Reports

Malaysian F1 Grand Prix

2016 MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX – PREVIEW

Circuit stats
2015 winner Sebastian Vettel, 56 laps, 1:41:05.793s
2015 pole position Lewis Hamilton, 1m49.834s
2015 fastest lap Nico Rosberg, 1m42.062s (lap 43)
Name Sepang International Circuit
First race 1999
Circuit length 5.543km/3.444 miles (8th longest of the season)
Distance to turn one 600m/0.373 miles (longest of season: Barcelona 730m/0.454 miles)
Longest straight 920m/0.572 miles, on the approach to Turn 15
Top speed 330km/h/205mph, on the approach to Turn 15
Pitlane length 420m/0.261 miles, estimated time loss 24s (longest of season: Silverstone, 489m/0.304 miles)
Full throttle 65 per cent, with the longest period of full throttle being 12s
DRS zones Two, on the approaches to Turns One and 15
Key corner Turn 14, a tightening, understeer-inducing right-hander that loads up the outside tyres. It’s important to get the car into the apex and get the power down early because the longest straight on the lap follows, along which there is the second DRS zone
Fastest corner 260km/h (162mph), Turn Five
Slowest corner 70km/h (43mph), Turn Two
Major changes for 2016 The circuit has been re-surfaced since last year and more than half of the corners have new kerbs and improved drainage. The camber at Turn Nine has been altered, and, most significantly, Turn 15 has been re-profiled to make it slower, in an effort to encourage overtaking
Fuel consumption 1.79 per lap, which is average
ERS Low. There are several slow corners, out of which electrical power has an impact on acceleration, but there are eight significant braking events around the lap where energy can be recovered
Brake wear Medium. Only 15 per cent of the lap is spent braking
Gear changes 57 per lap/3,192 per race
Circuit facts
History lesson Sepang was the first F1 track to be designed by Hermann Tilke, whose company has helped to design 11 of the 21 circuits on this year’s calendar. Sepang was opened in March 1999 and it hosted its first grand prix later that year, since when it has been a permanent fixture in F1. This year the race is taking place in October, for the first time since 2000.
What makes the track unique It has an interesting mix of medium and high-speed corners, but the biggest single challenge for the teams is cooling. The ambient temperature rarely drops below 30 degrees at this time of year, which places added pressure on the cooling of the power unit in particular.
Grip levels Medium. The circuit has been re-surfaced this year, so grip levels will depend on how the asphalt has cured since it was laid six months ago. The fast corners have high levels of grip due to the aerodynamic downforce created by the cars, but the new surface will be the biggest single factor influencing grip levels.
Run-off Good. This is a modern racetrack, with excellent run-off areas. There are more gravel traps than asphalt run-off areas because they are the preferred safety option for bike racing, which also takes place at Sepang.
Watch out for... The rain – and when it rains in this part of the world, it usually pours. In 2009 the race had to be stopped after 31 laps due to a flooded racetrack and the later-than-normal start time of 3pm leaves the race vulnerable to a late-afternoon thunderstorm.

The drivers on: the circuit

#14 Fernando Alonso

“I’m looking forward to heading back to Malaysia after 18 months since the last race there. It’ll be interesting to see how the cars cope on the newly-resurfaced track, and I imagine the weather conditions will be different from our last visit. Still, we expect it to be a tough race in the heat and humidity, but there’s a good combination of slow and high-speed corners and fast straights, so it has a little bit of everything. It tests every part of the package, and the driver too, so hopefully there’ll be some close racing and an entertaining weekend for the fans.”

#22 Jenson Button

“Sepang is becoming a modern classic – although it’s a relatively new circuit, it’s one of those tracks that drivers enjoy going back to. The conditions are like nothing else we experience, the circuit is quite technical and fun to drive, and the atmosphere is always great. Although it’s traditionally seen as a high-speed circuit which isn’t usually something that our package favours, we do have a good car under braking which is necessary to handle the tight corners after the long, fast straights.” 

