Formula 1 news, results and statistics when you need it
McLaren on the way down ?
Download the NewsOnF1.com
Sepang, in Malaysia, is a high downforce circuit. It has 4 straights (including the twin straights on either side of the grandstand) and five second gear corners. The rest of the turns are moderately fast to very fast.
The expected average lap speed for Sunday is around 200 km/H(124mph), which makes it a fairly fast track but certainly nowhere near the fastest of the season.
On the few occasions that Sepang has hosted a Grand Prix (it is one of the newest tracks in the circuit) drivers have complained that the track is low on grip which explains why most if not all teams will opt for high downforce.
Sepang is not particularly hard on tyres but the potential of an extremely hot Sunday counts in Michelin's favour as their tyres last and cope with hot track surfaces better (at least that is how it was last year).
If it does not rain we will at least be able to see if hot dry tracks are still too much for Bridgestone to cope with. At this stage we can only assume that the pattern established last year will continue but I expect to see that Bridgestone has improved on hot and dry surfaces and that Michelin have also eliminated some, if not all, of the disadvantage that they had on cold/wet surfaces.
I still suspect that Bridgestone will be better in the rain and that Michelin will be better on hot sun-heated circuits. They certainly would not want to lose the advantage they had last year but I am sure that they worked on their weaknesses.
Depending on the aerodynamics of the new cars, overtaking should be possible on several places on the circuit (some better than others).
After turn 1 and 2 (which I tend to combine as a single S-bend) the cars accelerate through a right hand sweep (turn 3) on to a short straight ended by a very tight right hander (turn 4).
Given more grip that the car being passed it should be possible to build up enough speed to overtake on the short straight and still get a good line through the 2nd gear turn 4.
Turn 4 is followed by two sweeping curves after a very short straight. Lots of power could get there first under acceleration.
For the very brave it may also be possible to out-brake a competitor into turn 7 and 8 (which is really a single double apex corner), but between turns 8 and 9 is the first real opportunity to overtake an evenly matched car. The exit out of turn 8 will be fast and the exit speed from this corner will determine the speed on the straight. Overtaking means getting that exit right. Speeds should get up around 250kph/155mph before braking for the extremely sharp left handed corner that leads into turn 10, a gentle right handed sweep.
After that there is no opportunity for overtaking (unless it is a back marker between turns 11 and 12) until you get to turn 14 which leads on to the first of the long grandstand straights. Again exit speed is important, as it will determine terminal speed at the end of this rather long straight. If the overtaking manoeuvre is balked there is a second chance after the sharp 2nd gear left-handed hairpin (turn 14) that leads onto the pit straight.
If it rains, or if it is so overcast that the track does not warm up, Ferrari will probably still be fastest. They were considerably faster in Melbourne on a cool track that is not that different from Malaysia. After all this is where Bridgestone was dominant for all of last year.
Rain is likely to put both Ferrari drivers on the podium, as I do not believe that Michelin could have closed the gap in the off-season. The Ferrari is very reliable and it is unlikely that they will retire on that count.
Michael Schumacher won this race last year with Barrichello in second place. After their performance in Melbourne we must assume that they can do it again.
On the other hand if it is very hot and track temperatures soar we must assume that Williams will be the dominating team. Michelin was not only good in these conditions last year but improved with tyre wear. They must have retained some of this characteristic this year.
Of the Williams drivers Montoya is likely to be the fastest. Ralf Schumacher, on the other hand is more likely to finish, as he is easier on the car. If he starts like he did in Melbourne he is likely to not get beyond the first corner of the race.
I hope that Ralf will cope better with the threat of Montoya. He is a good driver that could be great if he does not let the competition with Montoya get in his way. He has to focus on delivering the best he can and not be demotivated by Montoya's performance.
I do not believe that McLaren are in the leading group any more. In Melbourne Raikkonen did his best and that only kept him in touch with Montoya for a handful of laps. Lets face it, McLaren have lost their edge. They will be pushing it to stay in touch with the leaders and with Renault and Sauber pushing they may fall back into the clutches of the next group.
I still maintain that Coulthard is not intimidated by the might of the Schumacher/Ferrari combination, but to take them on he needs a fast car and I don't think he will get one in the foreseeable future. Raikkonen is a brilliant driver and one of the most exciting new drivers we have seen for a long time but he also needs a competitive car. I do not rank McLarens chances high.
I am really looking forward to seeing Sauber compete. They are theoretically using the same engine as Ferrari and should be fast. They could be the next team to drive McLaren down in the ranks.
Heidfeld is fast and a very competent driver. In Melbourne Massa proved to be fast during practices but as they were both involved in the first lap smash we did not see how they stacked up against the field. I am expecting them to do very well in Malaysia.
I do not have high hopes for the Honda powered teams. BAR seems to continue their practice of losing bits off the car during races and Jordan seem to be struggling to keep up with BAR.
The drivers are fine. Fisichella, in my opinion, is one of the faster drivers of the season, Villeneuve has already proved his worth, Panis is fast and Sato comes with a big reputation, but guys, you need a car with a real engine!
Renault could be the wild card. Trulli was fast enough in qualifying and after the first corner incident was ahead of Michael Schumacher in Melbourne and he would have stayed there if he was not over enthusiastic in protecting his line (he lost it after driving through oil on the track). Michael might not have liked it but what did he expect? Trulli was defending his place.
Button has a long way to go before he convinces me that his talent did not flash in the pan. Hard work and a little bit of dedication seem to be needed now. He does have a fast car and if he holds it all together he certainly has the talent to do well.
Eddie Irvine and Pedro de la Rosa have to watch their backs. If they don't they will finish behind Minardi. The new Jaguar looks awful.
Arrows was streets ahead of Jaguar in practices in Melbourne. They certainly screwed up their chances when both cars died on the warm-up lap but the little we saw of both before they were black-flagged certainly looked faster than Jaguar. Frentzen should learn to differentiate between green and red before his next race.
Mark Webber made his mark in front of his home crowd in Melbourne (could not resist the pun). Minardi is a team that regards anything other than last as a victory. Getting into the points again in Malaysia will lift their profile and increase their ability to attract sponsorship. With drivers like Webber and Yoong they may go far.
Toyota were the fastest in a straight line in Melbourne during the practice sessions. Salo was very fast and could have finished in fifth place in Melbourne if he timed it right. McNish is an unknown quantity. But the car is fast - very fast. They could do well in Malaysia, certainly well enough to get into the fight with Sauber and Renault.
With so much potential from so many teams Malaysia could be a race with very unexpected outcomes.
Agree or disagree ?