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Formula 1: 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix Preview

Neil JamesFeatured ColumnistMarch 21, 2013

Formula 1: 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix Preview

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    Just a week after the season-opening race in Australia, Formula One heads to Asia for the Malaysian Grand Prix. The race will be held at Sepang International Circuit near Kuala Lumpur for the 15th time.

    Back-to-back races are popular with the fans, but they present a huge challenge for the teams.

    They have just four full days to dismantle, transport and rebuild their entire trackside operations. Add in the distances involved—Melbourne and Sepang are almost 4,000 miles apart—and it's a real test for the logistics guys.

    Some drivers and teams left Australia on a high, but it's far too early in the season for complacency. There are still more questions than answers, and we can look forward to another unpredictable weekend ahead.

As It Stands

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    Kimi Raikkonen swept to victory at Albert Park, followed home by Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel.

    Felipe Massa will have been pleased with fourth, and Lewis Hamilton sounded like he'd won the lottery after finishing fifth. Meanwhile, Force India can't have hoped for a better start.

    On the other side of the coin, McLaren have some serious work to do.

    The current standings are:

    Drivers

    Pos Driver Team Points
    01 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 25
    02 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 18
    03 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 15
    04 Felipe Massa Ferrari 12
    05 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 10
    06 Mark Webber Red Bull 8
    07 Adrian Sutil Force India 6
    08 Paul di Resta Forca India 4
    09 Jenson Button McLaren 2
    10 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1

     

    Constructors

    Pos Team Points
    01 Ferrari 30
    02 Lotus 26
    03 Red Bull 23
    04 Mercedes 10
    05 Force India 10
    06 McLaren 2

     

    Everyone else is without a point.

Sepang International Circuit

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    It's customary to refer to the Sepang International Circuit as "near" Kuala Lumpur, but it's actually around 40 miles away in the relatively small town of Sepang.

    The circuit was designed by track architect Hermann Tilke (before he started making all his tracks using a stencil kit), and it's widely regarded as one of his finest creations. Fast, flowing and aesthetically pleasing, the drivers love it, and it usually provides a good race.

     

    A Lap of the Circuit

    A lap begins on the pit straight, with a quite long run down to Turn 1. This is a really nice corner, a long right-hander which sees the drivers enter quite quickly and bleed off the speed as they go around it.

    It's especially challenging, because it doesn't have a "standard" line—the cars must keep to the right-hand side of the track, ready for the tricky left-hander of Turn 2 which comes as soon as the first corner ends.

    Position changes (and the occasional bump) into here are common on the first lap, as everyone fights for the best piece of track.

    Out of Turn 2, the cars accelerate through Turn 3, a long left-hander which leads onto a short straight towards the tight right-hander of Turn 4. If two cars are close together coming out of first two corners, this part of the circuit is a big overtaking opportunity.

    A very short straight is next, followed by the long, fast Turns 5 and 6. The track sweeps first to the left and then the right in a corner pair which truly show off the capabilities of an F1 car. No one brakes here—just a couple of mid-corners lifts off the throttle.

    This is one of the few places even an F1 beginner can really see the difference between a top car and a backmarker.

    Turns 7 and 8 are next, two quick right-handers. The cars always look like they're going to run wide on the exit of the first of these, and they quite often do. The second looks easier, but it's important to get it exactly right, because it leads onto a straight.

    Turn 9 is the slowest corner on the circuit, and a potential (but unlikely) overtaking spot. The track slopes upwards a little on the exit, and the cars always look awkward as they try to get the power down into the long right-hander of Turn 10—more an acceleration zone than a corner.

    Turn 11 is a medium-speed right which immediately follows 10. The braking zone is a little bit curved, and this makes it somewhat tougher to get right.

    A short straight is next, before another beautiful corner pair, Turns 12 and 13. Not too dissimilar to the Turn 5/6 combination earlier in the lap, they're two quick corners through which the drivers can carry plenty of speed.

    The first is a left-hander, then comes a very quick change of direction for the longer, more open right.

    Turn 14 is a tight left-hander which comes out of nowhere, right on the exit of Turn 13. Again the braking zone isn't perfectly straight, and it's very easy to ruin a great lap here by not quite getting it right.

    It was here that Sergio Perez made the mistake which almost certainly cost him the race win last year. While chasing down Alonso late in the race the Mexican went wide, lost five seconds, and eventually had to settle for second.

    A good exit from 14 is critically important, because next up is the long, wide back straight. Perhaps due to the nature of the preceding corners, we don't see as much passing down here as we might expect, but if the leading car is on old tyres it's certainly possible.

    At the end of the straight is the wide hairpin of Turn 15, a slow and relatively long corner which leads onto the almost identical pit straight.

    The pit lane entry is on the outside of Turn 15 (cars going in carry more speed through the corner as they only have to go around half of it), and the exit is just before Turn 1.

Tyres and DRS

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    The Sepang circuit is traditionally a tough one for the tyres, with an abrasive surface and long, fast corners which put tremendous amounts of energy through the rubber.

    With this in mind, Pirelli are taking the "safe" combination of the white-marked medium and orange-marked hard compounds.

    The hards have a different colour marking this year (they were silver in 2012), which will make them much easier to tell apart from the mediums.

    Last year's race was a mixed wet-dry affair, and how great an impact tyre strategy has will no doubt again come down to the weather.

    If the race is dry, Pirelli expect three stops to be the normal approach—but it'll be interesting to see if anyone can run a successful two-stopper, as Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus did in Melbourne.

     

    DRS

    Last year Malaysia had a single DRS zone. This year, it'll have two—and unlike in Australia, they'll have separate detection points (the point at which a chasing car must be less than one second behind in order to gain the use of DRS).

    The first detection point will be between Turns 12 and 13, with the zone itself covering the back straight between Turns 14 and 15.

    The second detection point will be in the middle of Turn 15, with the zone covering the pit straight between Turns 15 and 1.

    That's a huge amount of DRS (maybe too much), and it presents a little tactical dilemma.

    Anyone who was overtaken in the first zone will almost certainly be less than a second behind the car that overtook them in the middle of Turn 15. So they'll get DRS on the pit straight and have a great chance to instantly reclaim their position.

    Don't be too surprised if we see drivers deliberately not overtaking on the back straight to avoid this happening to them.

    Might make group battles a little bit more interesting, though.

Weather Forecast

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    Malaysia has a tropical rainforest climate, so it's never particularly dry, but rainfall is higher during the two monsoon seasons. The northeast monsoon produces more rain, and (very relevant to us) this lasts from October to March.

    So rain is a distinct possibility—and when it rains at Sepang, it really rains.

    BBC Weather, Accuweather and the Malaysian Weather Service agree that there's a chance of thunderstorms all weekend.

    The problem with thunderstorms is that it's very difficult to predict exactly where and when they will occur. But if one does hit the circuit, a big shake up in the order is almost guaranteed.

Session Times

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    As always, the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend will consist of three free practice sessions, qualifying and the race.

    Practice One Friday 10:00-11:30
    Practice Two Friday 14:00-15:30
    Practice Three Saturday 13:00-14:00
    Qualifying Saturday 16:00
    Race Sunday 16:00

     

    All times given are in Sepang local time. Formula1.com has a handy one-click tool to convert them to your own timezone.

    Enjoy the weekend!

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