Event stats
Start time 15:00hrs local/08:00hrs BST
Race distance 56 laps (full world championship points will be awarded after 75 per cent distance/42 laps)
Safety Car likelihood Low. There is only a 20 per cent chance of a Safety Car
When to press record The start. It’s a long drag to the first corner, which is a slow 180-degree right-hander, immediately followed by a left-hander. There’s always a good scrap through this section on lap one, with the outside line through Turn One sometimes proving to be the more successful
Don't put the kettle on Vettel won last year’s race on a two-stop strategy, while Hamilton and Rosberg stopped three times en route to second and third places. The addition of the Soft tyre to this year’s compound list is likely to increase the number of stops, with most drivers trying to complete the race distance on three stops. Expect pitlane action on or around laps 10, 25 and 40
Weather conditions now 29 degrees
Weather forecast 31 degrees
Tyre choices Soft/Medium/Hard, a combination that has only been used twice before this year, at Barcelona and Silverstone
Event facts
First Malaysian Grand Prix 1999
Slogan There is no official slogan, but the construction of Sepang International Circuit coincided with the launch of ‘Vision 2020’, a development programme intended to accelerate Malaysia’s drive towards industrialisation.
Malaysia's F1 heritage The country’s first association with F1 came via the national oil company, which started sponsoring Sauber in 1995. Four years and $150m later, the first Malaysian Grand Prix was staged at Sepang, which has been the race’s home for 18 consecutive seasons. There has been one Malaysian driver, Alex Yoong, who raced for Minardi in 2001.
Smallest winning margin 0.732s, in 2000. Michael Schumacher and Mika Häkkinen lined up on the front row, but it was the McLaren duo of Mika and David Coulthard that ran 1-2 at the end of lap one. Mika was later penalised for jumping the start, handing the lead to David. But a driving error by the Scotsman handed Schumacher the lead, which he was never to lose. The gap between them was less than 1s for the last 12 laps of the race.
Sporting legacy With two grands prix tracks in the region, in Singapore and at Sepang, F1 has a solid foothold in South East Asia. But Malaysia’s prowess as a sporting nation has grown steadily since it hosted the Commonwealth Games in 1998, and this year it came home with five medals from the Rio Olympic Games.
Did you know? At 310.408kms/192.879 miles, the Malaysian Grand Prix is the longest race of the season in terms of distance.
Don't forget McLaren has won the Malaysian Grand Prix twice, most recently in 2007.
Fan zone Michael, aged 38, from Kuala Lumpur, asks: “I’ve been a massive McLaren fan, ever since Kimi Räikkönen won at Sepang in 2003. Please can you tell me what the team has been doing since the Singapore Grand Prix last week; have you spent any time in Kuala Lumpur?” McLaren’s answer: “Our freight was transported the 200 miles from Singapore to Sepang by road. All 11 teams made the journey together, which created an impressive convoy of lorries. As for personnel, a few people stayed in Asia after Singapore, but the majority returned to Woking, where work on next year’s MP4-32 continues.”

Hear from the management

Eric Boullier

“The challenge at this circuit is to maintain good balance throughout the long straights, big stops and sweeping corners, all while taking the tough and often changeable conditions into account. After a recent run of mixed fortunes on one side of the garage, our aim for the remaining races has to be to iron out reliability niggles and finish with both cars.

“Since the inaugural Malaysian Grand Prix at this circuit in 1999, Sepang has become a popular venue for drivers and fans alike. There have been a number of memorable races there and thanks to the climate and the nature of the technical layout, it often produces unpredictable results. There are good overtaking opportunities to be had and ample run-off, which once again promises interesting racing.

“The Sepang circuit poses a tough technical challenge for our mechanics and engineers, who have to strike a delicate compromise between efficient cooling, aerodynamic performance and balance, so Friday running will be important initially in order to assess the impact of the new track surface on the car and the re-profiling of some corners – particularly Turn 15. If we can achieve reliability on both sides of the garage, I’m hopeful for a positive weekend. We’ve proved recently that our package is a firm contender in the midfield pack and we have the potential to finish ahead of some strong teams, so we’ll keep fighting to maintain our position and move closer to the front of the grid.

“Finally, I’d like to congratulate Jenson on his 300th grand prix – a spectacular achievement for a great world champion, and we look forward to celebrating this incredible milestone with him and the team this weekend.”

Yusuke Hasegawa

“The Malaysian Grand Prix will no doubt be another hot and humid battle to be fought amongst the drivers. The changeable conditions mean it will be tricky to find a good balance with the car, and the rain can of course give us an added challenge. The circuit in Sepang is an undulating mix of long straights and sweeping corners, which all make for an exciting race with lots of good overtaking battles. We are not 100 per cent certain if we will install any power unit updates for this race, but we’ll look to make our final decision at the track based on the balance of performance and reliability.

