There is a big question for each team to be answered in this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix, and provided that conditions remain dry (highly unlikely), we are seeking the answers to the following:
– McLaren: Will they be able to cement their superiority in a more “normal” race track?
– Red Bull: Is, ironically, qualifying their Achilles heel?
– Ferrari: Was 5th place in Australia a result that masked the car’s problems and how much will the new chassis help Massa?
– Mercedes: Will they be able to make the tyres work inside the optimum window and will this hurt their qualifying pace?
– Renault: Was Romain’s pace in Australia a fluke and can such pace be maintained in the race?
– Force India: Are they indeed at the bottom of the midfield?
– Williams: Will they continue to impress and is Senna really doing enough to justify his seat?
– Sauber: Can they repeat their Australian performance in much hotter temperatures?
– Toro Rosso: Will either driver start to gain the upper hand in a consistent basis?
– Caterham: Will they be able to finish the race in conditions much more difficult than Australia?
– Marussia: Can they come any closer to Caterham, seeing as the Hingham-based team hasn’t made the expected leap to the midfield?
– HRT: Yeah. Can they qualify?
Naturally, it’s unreasonable to assume that we can get any answers on Friday. However, we will be monitoring the teams’ performances over the weekend, and hopefully at the end of it we will be able to get at least some of the answers to the above questions. In the meantime, here’s a closer look at today’s running:
The 2011 Australia pole lap was 01:23.529 (by Sebastian Vettel). In 2012, Hamilton’s pole was 01:24.922, i.e. 1.4 seconds slower. That’s significant. In terms of raw pace, therefore, based solely on the Australian qualifying results, it seems that the F1 cars are about 1.68% slower than last year. Now, the pole lap in Malaysia 2011 was 01:34.870 (again by Vettel). If we apply this correction factor, we should expect pole for the 2012 Malaysian GP to be around 01:36.460 (provided, of course, it’s dry). The fastest laptime that we’ve seen in today’s Free Practice sessions was 01:38.021, recorder by Lewis Hamilton in the 1st Practice Session of the day. That’s about 1.6 seconds slower than the expected pole time.
Now, let’s go back to last weekend’s race. As we saw, pole was in the high 24’s, whereas the first laptimes at the beginning of the race were in the high 1:33s (to low 1:34s), which means a difference of (approximately) 9 seconds. Over 58 laps, this gives a fuel effect of, about, 0.150 seconds for every extra lap of fuel that a car has to carry. By accepting the same time penalty in Malaysia (which is not entirely accurate, but will do for the time being), we see that Lewis in his 01:38.021 lap must have been carrying fuel worth about 10 – 11 laps. At a consumption of about 2.6 kg / lap, that means about 26 – 29 kgs of fuel onboard.
It’s important to stress at this point the question of tyres, because although Lewis did his lap on the medium (softer) compound, Pirelli have changed compounds for 2012 and the Australian calculations and gaps are based on the soft (yellow marked) tyre. Biiiiiiiig disclaimer there… 😉
Red Bull’s long runs were very, very consistent. Webber’s 2 main stints in the 2nd session were:
Vettel was also able to post similarly consistent laptimes. Button’s only long stint (below), on the other hand, was not that impressive, with the lap times experiencing a drop off towards the end of the stint, which seems to justify Vettel’s claim that, in terms of race pace, they are at the same level. I presume, however, that these 1:46 laps at the end have more to do with Button easing off than the tyres going off. From the (very) early look of things however, it seems as if Red Bull can post a challenge, provided they sort out their qualifying pace.
What about Mercedes? Well, their longer stints indicated that the problem of degradation is not entirely eliminated yet. Let’s look at the data carefully. I have eliminated the 1:46 laps from Button’s stint, for the reason I explained above. In the following table I am presenting to you the tyre degradation figures, i.e. the pure degradation effect (I have removed the fuel burn-off effect of 0.150 seconds per lap):
So, it’s way too early to make any predictions at the moment, but it looks as if Red Bull are nicely positioned for the race and need to sort out their qualifying pace, whereas I believe the exact opposite applies to Mercedes. Ferrari is difficult to judge because of the chaotic difference in performance between the two drivers… McLaren seem to be in the same good position that they were in Australia. I assume they are secretly hoping for Mercedes to do well in qualifying and create a buffer zone between themselves and Red Bull in the race.
In the meantime, I would like to share with you this amazing article. It’s the full verdict in the case of Force India Vs Team Lotus, on the issue of copyright infringement. I suggest you devote at least 3 hours, get a cup of coffee (or five), and read it through… the ENTIRE thing. It’s a mesmerizing, fascinating inside look into the process of designing a car, subcontracting companies, looking for performance, business relationships in F1, etc. It gives insight on several key people within F1, the way they work and the way they think. It’s completely myth-shattering at times, and it will help you understand a lot of the things that take place in the background of our sport. You will be amazed, trust me on this.
Take care dudes.