Start, Sepang International Circuit, 2014

Reliability will be top concern after Australia failures

2015 Malaysian Grand Prix preview

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Start, Sepang International Circuit, 2014A small field and a high retirement rate meant there were almost not enough cars to fill all the points places at the Australian Grand Prix.

And it won’t get any easier for the teams at the second race of 2015 in Malaysia this weekend. The suffocating humidity and heat at the Sepang International Circuit wrings the life out of cars, and teams will be pushing their cooling solutions to the maximum.

Each driver has just four power units to see them through the season and some teams have already been forced to eat into that allocation. Any losses incurred now will hurt them later in the year, although the cancellation of the German Grand Prix will slightly ease that pressure.

It isn’t just the cars that suffer – the drivers will too, especially Fernando Alonso and Valtteri Bottas who are due to return following their injury-enforced absence from the opening round.

The other challenge drivers can expect to face at some point during the race weekend is rain, which tends to fall in heavy bursts in the later afternoon at Sepang. The teams have not yet had significant wet weather running with their new cars.

Sepang International Circuit

Lap length5.543km (3.444 miles)
Distance56 laps (310.4km/192.9 miles)
Lap record*1’34.223 (Juan Pablo Montoya, 2004)
Fastest lap1’32.582 (Fernando Alonso, 2005)
TyresHard and Medium

*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix

Sepang International Circuit
track data in full

While the small field size and spate of pre-race retirements made for a disappointing event in Australia, the lack of strategic variety was also noticeable as most drivers made it through the race with a single pit stop. Pirelli have brought their most durable tyres to cope with Sepang’s many quick corners and abrasive surface, so while a three-stop strategy was the norm last year Friday may show some teams could opt for two-stoppers on race day.

The ease of overtaking at Sepang makes alternative strategies more inviting, as the long final straight and start/finish straight are both DRS zones. “You can pass someone on the first straight into the last corner,” explains Daniel Ricciardo, “but obviously they can get you back”.

“So it’s one of those ones where if you have an opportunity you go for it, but remembering that they can always get you back with DRS one hundred metres later”.

Malaysian Grand Prix team-by-team preview

Mercedes

Toto Wolff described the team’s start to the season in Australia as “faultless” but he is wary of their rivals’ potential. “Ferrari have made a clear step forwards,” he said, “Williams also look very strong and you can never count anybody out at this stage”.

Williams

Valtteri Bottas should be back in the Williams providing he passes an FIA medical exam tomorrow following the back injury he sustained in Australia. He looked a shade quicker than Massa in Melbourne, and will be expected to lead the team’s fight against Ferrari.

Red Bull

Renault, Albert Park, 2015One of the most intriguing story lines to develop at the first race weekend of the year is the fractured relationship between Red Bull and their power unit supplier Renault. While the four-time world champions have been quick to blame the engine manufacturer for their poor start to the season, Renault has become increasingly vocal about Red Bull’s shortcomings.

Director of operations Remi Taffin said Renault had made “genuine progress” which was “not at all shown in Melbourne”.

He expects a more competitive showing from Red Bull and Toro Rosso. “Our design development group has been working non-stop to create counter-measures to improve drive-ability and reliability and correct the issues we saw in Melbourne.”

Ferrari

In Australia the SF-15Ts ran reliably and – in the race at least – were the next-quickest cars after the Mercedes. Will that be the case in Malaysia?

Sepang will show how much progress Ferrari have made with their aerodynamics – a key weakness in recent years. Williams expect to be more competitive at this track so the contest between the two will be a key battle to monitor this weekend.

McLaren

It says a lot about the state McLaren are in that racing director Eric Boullier is taking encouragement from the mere fact the car ran in every session in Australia.

Honda hope to run the engine in a “marginally” less conservative mode but motorsport chief Yasuhisa Arai admits “we do not yet know if we will be able to do that”. They should at least be back to full driving strength providing Alonso does return.

Force India

Although Nico Hulkenberg brought his car home in the seventh place he urged his team to keep a lid on expectations with the still very new VJM08. “We know the circumstances in which we got this result and we know the next races will be tough,” he said.

Toro Rosso

It was nip-and-tuck between Toro Rosso’s young rookies in Australia. What could swing the battle this weekend is that Carlos Sainz Jnr is their only driver to have raced at Sepang before. He took a pair of wins in the Formula BMW Pacific races at the track in 2010 – as did fellow Red Bull junior driver Daniil Kvyat.

Lotus

Romain Grosjean, Lotus, Albert Park, 2015Lotus got both cars into Q3 at Melbourne and expect to make a habit out of it during the rest of the season.

Technical director Nick Chester believes the team were on for a solid points finish in Australia before misfortune intervened. “If we didn’t experience the unfortunate crash and the charge air system leak, we could probably have been looking at fifth and sixth positions,” he explained.