“More importantly, this will be a race to celebrate as Jenson makes his 300th Grand Prix start, which is an incredible milestone and achievement in such a demanding sport. We’re lucky to have two world champion drivers in the team with such experience, and hope that we can finish with a strong result for everyone in the team.”

2016 MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX – PRACTICE

We can be further up tomorrow

It was a fairly smooth start to McLaren-Honda’s Malaysian Grand Prix. Both drivers enjoyed relatively trouble-free sessions as they sampled Sepang’s re-surfaced and slightly re-profiled sweeping curves for the first time.

Despite the sweltering ambient and track temperatures, both cars ran without issue, although both drivers lightly snagged the floor during their opening FP2 runs, which prompted a slight delay to patch up the bodywork.

Neither driver found a definitive set-up, but with Fernando facing a series of power unit element-change grid penalties, and changeable weather forecast over the next few days, there is still much to play for during the remainder of the weekend.

FERNANDO ALONSO, MP4-31-04
FP1 1m36.510s (+1.283s) 18 laps 5th
FP2 1m36.296s (+1.352s) 27 laps 7th
The new asphalt is a good improvement: there’s a lot more grip

“We completed a good number of laps today and got through all the tests we’d planned to do. We even managed to conduct some experiments aimed at next year’s car, which was really positive.

“We still need to see how well we can do tomorrow, especially in FP3, where we’ll be concentrating on long runs. For me, qualifying is going to be pretty short because of my penalties: I’ll do a lap to set a time within 107% and then I’ll watch it on TV. Then we’ll try to save as many sets of new tyres as possible. 

“The new asphalt is a good improvement: there’s a lot more grip. Last year, my best Friday time was a 1m42.5s; this year I set 1.36.2 – so that’s six seconds in one year. If you consider the car has improved by two- to two-and-a-half-seconds, we get a further three seconds from the asphalt. It’s a good sensation to have so much grip.

“The weather forecast for Saturday and Sunday could be rainy – we still don’t know if quali or the race will be affected – so starting from behind might not be too bad for us.”

 

JENSON BUTTON, MP4-31-03
FP1 1m37.613s (+2.386s) 20 laps 10th
FP2 1m36.715s (+1.771s) 22 laps 10th
The single-lap pace of the car isn’t too bad

“We were out a bit late in FP2 because some of the set-up changes we made to the car took a little bit longer than we thought. That meant I got out when everybody else was on high-fuel. Then I caught up with Kevin [Magnussen] in Turn 10, and he kept on the racing line, which hurt me in terms of lap-time.

“So the single-lap pace of the car isn’t too bad – and I even think we can be further up tomorrow. The long-run pace isn’t quite there yet – but we think we know what we can do with the balance to help that. 

“The new asphalt here is very strange – it feels like there’s a lot of grip, then it’s suddenly taken away from you. It’s difficult to read – it feels a bit like Sochi: the oversteer comes out of nowhere.”

Eric Boullier
We had a clean day of practice and were able to gather some useful test data

“The re-surfaced and re-profiled Sepang circuit poses a significant challenge to both teams and engineers this weekend. Fortunately, we had a clean day of practice and were able to gather some useful test data as we dialed the cars in during today’s practice sessions.

“Fernando made a positive start to his weekend by immediately dropping into the groove and looking impressively quick at times. It’s frustrating that he’s facing a significant grid penalty – for introducing new power unit elements – but it’s something we’d already factored into our weekend programme, and we’ll work hard to provide him with a car and a strategy to best cope with that setback on Sunday.

“Jenson’s 300th grand prix this weekend is a considerable milestone – and it’s one that the whole team and many people inside the paddock will be celebrating with him. He hasn’t yet got a balance that he’s fully satisfied with, but we’ve got plenty of data to analyse this evening before choosing a set-up path ahead of qualifying tomorrow.”

Yusuke Hasegawa
Both sessions ran very smoothly

“Today’s very hot and humid free practice sessions had some minor interruptions, with an unexpected red flag due to a pit-lane fire, and sensor trouble on our cars, but I am satisfied that we managed to otherwise get through our aero, tyre and set-up confirmations according to our run programme for tomorrow’s qualifying

“The updates that Honda has brought to our power unit for Malaysia are focused on increasing the durability while decreasing overall weight of the surrounding parts around the ICE. This consequently helps performance, but does not lead to an outright increase.

“Both sessions ran very smoothly, and we were able to gather track running data that we cannot test on the dyno. We will now focus on analysing the data thoroughly to prepare the power unit for future race use.”

