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How the F1 teams will approach the Malaysian Grand Prix

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How the F1 teams will approach the Malaysian Grand Prix
Mar 21, 2012, 8:49 AM

This weekend F1 is straight back on track for the second round of the world championship at Sepang in Malaysia.

This weekend F1 is straight back on track for the second round of the world championship at Sepang in Malaysia. The teams will be dealing with a different kind of track, one with high energy corners, longer straights and one that punishes the tyres far more than Melbourne.

This Briefing is designed to give you the readers a closer understanding of what the teams aim to get right when approaching the race in terms of preparation and strategy planning.

Our Race Strategy Calculator has now been reset with Malaysia settings. This includes a sophisticated tyre model based on the performance of the Pirelli medium and hard tyres being used at Sepang. Three stops were the way to go last year, so when you've read our Race Strategy Briefing, why not have a go at finding the fastest race strategy for the weekend? You can try it out by clicking HERE

Track Characteristics

Sepang International Circuit; 5.54 kilometres. Race distance: 56 laps = 310 kilometres, 15 corners in total, a mixture of slow, medium and fast

Aerodynamic setup – Medium/high downforce. Top speed 312km/h (with Drag Reduction System on rear wing) - 300km/h without.

Full throttle – 70% of the lap. Total fuel needed for race distance: 153 kilos.

Time spent braking: 15% of the lap. 8 braking zones. Brake wear: Medium.

Loss time for a Pit stop = 16.5 seconds

Total time needed for pit stop: 22.5 seconds.

The pit lane speed limit in Sepang is 100km/h, which means faster pit stops than Melbourne.

Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.36 seconds (average/high)

The Sepang circuit is one of the first F1 venues to have been designed by architect Hermann Tilke and features his trademark long straights, hairpins and fast esses. It also has a distinctive first/second corner complex, which turns right and then left and always results in drivers winning or losing several positions at the start of the race.

The first and third sectors of the lap at Sepang feature long straights and hairpin bends, while sector two has some medium and high speed corners, which load up the tyres.

Form Guide

As far as drivers’ form is concerned at Sepang, Michael Schumacher has won the race three times, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel have won it twice while Jenson Button has also won here.

Likely tyre performance and other considerations

Pirelli tyre choice for Sepang: Medium (Option) and Hard (Prime)

Pirelli has chosen to bring the medium and hard tyres to Sepang, so a step harder on both choices than for Melbourne. The difference in terms of lap time performance between the two compounds is projected to be around 0.8 seconds on the first lap in qualifying and 0.6secs in the race, which is more than in Melbourne

Sepang has three major differences from Melbourne, which make it more challenging from a race strategy point of view: higher track temperatures, a rougher track surface and the presence of medium and fast corners, which load up the tyre. There is also the underlying threat of rain.

Temperature is critical; Sepang experiences track temperatures of up to 45 degrees, some of the highest of the year, which is at the top end of the tyres’ operating range. The opening stint with 150 kilos of fuel on board is very hard on the tyres. If it is cooler then the tyres will last longer and less stops will be needed. The pit lane time is short so that encourages more stops anyway.

The long straights at Sepang mean that the adjustable rear wing (DRS wing) is quite effective, making overtaking possible. This means strategists of leading teams will not have to be overly concerned about bringing their driver out from a pit stop into slower traffic. In qualifying the DRS is worth over a second per lap at Sepang.

Number and likely timing of pit stops

Last year Pirelli brought the soft and hard tyres to Sepang and the winning strategy was three stops by Vettel.

This year, because the tyres will be closer on performance there are a number of ways to approach the race, one of them to base a strategy on what happened last year with stops around laps 12, 23 and 40, running three stints on options and a final stint on primes (this is the default strategy in our Race Strategy Calculator). If you can get good life from the hard tyre a longer stint on that in the middle of the race could pay dividends at the end in terms of track position.

Rain can always affect the outcome at Sepang as it can come at any time and can be very intense. There must always be a degree of flexibility built into race strategy when planning for Sepang.

Teams will use the four hours of practice time to assess the fastest way to run a dry race; it will be important to establish how long the medium tyre will last in order to decide which strategy to pursue. It will be important to establish whether a pit stop might be saved by using the hard tyres earlier in the race and running long on them. This could save over 20 seconds plus help to gain track positions.

Chance of a safety car

The chance of a safety car at Sepang is incredibly low, by F1 standards, at 14% over last 7 years and an average of 0.1 safety cars per race. Where a safety car has been deployed it’s usually been because of heavy rain, as in 2009.

Recent Start Performance

Start performance is hugely important to strategy, as we saw with Button taking the initiative from Hamilton in Australia at the start. At Sepang it will be influenced negatively if teams do not have KERS or choose not to run it, as the run to the first corner from the start is quite long at over 600 metres. KERS confers a minimum 7-10 metres advantage over a non KERS car.

As far as 2012 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season as follows:

Gained

+10 Perez

+6 Massa, Glock

+4 Raikkonen, Alonso,

+3 Kobayashi, Pic

+2 Rosberg

+1 Button, Schumacher, Vettel, Maldonado, Kovalainen

Held Position - Di Resta, Petrov

Lost

-1 Hamilton

-3 Grosjean

-4 Webber

-5 Vergne

* Senna, Ricciardo and Hulkenberg were all involved in accidents on 1st lap

Pit Stop League Table

Of course good strategy planning also requires good pit stop execution by the mechanics and we have seen tyre stops carried out in less than two and a half seconds by F1 teams.

The league table below shows the order of the pit crews based on their fastest time in Australia from the car entering the pit lane to leaving it. The 2011 league table positions are in brackets.

1. Ferrari 21.910s (5)

2. McLaren 22.837s (3)

3. Red Bull 22.915s (1=)

4. Mercedes 23.017 (1=)

5. Williams 23.166 (7)

6. Toro Rosso 23.257 (8=)

7. Lotus 23.310 (6)

8. Sauber 23.832 (8=)

9. Caterham 24.397 (8=)

10. Force India 24.579 (4)

11. Marussia 25.046 (11)

HRT - No stop yet. Did not race in Australia

The Race Strategy Briefing is prepared by James Allen on F1 with input from strategists from several F1 teams

Why not have a go at trying to find the fastest strategy for Sunday's race using our Race Strategy Calculator. Click HERE

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