“Both drivers had qualified ahead of Felipe Nasr who ended the race fifth and our long run performance on Friday looked good so there is no reason why our drivers could not have achieved that.”

Pastor Maldonado’s race ended when he tangled with Nasr at the first corner. “There was nothing I could do as there was contact occurring behind me which then collected my car,” he said.

Sauber

Sauber’s wrangling with Giedo van der Garde kept Nasr (and Ericsson) from driving in first practice last weekend. Despite that Nasr took an excellent fifon on his debut – but he won’t run in first practice this weekend either.

This time it’s because Ferrari junior driver Raffaele Marciello will be having his first run on the C34. “I have never been to Malaysia before, but I know the track quite well from the Ferrari simulator,” he said.

Manor

The Manor MR04s never left the garage in Australia but team principal John Booth is optimistic the teams will have “a more typical race weekend” in Malaysia.

“We headed back to the UK to regroup technically and bolster the work we had completed in the field in Melbourne, and as a result we are in a different position to the one we were in two weeks ago”.

2015 driver form

DriverG avgR avgR bestR worstClassifiedForm guide
Lewis Hamilton1.001.00111/1Form guide
Nico Rosberg2.002.00221/1Form guide
Daniel Ricciardo6.006.00661/1Form guide
Daniil Kvyat12.000/0Form guide
Felipe Massa3.004.00441/1Form guide
Valtteri Bottas6.000/1Form guide
Sebastian Vettel4.003.00331/1Form guide
Kimi Raikkonen5.000/1Form guide
Fernando Alonso0/0Form guide
Jenson Button16.0011.0011111/1Form guide
Nico Hulkenberg13.007.00771/1Form guide
Sergio Perez14.0010.0010101/1Form guide
Max Verstappen11.000/1Form guide
Carlos Sainz Jnr7.009.00991/1Form guide
Romain Grosjean8.000/1Form guide
Pastor Maldonado9.000/1Form guide
Marcus Ericsson15.008.00881/1Form guide
Felipe Nasr10.005.00551/1Form guide
Will Stevens20.000/1Form guide
Roberto Merhi20.000/1Form guide

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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32 comments on “Reliability will be top concern after Australia failures”

  1. I believe Honda used a whole lot of luck last time out to finish the race. I fear the killing heat might kill them here.

  2. The Blade Runner (@)
    25th March 2015, 11:50

    Let’s just hope for a “proper” F1 race i.e. Rosberg and Hamilton battling it out at the front and the Ferraris, Williams and RBs constantly exchanging places and putting lots of pressure on the front two.

    Oh… and a Lazarus-like performance improvement for McLaren!

    1. I was quite surprised by how much everyone with any connection to F1 (I see you Reubens) was falling over themselves to bash the sport. Australian GP last year was quite similar with Rosberg way out in front and IIRC only 13 finishers. Maybe it was Ricciardo trundling in mid-field that brought out the ire. Maybe its the wrong team or wrong driver winning. Maybe its the spectacular failure of McHonda on whom many people had placed all their hopes. Whatever it is I cant think of any sport where supposed fans attack with such glee and enjoyment going so far as wishing to see the demise of the sport. Strange! So yes, like you @thebladerunner I hope we do get to see a great race, but I fear unless the Mercs take each other out and Nando borrows Fred Flinstone’s ride the cries will only get louder.

    2. Hamilton v Rosberg will not be as one sided as last year. 2014 saw Nico experience Hamilton’s racing techniques for the first time under the new rules. He was caught off guard and studied! The next race was Bahrain….. This year because Lewis was able to keep a gap, Nico will be studying hard once more and if there’s one thing Nico is good at it is studying! Here’s hoping for a rumble in the jungle!

      I would give Williams the edge over Ferrari in the dry. Their cars were slippery last year so will be able to overtake on the straights. If it rains it’ll be chaos and I give the edge to Ferrari over Williams as I believe the “red cars” have better downforce. Bottas over Massa and Vettel over Kimi again. (I still haven’t see the Kimi of McLaren days since he returned to Ferrari. He used to wipe the floor with Coulthard in qualy.)

      Highlight of the race build up has to be the team press conference – Red Bull vs Renault!!!

      1. You can’t teach speed, and no amount of studying can overcome natural talent, it will all depend on how comfortable Nico is at near 100% of his driving capability.

        1. If I was Rosberg’s strategist I would tell him to stalk Hamilton and make some daring “up the inside won’t work moves”. He has to change the game.

  3. I hope it rains. Every forecast says “High rain expected” but the heavens never open up at the right time.

    1. “Be careful what you wish for”. When it rains in Malaysia it really rains!