2016 MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX – QUALIFYING

"We can fight the cars around us tomorrow"

Jenson Button will line up ninth for tomorrow’s Malaysian Grand Prix, having maximised the car’s potential during this afternoon’s qualifying session.

It was the result of plenty of hard work from the entire team: with the car off the pace during Friday practice, the engineers burnt the midnight oil to improve the balance for Saturday, and Jenson revelled in the car’s improved handling to comfortably ease into Q3. 

With a 45-place grid penalty for tomorrow, Fernando Alonso’s focus was never on an outright quick-lap in qualifying. Instead, he spent FP3 and Q1 refining his race set-up, running race simulations in the former and a handful of quick laps in the latter. He will line up 22nd, but armed with plenty of fresh tyres and complete freedom on strategy with which to tackle the Malaysian Grand Prix.

JENSON BUTTON, MP4-31-02
FP3 12th 1m36.363s (+1.929s) 11 laps
Q1 10th 1m35.267s On Options
Q2 8th 1m34.431s On Options
Q3 9th overall 1m34.518s On Options
We’ve improved the car a lot since practice yesterday

“I really enjoyed qualifying! It’s never nice to be just 0.029s behind the car in front, but that wasn’t too bad – we were either going to be eighth or ninth, and we ended up being ninth. I’m happy with that.

“During Q1, I had issues with traffic; I had to out-brake Esteban Ocon into Turn Nine during my quick lap, and you shouldn’t have to be doing that during qualifying. I also had a little spin at Turn 14 when I lost all my downforce behind one of the Renaults. That first session was busy.

“Still, we’ve improved the car a lot since practice yesterday, but the team has done a great job to improve it. Qualifying was the first time this weekend that I really felt comfortable.

“Hopefully we can show well in the race – there’s no reason why we can’t fight the cars around us tomorrow.”

FERNANDO ALONSO, MP4-31-04
FP3 22nd 1m41.199s (+6.765s) 15 laps
Q1 22nd overall 1m37.155s On Options
There’s still something more to come from us tomorrow.

“In practice yesterday, we were comfortably inside the top 10, so there’s an element of frustration to find ourselves with useful performance, but facing a grid penalty ahead of the race.

“Hopefully, we’ve now stockpiled enough components for the remainder of the season that we no longer need to take grid penalties and start at the back.

“My running in FP3 this morning was particularly important – our aim was to conduct some long runs and gain some useful data for the race. In quali, we just ran for a few laps, with the aim to save as many sets of tyres for the race as we could.

“It’ll be interesting tomorrow to see how well we’re able to read the conditions and play the strategy. The new asphalt keeps improving quickly and, while it’ll be difficult to overtake 12 cars and get into the points, I think there’s still something more to come from us tomorrow.”

Eric Boullier
We managed to transform our fortunes overnight

“Jenson drove superbly in qualifying, extracting the absolute maximum from the car after a difficult and unpromising first day’s practice. It’s a testament to the work of the whole team that we managed to transform our fortunes overnight, with both drivers reporting that the car’s driveability had been significantly improved between Friday and Saturday.

“With Jenson, it was fun and satisfying to be able to really attack all the way into the closing minutes of Q3. It’s definitely a sign of what’s to come from the McLaren-Honda partnership.

“While we knew ahead of the race weekend that Fernando would face a large grid penalty, there’s still an element of frustration in seeing what could have been. Nevertheless, we placed all our focus today on the race. And while he starts 22nd tomorrow, I have absolutely no doubt that he will not be in that position at the end of the first lap; I’m reminded of his spirited charge at this race last year, and I’m certain that he will be on the absolute attack from the second the lights go out. I think everyone will be watching to see just what he can do.”

Yusuke Hasegawa
I felt more confident today after seeing the great drive from Jenson

“After yesterday’s free practice results, it was very difficult for us to determine where our position was, due to the re-surfaced track which increased grip and improved everyone’s lap-times compared to last year.

“I felt more confident today after seeing the great drive from Jenson to finish again in Q3 and start tomorrow’s race from 9th on the grid, and we are hoping for a strong points finish on his 300th celebratory race.

“Fernando will be starting from the back of the grid as he has incurred penalties for introducing new power unit components. However, he has been fairly satisfied with the balance of his car so far, so we are looking forward to seeing how strong his race finish position will be.”

2016 MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX – RACE

"A great motivation for McLaren Honda"

McLaren-Honda picked up eight points after getting both cars home inside the top 10 of today’s Malaysian Grand Prix.

