Malaysian Grand Prix Preview

The 15th round of the 2017 Formula 1 season will take place this weekend at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia. The Malaysia GP is hosted at one of the first tracks designed by Hermann Tilke. The 19th running of the Grand Prix will be the last one at this circuit as the contract with FOM (Formula One Management) Group has not been renewed by the circuit owners.

Malaysian Grand Prix Preview

The History

The inaugural race in Malaysia was held at the custom built track near the new capital Putrajaya in 1999. The race was won by Eddie Irvine for Ferrari. The race was held in the early part of the season with the Australian and Chinese races from 2001 onwards. From 2016, the race was moved back to later in the season and combined with the Singapore and Japanese races. The teams move to a venue which features energy-sapping heat and humidity with the monsoon rains never far away. In 2009, the race was red flagged after lap 33 and half points were awarded for the Drivers’ and Constructors’ positions. The high temperatures and the nature of the track in Sepang places heavy stresses on the engines.

The Teams and Drivers

Ferrari is the most successful team at this venue with seven wins. They are followed by Red Bull Racing with four wins in the last seven years. Sebastian Vettel (2010, 2011, 2013, 2015) heads the leader board at Sepang with four wins. Fernando Alonso (2005, 2007, 2012) and Michael Schumacher (2000, 2001, 2004) have won thrice there. Kimi Raikkonen (2003, 2008), Lewis Hamilton (2014) and Daniel Ricciardo (2016) are the other winners on the current grid.

The Circuit

The 5.543 km track is a typical Tilke-designed circuit with twisty corners and hairpins punctuated by long straights. The Sepang circuit has a mixture of 15 slow, medium and high speed corners and two long straights which demand a medium to high downforce setup. The technically challenging circuit and the searing heat in Malaysia take a heavy toll on the engines and tyres. 65% of the lap is run on full throttle at high temperatures, putting a lot of pressure on the engines. The brake wear is medium.

Sector 1 (Turn 1 to Turn 3) starts with a long pit straight leading into the tight right-hand corner at Turn 1. The wide nature of the track makes overtaking into Turn 1 possible and this leads to the tight left-hander at Turn 2, followed by the downhill drop to Turn 3 and a short straight.

Sector 2 (Turn 4 to Turn 9) starts with the sharp ninety-degree right hander at Turn 4. Then a series of twisty corners from Turn 5 to Turn 8 will pose a challenge to the cars with less rear downforce. The sector ends with the hairpin at Turn 9.

Sector 3 (Turn 10 to Turn 15) starts with the gentle right-hand corner at Turn 10. This leads to the tight corners from Turn 12 to Turn 14, followed by the long back straight. The final hairpin at Turn 15 leads to the start-finish straight.

There are two DRS zones in Sepang. The DRS detection point is between Turn 12 and Turn 13 and first DRS activation point is after Turn 14. The second DRS activation point is after Turn 15. The track has good overtaking opportunities and pole position is not as important here.

Tyre Strategies

Pirelli tyre choices are the white-striped medium tyres, yellow-striped soft tyres and red-striped supersoft. The supersoft tyres is the tyre of choice with a majority of the drivers leading the way with seven or more sets of supersoft tyres of the allocated 13 sets for each driver. A two pitstop race is predicted. The heat and the hairpin bends combined with high speed corners and abrasive track surface bring about a lot of tyre degradation. The weather forecast for the race is high temperatures, high humidity levels and scattered thunderstorms. The chances of a Safety Car is high at this race is high.

Current Form

Mercedes (475 pts) has extended its lead to 102 points over Ferrari (373 pts) now. Red Bull Racing (230 pts) continues to have a lock on third place. Force India (124 pts) is in control of fourth place, followed by Williams (59 pts). Sauber bring up the rear of the field with five points.

The shambolic start at Singapore saw Ferrari score zero points in Singapore on a track where they were favourites. Mercedes capitalized on the misfortune of their rival to stretch their lead by 40 points over Ferrari. The Italian team comes to a track again in Malaysia where their high downforce car will have an edge over Mercedes. The track also suits the characteristics of the RB13 and their drivers will be a big factor in Malaysia. Ferrari must win this race to keep their hopes alive in both championships.

Lewis Hamilton (263 pts) has stretched his lead to 28 points in the drivers’ title race. Sebastian Vettel (235 pts) has a lot of ground to make up now. Valtteri Bottas (212 pts) is in third place and has edged closer to Vettel while Daniel Ricciardo (162 pts) and Kimi Raikkonen (138 pts) complete the top five in the drivers’ championship.

Hamilton secured his 70th pole by the tiniest margins over Raikkonen in qualifying for the Malaysia Grand Prix. The two Red Bull drivers are on the second row of the grid. Vettel, due to an engine problem, could not set a time in Q1 and starts at the back of the grid. This means that he will now have to look at damage limitation and hope for a good drive in a fast car to catch Hamilton.

With a chance of rain during the race, it could be a very interesting race on Sunday.
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