      1. And then Charlie Whiting will panic, call up the safety car and red flag the race for six hours.

        1. @jules-winfield Races don’t get red flags for more than 4 hours these days. Not sinc e Quebec 2011 :)

        2. You forgot to mention: Charlie waits long enough so teams can put the intermediate tires straight away after the race is resumed.

          1. Hear, hear. :/

    2. I hope too that it rains, in recent times this GP has been extremely poor, usually the culprits are relatively high fuel consumption, cooling issues when following cars and aero reliance.
      I was reading BBC’s Malaysia guide and I was shocked to see that the avg humidity is just 70%, it’s a little high for 30ºc of avg temperature but it’s nothing out of the ordinary, especially considering that this stat is boasted by the raining weekends where logically relative humidity is 100%.

      1. I hope too that it rains, in recent times this GP has been extremely poor

        @peartree I reckon rain would only make the race a 4-hour grid-girl show

    3. Me too, but i hope it rains a little at the beginning, and then in the middle it intensifies and then at the end it decrease again, so McLaren will have hope to finish in the points.

  4. I like what I am hearing from Renault about having solved the drivability issues they suffered in Melbourne. It would be a shame not to be challenging Ferrari and Williams after the heights of last year.

    1. But have Red Bull solved their drivability issues? They seem to have screwed up the rear of their car this year.

  5. I wonder whether Mclaren will let their drivers properly race each other on Sunday or just go for valuable mileage; I’m actually quite excited to finally see a Button vs Alonso battle in the same machinery… albeit at the back of the grid for now!

    1. I too am very curious to see what position Mclaren takes. I think it would certainly behoove them to just grab some decent two car mileage, but you can never discount the spirit of competition.

    2. @travis-daye I had hoped it was for the podium but seeing these two go fight each other will be fun wherever it is. Although I doubt Button will stand a chance.

    3. I don’t think either McLaren would get the checkered flag in the punishing heat – I guess they will let them battle, but not beyond the most conservative reason.

      Very nice nickname by the way @travis-daye, I used to hate you in Grand Prix Circuit. :P (My first ever F1 game, good times. :))

  6. Lap record* 1’34.223 (Juan Pablo Montoya, 2004)

    A name from ancient history … Juan Pablo Montoya! I saw his name on a picture of the Sepang race track yesterday and thought it was nice that his name was still etched into history. He was nearly killed when a drain cover on the exit of a corner that wasn’t welded down got lifted by a car’s ground effect, and no one bothered to warn the drivers or bring out the yellow or red flags. I remember seeing the drain cover on TV and wondering what it was, and wondering why no one was doing anything about this strange black object on the track. It was right where cars were going. It didn’t surprise me when a car did hit it. Montoya himself missed being killed by the cover by just by centimetres, but his car was totalled by it. I wasn’t surprised when he gave up F1 racing after that.

    1. It’s amazing how the effects of time add a major twist to the story! Montoya’s accident with the drain cover really wasn’t that bad and he certainly wasn’t that close to harm – the car wasn’t ‘totalled’, in fact he continued for several laps but was forced to pull out eventually due to the damage. He didn’t give up f1 racing after that, he continued into the next season and planned to finish the season before returning to the US but McLaren pushed him out early.

      1. @drycrust @jerseyf1 And it happened at Shanghai, not Sepang.

        1. …and he was driving a Mclaren as well..was he not?

      2. My apologies, I thought the car was wrecked in the collision with the drain cover, and in that I was wrong. According to an Autocar report of the time the radiator was pierced, and made a hole in the floor of the car, both of which suggest he could have sustained injury or been killed if the contact different. He was able to drive the car to the pits, but retired.
        http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/47726

    2. Tommy Scragend
      25th March 2015, 21:46

      Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story!

  7. It’s amazing how quickly F1Fanatic’s expectations have decreased. Back in 2012 they were disappointed at a of action involving 8 teams, now they only want Mercedes straight fight at the front and think everyone will be happy and F1’s problems will suddenly disappear. F1 is not only about two cars from the same team (unless you’re British) and watching the same sequence unfolding at every round is boring no matter how close the Merc are to each other. I still think some fans pay too much attention at what is (or not) happening at the front of the field ignoring some great stuff playing out further back. When reliving these races in the future those so-called classics which featured one driver defending from another with zero overtakes would be called boring because the only excitement came from tension, a feeling that disappeared after the race.

    1. Actually not only F1Fanatic but also some journalists.

  8. Hope for rain, maybe Fernando call pull off another 2012?! Fat hopes

  9. If anyone thinks for a second that despite engine modes slammed to the floor that Fernando and Jenson won’t try and finish on front of one and other…… They’ll get team instructions to do whatever but they will always be thinking of who finishes first!

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