Fernando drove a sensational race from 22nd to seventh at the flag. While the Virtual Safety Car dropped a free pitstop into his lap, he drove with verve and flair both before and after to carve through the field. By the end of lap one, he was running in 14th, and was barely out of the top 10 for the remainder of the afternoon.

Jenson’s two-stop strategy was stymied almost immediately by the appearance of the Virtual Safety Car, which gave his rivals – including Fernando – a free stop, and dropped him back to ninth. It was the only dose of bad luck in an otherwise faultless race.

FERNANDO ALONSO, MP4-31-04
Started 22nd Finished 7th
Fastest lap 1m38.291s on lap 44 +1.867s 6th
Pit-stops Three Laps 9 (2.77s), 27 (2.62s) and 37 (2.40s) Option/Back-Up/Option/Option
After this weekend’s penalties, we needed some luck – and we got that today!

“It was definitely a very exiting race for us today, with some great battles.

“Having started from the very back, we recovered some good places at the start – and were lucky not to get caught up in the first-corner accident. I was actually surprised by my position, because I’d already got into the points after just a bunch of laps.

“At that point, we had some debate over the radio about the strategy – about whether to be aggressive or more conservative. Eventually, we decided to attack and use all the new sets of Option tyres we had left over from qualifying. The final Virtual Safety Car certainly played in our favour, because it allowed us to use the last new set.

“After this weekend’s penalties, we needed some luck – and we got that today!”

 

JENSON BUTTON, MP4-31-03
Started 9th Finished 9th
Fastest lap 1m38.740s on lap 51 +2.316s 8th
Pit-stops Two Laps 9 (2.84s) and 40 (2.79s) Option/Back-Up/Option
I was actually up into fourth position at the start

“My race wasn’t too bad – but I got so unlucky with the Virtual Safety Car. The cars behind me were on a three-stop and I was on a two-stopper – then, three laps after I pitted, there was a Virtual Safety Car, which meant they were all able to gain 15 seconds on me for free. It’s a shame I missed it – but luck has not been on my side for these last few races.

“I was actually up into fourth position at the start before a couple of cars dragged past me on the opening lap.

“The two-stopper was the better strategy today, but it’s too difficult to make work when there’s a VSC; I was looking good for seventh up until that point.

“Hopefully I’ll have a bit more luck in the last five races.”

Eric Boullier
Now, we look forward to the next grand prix

“To be looking at two points’ finishes after starting one car from last position on the grid is an extremely satisfying result – and a real testament to the progress we’re continuing to make at McLaren-Honda. The split-strategy reaped dividends for both Fernando and Jenson, and the pit-crew executed five faultless pit-stops, including a double-shuffle, which is always a stressful moment in any race.

“Fernando’s charge through the field may have been fortuitously assisted by an opportune Virtual Safety Car period, but he was already inside the top 10 before making his final stop. He benefited from our aggressive three-stop strategy, and drove with all his fire and bravado to make up 10 positions on the opening lap alone.

“Jenson, driving in his 300th grand prix, was no less impressive – but he was desperately unlucky to make his second, and final, pit-stop just a few laps before the Virtual Safety Car handed his rivals a free, and unexpected, stop. To be clear, the two-stop was the fastest option to the chequer, and he was nicely lined up for the rest of the race – until the Virtual Safety Car. That’s motor racing, but we all know that Jenson’s driving is worthy of greater reward than ninth, and I’m sure that will come his way in these final five races.

“Now, we look forward to the next grand prix, at Suzuka, Japan, in seven days’ time. For Honda, it’s the most important and prestigious race of the season, and, buoyed by our result this weekend, we’ll be aiming for another good showing next week.”

Yusuke Hasegawa
I am very happy about the great drives from both drivers today

“I am very happy about the great drives from both drivers today, with many on-track battles. The team also did a great job with a solid strategy that helped us bring both cars home in the points.

“We battled strongly with Williams and Force India throughout the race, and it was a shame that we couldn’t get fully in front, but I think we had very strong race pace, so it’s an encouraging result looking ahead to our home grand prix in Suzuka.

“It was unlucky for Jenson with the Virtual Safety Car and his pit-stop timing, but he drove well and had consistent race pace throughout. Fernando, as usual, had a very good start and a strong charge through the field to finish seventh, another amazing result similar to Spa-Francorchamps.

“Today’s brilliant drives and double points finish are a great motivation for McLaren-Honda.”