Preview: Malaysian GP

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Malaysia, Sepang International Circuitmy

F1 has arrived in Malaysia for an entirely different challenge than that in Melbourne. The burning heat and high speed corners are all new for the 2013 cars.

The 5.543km circuit is a challenge for the engine as a high percentage of the lap is spent at full throttle, plus there are two long straights of just under a kilometre each. On each of these straights the engine is at full throttle for over 10 seconds, thus requiring strong acceleration and top speed. The two straights however run in opposing directions, which we need to take into account when selecting seventh gear - if the wind is blowing down one straight, the acceleration can be compromised on the other one if the gear ratios are not correct.

On the tyre front, Pirelli brings the medium and hard compounds. The track in combination with the climate is very demanding on the tyres due to its aggressive surface, heavy braking areas, long straights and wide variety of speeds and corners.

For the first time, there will also be 2 DRS zones, each with their own separate detection point. This used to be impossible last year due to software limitations, but the FIA have worked to resolve this during the winter.

Track highlights

Turns 1 & 2 Turn 1 is a big engine braking zone, coming directly after the pit straight where the engine has been at full throttle for a touch under 11secs. The driver will brake down from 7th to 2nd gear and just 80kph for the entry of the turn before lightly applying the throttle between T1 and 2. At this point the engine needs to have good torque response as the revs drop to 9,000rpm.

Turns 5 & 6 Turns 5 and 6 are two of the fastest corners on the track, taken at an average 225kph, with only a small lift off between corners. The high speed changes of direction put the internals of the engine under a lot of pressure, particularly the oil system, where the fluids are ‘squashed’ to one side by the g-forces. In contrast to T1 and 2 where the pedal sensitivity is required is at low opening positions, the driver will mainly be modulating the pedal towards its maximum travels. The driver needs to have confidence in the torque and pedal maps at these high pedal positions, particularly over the kerbs, to maximize his speeds through these two fast corners.

Pit straight Top speed will peak at the end of the straight at around 310kph with DRS activated. Getting the right balance between a high top speed and appropriate acceleration is critical, making the choice of gear ratios crucial: you want to hit top speed just before the end of the straight to take advantage of greater acceleration. How the car behaves at this cruise speed will also be important for the driver. It needs to be smooth, so as not to affect the longitudinal acceleration of the vehicle. A smooth engine behaviour at the end of straight will ensure that reaching the top speed will be as transparent as possible for the driver and make overtaking easier. However, this can sometimes be difficult to calibrate, especially at Sepang where you have two long straights of opposite directions, which can mean that the wind can come into play.

Car setup

The track surface is very abrasive, particularly in comparison to Albert Park, which is very smooth. High speed stability is an essential requirement in Malaysia due to the circuit layout, which contains some long straights and quick direction changes.

Rear wing Downforce levels are very similar to the levels in Melbourne.
Brakes There are four pretty heavy braking zones into turn one, in to turn four, into turn 14, and then into turn 15. High temperatures are not such a threat as there are long straights between the braking events to cool the brakes.

Front wing The threat of understeer is not as prevalent as in Albert Park so teams can run with slightly less front wing.

Suspension Sepang requires a good all round car. There are high speed straights. There are very high speed change of direction in turns five and six. There are some reasonable traction events with some very low speed tight double hairpin at turn one and turn two. There are no high kerbs so the car
can be ran with a lower ride height than otherwise giving better overall downforce.

Engine Malaysia sits to the upper end of the ‘power tracks’ with 60% of the lap spent at full throttle. Of course the main characteristic of Sepang is the high ambient humidity. Even if the rain stays away, the high water content in the air displaces the oxygen available to burn, which slows the combustion process and reduces engine power output. If it rains the challenge is to set the parameters to reduce power loss while still providing enough grip. Engine engineers will set the pedal maps appropriately for wet conditions to help the driver better modulate the torque application and will then monitor the on-car torque sensor to ensure the engine is always providing the torque requested. This is particularly important in the quick turns, and particularly the back section from turns 9 to 13.

Quick facts

Number of corners: 15 (5 left & 10 right)
Maximum speed (no DRS): 310 km/h
Minimum speed: 70 km/h
Corners below 100 km/h (qualifying): 4 (T1, 2, 9, 15)
Corners above 250 km/h (qualifying): 3 (T3, 12, 13)
Average lap speed (qualifying): 205 km/h
Distance to from pole to apex of T1: 650 m
Braking events: 8, 4 heavy
Pit-lane length under speed-limit control: 425 m
Pit-lane time at 60 km/h: 25.5s
Pit-lane time at 100 km/h: 15.3s

Full throttle per lap (% lap distance): 65%
Full throttle per lap (% lap time): 55%
Longest period at full throttle: 11.2s
Average gear changes per race lap: 54 (3024/race)
Braking energy: (1 - high, 3 - low) 2
Fuel effect: 0.43sec/10kg
Fuel consumption: 2.46kg/lap