After unsettled weather on Friday and Saturday, conditions on race day were warm and fine with the track temperature reaching 46°C at the start of the race. Softer slicks front and rear were preferred by the twenty-three riders contesting the Malaysian Grand Prix, with only two riders selecting the harder rear slick option, and just five riders opting for the hard compound front tyre. Strong tyre performance at Sepang resulted in new qualifying and race lap records being set and an overall race time eighteen seconds quicker than the previous record.
Q&A with Masao Azuma – Chief Engineer, Bridgestone Motorsport Tyre Development Department
What challenges does the Sepang circuit provide for Bridgestone in terms of tyre development and were you happy with tyre performance last weekend? “Sepang is only moderately severe circuit on tyres, but in combination with the hot Malaysian climate the venue does present us with some challenges.
“Our tyre allocation was well suited to the conditions we had at Sepang last weekend and overall performance was good. Many riders complained about the bumps in the braking zones this year, but new qualifying and race lap records were set and the overall race time was also the quickest ever at this circuit. Rider feedback after the race was that the tyres offered strong, consistent performance over race distance so I am happy with this result.”
How does the deteriorating condition of the track surface at Sepang influence tyre choice? “Last weekend the condition of the circuit was a factor in front tyre selection as in contrast to most other races this year, the majority of riders selected the softer of the two front slick compounds available. Sepang features heavy braking zones and some fast corners which would normally suggest the selection of the harder option tyre for maximum braking and cornering stability.
Last year, more than half of the riders had planned to use the hard front tyre for the race if it was dry. This year however, due to greater amount of bumps in the braking zones, the preference this year was for the softer option, medium compound front tyre. This is because most riders felt the more pliable rubber of the softer option was better at absorbing the bumps, giving riders greater control when entering the corners.
Curiously, of the five riders that chose the hard compound front slick for the race, four were CRT entries, so depending on machine specification and setup some riders felt the hard option offered an advantage over the soft. Also, after the race some riders commented that the grip level of the track on Sunday wasn’t as good in comparison to Saturday. We think this was due to the overnight rain and this is something we’ve experienced before at this circuit.”
Temperatures were warmer on race day than on Friday and Saturday. Did this have an effect on tyre choice? “Track temperatures on Sunday for the race were about five degrees warmer than seen in qualifying, which wasn’t a big enough increase to have an effect on tyre choice.
As the riders mentioned that on Sunday grip levels were lower than on previous days and also considering the aforementioned bumps, the softer slicks were always going to be the preferred option. Our slick allocation for this race was towards the harder end of the scale and only if track conditions were in the mid-fifty degree range would we have perhaps seen a shift towards the harder slick options.”