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F1 cars set to be three seconds faster thanks to Malaysian GP track changes

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F1 cars set to be three seconds faster thanks to Malaysian GP track changes
Sep 29, 2016, 10:46 AM

This weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix is set to see some very fast lap times after the first day of practice running on the newly resurfaced layout b...

This weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix is set to see some very fast lap times after the first day of practice running on the newly resurfaced layout by GP2 and GP3 cars showed a surge in pace.

In a break with tradition due to a packed support race schedule, the GP2 and GP3 cars practiced on Thursday afternoon in Sepang. The GP2 front runners lapped in 1m 42s, which is comparable with the fastest lap in last year's Malaysian F1 Grand Prix set by Nico Rosberg.

F1 teams say that their simulations showed an improvement of around three seconds a lap due to the changes and the GP2 experience would seem to bear that out, perhaps even under rate that. Last year's qualifying session was wet for F1 here, but in FP3 the Rosberg did a 1m 39.6s. So assuming a standard improvement of around 1.5s from FP3 to qualifying, the pole time would have been around 1m 38s and therefore we are looking at a comparable time of around 1m 35s or below this year.

Then consider that the qualifying tyre this year will be the Pirelli soft, which is 1.5 secs faster than the medium that the F1 cars used last year for qualifying as well as the improvements in the ERS systems and chassis from 2015 to 2016 and we get close to the lap times from the V10 era. Pole in Spain this year, which also saw softs instead of mediums for qualifying, was 2.6 seconds faster than in 2015.

For reference, Michael Schumacher's pole lap in the V10 era in 2004 was 1m33.074s, while in the V8 era in 2012 Lewis Hamilton set a pole time of 1m 36.219 in the McLaren.

The F1 drivers are all agreed that the changes to the Sepang circuit will make a significant difference,

Jenson Button

"It’s [the new track surface] dark so that’s a major difference. The temperatures are going to be very high on track, which obviously has quite a big effect on the way the tyres work, " said Jenson Button.

"It’s very smooth, from what I see. Obviously we’re going to try and watch every practice session that runs today. You get a better understanding. What else? And the last corner is obviously very different with the off-camber but yeah, I don’t know if it’s similar to Sochi or not but it seems like it, the bitumen, the way that the asphalt is. So it might be a completely different circuit, but we won’t know until tomorrow, probably get a bit of an understanding from watching GP2 and GP3."

Sepang F1

Nico Rosberg added: "It will be a big challenge because it will be very different and we all need to adapt to the new asphalt, which we don’t know how it’s going to handle here."

* While Jenson Button has ruled out taking an updated engine this weekend and associated penalty, it looks like Fernando Alonso will take the new unit, which will give him a stronger performance at next weekend's Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka, Honda's home race.
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