Malaysian GP preview

31 03 2009
Brawn GP

Can anyone catch the Brawns?

Brawn GP locked out the front row, led every lap and finished one-two in Melbourne. Can anyone stop them in Sepang?
It’s a totally different circuit in a punishing climate – and we just might in for some rain as well.

Tires

Tires played a big role in Melbourne as teams struggled to make the super soft compound tires last. Sepang is harder on tires than Melbourne, so this weekend the teams will be using the hard and soft tires. Last year the two tire compounds were hard and medium, so those soft tires could prove problematic. But rain has been forecast for the Malaysian Grand Prix, in which case the teams will be reaching for the intermediate and wet tires.

KERS

At Melbourne Ferrari, Renault and McLaren were all KERS-equipped, as was Nick Heidfeld’s BMW. It’s likely that we’ll see the same seven using KERS again, as Sepang offers a greater opportunity for them to get a benefit from it: Melbourne’s longest flat-out section is just 735m long, Sepang offers an extra 100m (and this is still far shorter than what we’ll see at other tracks later in the year).
KERS seemed to offer some help to the drivers that had it at Melbourne. Lewis Hamilton was jabbing his KERS button to pick off rivals early in the race, and Timo Glock complained that he couldn’t get past Fernando Alonso as the Renault driver used his to out-accelerate the Toyota. Williams’ Sam Michael is convinced the technology offers a benefit, and wants their electro-mechanical system on the car as soon as possible.
But Ferrari reported they were struggling with increased tire wear as a consequence of their drivers using KERS, particularly early in the race when they were on super-soft tires. However there is a disadvantage to running KERS in Malaysia – cooling is critical in the humid heat of Sepang, and KERS demands extra heat rejection.

Can anyone catch Brawn?

Nico Rosberg’s Williams may have been fastest in all three practice sessions at Melbourne, but when the business end of the weekend arrived Brawn were uncatchable. Interestingly although Rubens Barrichello was the faster of the two BGP001s in Q2 (by 0.072s), he had more fuel on board in Q3. Perhaps he wanted to run a longer first stint so his final stint on the unfavorable super-softs would be shorter? Regardless, Sepang may bring us the Brawn-vs-Brawn battle at the front we didn’t get at Melbourne because Barrichello fluffed his start.
Brawn’s rivals’ best hopes of victory are either that the pair tangle or that the punishing Malaysian heat breaks their cars. Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull kept in sight of Button’s car at Melbourne, but the mid-race safety car period diminished their lead over the pack and made Brawn’s margin of victory far smaller than it might have been.
I expect Ferrari to bounce back from their woeful start to the season – much as they did last year – and could even be Brawn’s closest challengers.

Drivers to watch

Kimi Raikkonen – Started his comeback from a disappointing 2009 by being out-qualified by his team mate and crashing. Cannot afford to let that become a habit. Sepang has played to his strengths in the past and he took Massa to the cleaners here last year. Badly needs a repeat performance this time around.

Jarno Trulli – One of my picks from last week, he drove a magnificent race from the back last week and would have been on the podium but for a late error and a penalty. Should get the result he needs this weekend.

Sebastian Vettel – The man who came the closest to taking the fight to Brawn for most of the first race. But he spoiled what would have been a fine debut for Red Bull with a late clash with Robert Kubica. Can he make up for it this weekend?

Robert Kubica – Spent much of practice looking and sounding very unhappy with his F1.09, but produced the goods in qualifying and the race. Perhaps being KERS-free isn’t so bad?

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