The Malaysian Grand Prix is less than 12 hours away. Will we get another action-packed encounter as we saw in Melbourne – and will the rain we’ve expected all weekend finally arrive?
Let’s take a look ahead to the crucial opening lap of the race and see how the start, the first stint, and the rest of the race will unfold.
Join us here on F1 Fanatic for the Malaysian Grand Prix live blog starting 9am on Sunday (from one hour before the start of the race).
There are three elements to a fast start this year: tyres, KERS and which side of the grid a driver is on.
At Melbourne the cars on the super-soft tyres were able to exploit their excellent early performance to pass slower-starting rivals. Felipe Massa used them to especially good, moving up to third place from seventh on the grid.
This weekend the teams are using the soft tyres instead of the super softs. But some drivers may still favour them to help them in the opening stages. This is particularly true of drivers who have qualified ‘out of position’ and will need to make up ground quickly: including Sebastian Vettel (13th) and Massa (16th).
More here: Malaysian Grand Prix grid
The long run to the first corner and the blast between turns two and four look ripe spots for drivers to jab their KERS buttons and make up places.
Seven cars are KERS-equipped this weekend: the Ferraris, McLarens and Renaults, plus Nick Heidfeld’s BMW. But will they all have it activated? Raikkonen was keeping his finger off the button in qualifying, no doubt because of the overheating problems the team experienced in practice.
At most tracks the drivers starting on the cleaner side of the grid can expect to have an advantage. But at Sepang the racing line cuts diagonally across the grid, and in recent races here both sides of the grid tend to get away equally well.
We’ve already started picking over the strategies for the race.
Pole sitter Button looks to have at least one lap more fuel than the four cars behind him. Further back, Vettel is lending weight to the expectation that he’ll bolt on soft tyres at the start and go for it.
More here: Malaysian GP fuel weights and strategies
Weather and light
All weekend long we’ve been waiting for the rain to arrive. In between sessions the track has seen occasional deluges, the like of which could cause the race to be red-flagged if they happen again tomorrow. There is an 80% chance of showers during the race.
Rain at Sepang tends to fall very heavily, then dry up very quickly. In 2001 Ferrari played a blinder by putting on intermediate tyres during the peak of a passing rain storm, correctly guessing that the race would remain behind the safety car for a long time, but the track would dry out quickly afterwards.
Wet weather inevitably brings the question of which driver are better in the rest: recent history favours Vettel, Kubica, Hamilton and Alonso over the likes of Massa, whose disastrous form at Silverstone last year sticks in the mind.
The late start for the race means more low light problems for the drivers. And the consequences could be far worse if a heavy rain storm blows in, potentialyl making visibility so poor the race has to be stopped.
More here: Should F1 have ‘twilight’ races? (Poll)
I asked for people’s predictions on Twitter – here’s some of the replies I received:
F1Guru mclaren push too much into 1st corner. Button drives away toyotas get up to no good and take each other out. One can hope
#StooCollins jens will be taken on first corner by trulli
#BowenRacing Trulli will be close to button at turn 1, maybe too close. By turn 2, Webber will be 3rd and Raikkonen 4th due to KERS.
#Shaun_Wood Jenson will do the same as last week and make a good start, Rubens will get to third. Kubica and Webber will collide.
#pastamaster39 Jenson will get away cleanly, Glock and Trulli will jostle for 2nd position, some KERS cars will overtake one ahead?
#olliewhite Given the slightly lighter fuel load, Trulli will nudge past Button into T1. Glock will take both! (I’m optimistic!)
#olliewhite Although in reality, Button will cruise through T1 in the lead. My first prediction is more interesting though!
#ebarnes442 Trulli, in an effort to keep Button from running off and hiding on the first lap, makes a desperate move in turn 1 and take
#ebarnes442 takes them both out. Glock sneaks through to lead lap one from Kimi and Webber and goes on to give Toyota its first win.
#RubberGoat What’s going to happen? A big pile up at turn 1 when all the KERS cars arrive much faster from the back of the pack!
#cholle2001 on lap 1: jenson speeds away from the rest of the pack within 4 sec. vettel overtakes lewis, kazuki, and heidfeld. yay!
#clairetuk Lewis will try to hard and Fernando will get up there from 10th and someone in a TR car will crash into someone first cor
How do you think the race is going to play out? Who will be the driver to beat if it’s wet? Have your say in the comments.