard into Turn 4, a tight right hand bend, which famously saw Sebastian Vettel run around the outside of Mark Webber in 2013 after ignoring the Multi 21 team order to hold station behind Webber.
The next section of track witnessed another great Red Bull battle last year, as Ricciardo and Verstappens went wheel to wheel through Turns 5 to 7 in what would turn out to be the crucial moment of the race on lap 39, with Ricciardo holding his place and setting up the win.
Out of turn 4 the the cars rise over a crest before dipping down into Turn 5, a long looping left hander that winds into a fast right hander Turn 6. Valtteri Bottas managed to go around the outside of Williams teammate Felipe Massa at Turn 5 in 2015 to snatch a place on the last lap having gotten better traction out of Turn 4. Out of Turn 6 on the kerbs the cars blast down a short straight into Turn 7 and 8, a pair of right handers. Turn 8 was the scene of Vitaly Petrov’s Renault performing a bounce back in 2011 as he ran wide and then launched over a bump in the grass as he tried to rejoin, the force of the impact breaking the steering column in the Renault! Exiting Turn 8 leads out onto a straight, the cars making their way across the track on the approach to Turn 9, a slow left hander.
Turn 9 then opens out into Turn 10, a curving right hander that winds the cars around to a tight right hander Turn 11, the highest point on the track.
The cars then drift across the track heading back downhill on another short straight before Turn 12, a quick left hander that feeds past the DRS detection point into the long right hander Turn 13. The cars wind their way around Turn 13 and head into Turn 14, a tight right hander that leads onto the back straight, which is the first DRS activation zone. Turn 14 being the corner where Sergio Perez hopes of a maiden victory were dashed in 2012 as he ran wide while hot on the tail of Fernando Alono’s Ferrari in the closing laps.
At the end of the straight the last bend, Turn 15 awaits, a tight hairpin that doubles back onto the start finish straight and the second DRS activation zone, with the pit entry on the outside on the entry to the corner. While taking advantage of the DRS on the run down to Turn 1 is the standard way to get ahead, Sebastian Vettel demonstrated that Turn 15 can be an overtaking spot itself in 2015, as he used the grip from his fresh tyres to sail up the inside late on Nico Rosberg and effectively held off Rosberg’s attempts to get back using DRS on the start finish straight.
TYRES WITH PIRELLI:
Having been one of the pioneers of Formula 1 in the Far East after joining the calendar in 1999, the Malaysian Grand Prix runs for the last time this weekend. This year’s tyre nominations are one step softer than last year, with the P Zero White Medium, P Zero Yellow soft and P Zero Red supersoft selected: the same combination last seen in Italy. The Sepang track underwent some significant changes in 2016, being entirely resurfaced to remove many of the bumps that were formerly a key characteristic of the circuit, originally built on a swamp. However, the tropical and humid weather, with regular monsoon-like downpours in the afternoon, remains a notable feature.
THE THREE NOMINATED COMPOUNDS
1/ Red SUPERSOFT
2/ Yellow SOFT
3/ White MEDIUM
THE CIRCUIT FROM A TYRE POINT OF VIEW
- The resurfacing also reduced the high level of asphalt roughness Sepang was noted for, helping make a softer tyre choice possible.
- With the new asphalt now being a year old,the ageing process may have given it different characteristics to last year.
- The new asphalt also means that the camber and lines of some corners are now faster than in the past.
- Malaysia’s tropical weather makes use of the wet weather tyres quite likely.
- When it’s dry, track temperatures are high, leading to thermal degradation. At 59 degrees, last year was the highest track temperature seen all season.
- Two stops won last year, but tactics were also influenced by virtual safety cars
MARIO ISOLA – HEAD OF CAR RACING
“The Malaysian Grand Prix we saw last year was somewhat different to previous seasons, thanks to its return to an autumn slot and the comprehensive resurfacing work that took place in 2016. This also had the result of improving drainage: an important aspect at a circuit where it can rain so heavily and frequently. However, the characteristics of new asphalt can change from one year to the next, so it will be interesting to see what the effect of this is. This year we are bringing the softest selection of tyres ever seen in Malaysia, which we expect to result in even faster lap times, with the supersoft used there for the first time. Consequently, all previous strategy calculations will have to be adjusted, making the work done in free practice particularly important”
- Supersoft tyres come to Malaysia for the first time.
- Following all the work last year, there are no major modifications to Sepang this year.
- Pirelli celebrated to more championships recently: Audi claimed its ninth title with Pirelli on a Blancpain GT Series by winning the sprint championship, while Italy’s Tamara Molinaro took the Ladies Trophy on the European Rally Championship.
SEPANG INTERNATIONAL CIRCUIT MINIMUM STARTING PRESSURES (SLICKS)
21.5 psi (front) | 18.0 psi (rear)
EOS CAMBER LIMIT
-3.25° (front) | -1.75° (rear)
Ferrari shot themselves in the foot in Singapore, the one track where Mercedes were expected to struggle after the summer break, and will need to be on top of their game if Sebastian Vettel is to rekindle his championship hopes. While Mercedes will look better here than in Singapore, Ferrari are certainly continuing to push their development all the way to the end of the season in the hope of ending their long wait for a drivers championship, and combined with Sebastian Vettel’s superb record in Malaysia (read more), will be optimistic of their chances of taking the fight to Mercedes on merit here. Malaysia is always tough on the cars, and the high track temperature should be expected to play into Ferrari’s hands, although Mercedes do not look as vulnerable in this area as they have done in the past – we can still expect to see drivers having issue with tyres, which could mix things up during the race. With the threat of rain or safety cars, there is always the possibility of a surprise result – conditions which last year’s winner Daniel Ricciardo is developing a knack for exploiting! Max Verstappen has looked really strong here in his two appearances, and will be desperate to get a result, so Vettel best make sure he keeps an eye on his mirrors at the start this time if he is to avoid another first lap collision!
2013 – Multi-21 – Sebsatian Vettel takes things into his own hands after receiving an instruction from the pit wall to hold station behind team-mate Mark Webber – Vettel took the win en route to the title, Webber would not win again in F1.
2012– Alonso magic lifts Ferrari as first win slips away from Sergio Perez (read more)
1999– 1st Malaysian Grand Prix – Schumacher and the art of defensive driving (read more)
There will be no F2 or GP3 in Malaysia this year, so the support races will be provided by the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia, which is heading towards its season climax, and the opening rounds of the F4 SEA (South East Asia) championship.
In the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia Martin Ragginger took a pole to flag victory in Singapore to boost his championship hopes, moving him to within a point of Chris van der Drift, who had had to settle for second on the day. Will Bamber came through to take the final podium place to keep his championship hopes alive, and he now sits 17 points behind van der Drift with only 3 rounds remaining.
|2016||Daniel Ricciardo||Red-Bull- TAG Heuer|
|2013||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
|2011||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
|2010||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|