Malaysian GP Preview: Must win for Red Bull

Pressure is on Red Bull drivers Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel

Apr.1 (Daniel Chalmers) This weekend F1 heads straight for Malaysia for the third round of the 2010 world championship.

Click track map to enlarge

Sepang is one of the most challenging tracks on the F1 calendar. The biggest challenge is the heat and humidity, which make this race one of the most physical for the drivers. The heat also takes its toll on the cars, and we have seen a lot of unreliability here in the past.

The teams will be doing everything they can to keep the cars cool. They will put extra holes and vents wherever possible.

The circuit itself offers a mix of slow and fast corners along with two long straights which are good for overtaking. The heat coupled with the fast corners makes this one of the worse circuits for tyre degradation.

Sepang will be a stern test for Bridgestone tyres

Therefore conserving the tyres is likely to be an even bigger factor than in the opening two races. This is certainly the kind of track where the re-fuelling ban is capable of being a very interesting variable and spicing up the action.

Ideally the teams will only want to stop once. Though making a set of tyres last three quarters of the race distance in Sepang is going to be extremely difficult. So we may well see a similar situation to Melbourne where some drivers pit again for a fresh set of tyres.  Others will try to avoid pitting and persevere with worn tyres. This could make for a very interesting last 10-15 laps of the race.

Nico Rosberg runs the circuit on Thursday

Sepang is a difficult test for a F1 car. Due to that fact we will get the most accurate indication so far of the F1 2010’s true pecking order. On a tough track like this the strongest cars will stretch their legs and appear more superior. On the other hand the flaws of cars which are not on the pace will be more exposed.

We will get to see whether it’s true that Ferrari and Red Bull are the current dominant force in F1

This weekend Red Bull really need to make their pace count and get a win on the board. At the moment the RB6 is certainly comfortably the quickest in terms of raw speed. Due to the number of fast corners the RB6 should be even more suited to the Sepang circuit.

Sebastian Vettel walks the circuit with his Red Bull crew

Red Bull think Vettel should have had 50 points for two wins so far. However the reality is that he only has 12 points out of a possible 50. In an era of unprecedented reliability records mechanical gremlins are more costly than ever before.

We have seen in the past how championships have been built on a strong start to the season. Brawn won six out of the seven races at the beginning of 2009. Despite dropping off dramatically later in the year this strong start was enough to see Brawn through to the finish.

This is what Red Bull really needs to be doing but aren’t. The likes of McLaren and Mercedes aren’t going to be standing still, and will no doubt bring huge upgrades in the near future.  Red Bull may find it much harder to win later on in the season, just as Brawn did last year.

Ferrari mechanics work on the F10 in Sepang

Ferrari will be breathing down their necks in Sepang. Whilst it’s clear that Red Bull are dominant over a single lap, the Ferrari’s stronger tyre management is stronger. At Sepang that could well be more of an advantage than in Bahrain or Australia.

McLaren were certainly delighted to win in Melbourne. However that was more down to the weather and Button’s inspired tyre decision that set up the win rather than outright pace.

In qualifying McLaren were still over 0.7 seconds off the pace off Red Bull. This is a gigantic gap by F1 standards.

Jenson Button will be looking for back to back wins

For Button to repeat his victory he will really need the weather to intervene once again.

It will be interesting to which driver wins the inter-team war this weekend. However you would have to say that Sepang’s characteristics possibly point towards it being another strong weekend for Jenson, particularly with the high tyre wear rate and the changeable weather.

It will be fascinating to see how Hamilton reacts to a tough weekend in Melbourne. Will his head stay down or will he pull something out of the bag?

Michael Schumacher arrives in Sepang

Mercedes will be hoping for more than just merely solid points, but the truth is that they are just not there yet. There has been much negative press about Michael Schumacher’s return but it’s best to give him more than two races. He was only half a tenth behind Rosberg in qualifying at Melbourne. Without the broken front wing early on he could have had a strong race.

Robert Kubica was the star of Melbourne in some people’s eyes. As usual when there is a sniff of a strong results he is always in the hunt. He demonstrated the Renault was quite easy on its tyres by not having stopping for a second set of tyres, and holding off the Ferraris behind him. In a dry race he is by far the most likely person to upset the big guns.

Williams pit in Sepang

The new teams could face their most challenging race of the season so far. Taking a newly built challenger to a notorious car breaking circuit isn’t easy. They will do extremely well to get their cars to the finish in this race.

In conclusion the team under the most pressure this weekend is Red Bull. They will be placed under immense scrutiny this weekend if they have the fastest car again this weekend but fail to take maximum points for the third race in succession.

Unfortunately when your car is unreliable Malaysia would perhaps appear at the top of the list of tracks you don’t want to have to go to next.

Red Bull mechanics at work in Malaysia

It should be a brilliant weekend. We have Red Bull who have to win but with Ferrari very close behind on race pace. Also we have team mate battles at the front of the grid, where the losing drivers from Melbourne, will want to turn the tables on the man at the other end of the garage.

All this along with the issues of tyre degradation, and the high risks of heavy rain, could make it two classic races in a week.

My prediction

Daniel predicts a win for Lewis Hamilton

I think Red Bull will be extremely quick this weekend and another front-row lockout is very likely.

The predictions for rain to affect proceedings are widespread (and almost a certainty) and this will have a big bearing on my top 10. It could be another one of those crazy races with a top 3 that no pundit will have picked before the start.

I am going to go for a victory for Lewis Hamilton, despite saying that this is more of a Jenson Button track.

After a torrid weekend in Melbourne I think we will see a backlash from him, and he will pull out one of his best performances. This is the sort of thing we have seen from all the great F1 champions of the past.

We have seen it before from Lewis after miserable weekends, with the critics getting right on his back.

In 2008 after error strewn races in Canada and France Lewis win at a wet Silverstone by over a minute. Later that year after another error filled race in Fuji, Hamilton went to China the next weekend and comfortably beat both Ferraris.

I fancy history to repeat itself here, particularly if we see that rain.

Daniel Chalmers Top 10 Prediction
1. Lewis Hamilton
2. Adrian Sutil
3. Sebastien Vettel
4. Jenson Button
5. Robert Kubica
6. Fernando Alonso
7. Michael Schumacher
8. Rubens Barrichello
9. Pedro De La Rosa
10. Felipe Massa

  • Kinkas

    I disagree with your predictions… Red Bull will certainly win, despite / besides whatever weather conditions. It is a most for them, and they will nail it. Ferrari might be stopped by warm conditions, and run in conservative revs after securing good track positions.

    In any case, it will be a battle.

  • dude

    red bull have to get it right this time around and i reckong they will…

  • PitRat

    well if the rain interferes and the race stops at full distance, i suspect RBRs to get a 1 -2 with half the points… because if the race runs full courses there is a big chance the screw on the support of the rear left wing end plate might loosen up…

  • Bec

    To finish first, you first have to finish.