The Malaysian Grand Prix – what can we expect?


Tyre management could be crucial this weekend. Photo credit: slitzf1 via photopin cc

Andy Alston

With the first race of the season now behind us the Formula One circus stops in Malaysia this weekend with many predicting another exciting event.

The Sepang circuit is notorious for its extreme weather conditions and the physical demands it asks of the drivers and this weekend could throw up some more surprises.

Last year a three stop strategy proved to be the winning formula in a race that experienced both wet and dry conditions with tyre management proving to be a decisive factor with Fernando Alonso taking the chequered flag.

Race strategy could be key in determining the outcome of this race as the track surface is one of the more punishing on the tyres and McLaren will be hoping that their driver pairing of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez, who are both well-known for their excellent tyre management, can improve on their disappointing ninth and 11th place finishes in Australia.

The circuit’s physical demands are still fresh in the memory for Jean Alesi who was on the grid in the inaugural race in 1999.

Now a brand ambassador for Pirelli, he is expecting another tough race for the drivers this weekend.

He said: “Physically it is one of the most demanding races on the calendar. Like Albert Park, Sepang is by no means a ‘typical’ circuit, so what we will see happening this weekend is probably not going to be representative of the rest of the season.

“However, it will certainly show you who has a strong car and a good ability to manage the tyres. With more degradation this year, knowing how to manage the tyres becomes an even more important skill and Malaysia puts the spotlight on this.

Fernando Alonso won last year’s event. Photo credit: Izwa Izar Izhar via photopin cc

In the heat and humidity of Malaysia the driver is presented with a variety of obstacles. Along with the typical heat produced by the car’s electronics, the driver’s physical exertion during the race combined with the fact that he is wrapped in several layers of fireproof clothing, the cockpit can become an extremely hot environment for the driver and they can lose up to two kilograms of fluids during the race.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the rain would simply cool down the drivers however the humidity cancels out any hope of significantly lowering temperatures inside the cockpit.

“If it really starts to rain hard then there is absolutely nothing you can do,” added Alesi. “It is just a question of trying to survive so we could have a very interesting result depending on who makes the correct tyre choices.”

Even though the track was resurfaced in 2007 and generally provides high levels of grip, the frequent downpours of rain means that any rubber laid down on the track is regularly washed away meaning that grip can vary during the race. Drainage systems around the circuit often fail to work to their full ability resulting in large patches of standing water often forming throughout the circuit.

With a combination of the weather, tyres and physical demands placed on the drivers, it looks like this weekend’s race could be decided from the pit wall and team tactics could be what decides the outcome of this unpredictable event.