Malaysian Grand Prix Podium 2011

Malaysian Grand Prix Podium 2011 photo by Srikrishna Narasimhan

It’s only been a week since the Australian Grand Prix so you wouldn’t expect much to change, there are no real updates though Red Bull have played with the two exhaust systems they have available, Caterham seem unsure which spec nose to use and Massa has a new chassis; what other teams may have tweaked for the Malaysian Grand Prix following Australia though may not show results until qualifying or the race.


Felipe Massa has a lot to prove if his position isn’t going to become untenable, regardless of his contract; a new chassis is seemingly Ferrari’s way of saying ‘we are giving you every chance: now perform’. If he can’t get closer at the Malaysian Grand Prix to Alonso than he did in Australia there have to be questions over whether he really wants to be racing: practice 1 and 2 at Sepang though didn’t indicate he had made any kind of step forward. Felipe Massa may be downcast and troubled since Alonso came in as the number 1 and when he had to hand him victory in 2010 at Hockenheim but whether a new seat at another team will transform him also has to be questioned as does whether anyone will want him by the start of 2013?


The Malaysian Grand Prix is going to be about a lot more than Massa’s future though; for a start it could be an important race for Hamilton’s future as well. There are few doubts Hamilton will see out his contract at McLaren that ends this year but for him to want to stay and McLaren to want to keep him it is time for him to step up and start at least matching Button. If Button does resoundly beat Hamilton this weekend in Malaysia, especially if he beats him to a victory that Hamilton will feel could have been his, this could set back Lewis Hamilton’s mind set further still.


It certainly seems from practice that the McLarens are likely to be fighting for victory. The Mercedes aren’t too far off but it seems that they will probably be fighting with Red Bull whose practice pace has been a little off but who seem to be able to get a couple more laps out of their sets of tyres than the Mercedes. Webber looks to be a match for Vettel so far this weekend too importantly; with Schumacher seemingly a little faster than Rosberg  a four way battle, perhaps joined by Fernando Alonso, could well ensue with each keen to get that final podium place if McLaren dominate.


Then there is Lotus, we never really got a clear view of their pace in Australia, though in qualifying trim the Car looked great. If both cars qualify well in the top ten and avoid incidents we may see if they can keep up with Red Bull and Mercedes.


Running through the teams in something like the positions they may finish Williams and Sauber should be mentioned next based on performances at Albert Park;  Sauber are third in the constructor’s standings thanks to getting two drivers home but this is only part of the story, Perez was fantastic on one set of tyres coming from the back of the grid: he will surely excel in Malaysia where tyre degradation is going to be a big factor, even if he does the same number of stops as everyone else he will have a lot more flexibility and be able to keep an even pace. As for Kobayashi he was fantastic both defending and attacking and will find even more opportunities at the fantastic Sepang circuit. With a close midfield likely as well Kamui Kobayashi may be able to take advantage where things are close using more than outright pace: for him a safety car later in the race to bring cars within his grasp as happened in Melbourne will be ideal. Williams will expect points here, maybe even for both cars, after their disappointment in Australia; Williams may have the legs on Sauber but it is likely to be close.


Both Force India and Toro Rosso will hope for good points finishes but unless they improve on their pace from Australia they could be left pointless if few cars drop out. Having said this the Toro Rossos looked good in both Friday practice sessions for the Malaysian Grand Prix.


Caterham should have the legs on Marussia again but will be unlikely to challenge the established teams. All three new teams will hope for rain, both in the race and in qualifying. Rain may be HRT’s only chance to get into the race especially a wet/dry session if they call it just right to make their runs. Marussia may be stronger here in Malaysia having had good runs in Australia that will have allowed them to learn a lot of what they should have learnt in pre–season testing. Caterham have perhaps less to gain but they have hinted that they will make gains soon, based on practice these look like they will have to wait for China though.


What I have written here may make it seem like Malaysia will be very predictable, it would be wrong to assume that, there are still a lot of unknowns and this is a different circuit to Melbourne. Every year for the Malaysian Grand Prix we hear talk of five or six stop strategies that never materialise but this year it could be that some teams could be at this extreme with others getting by with three or even two stops; then of course rain could completely change things again and open up possible points to almost anyone, rain is possible but not yet predictable for either Saturday or Sunday at Sepang.