Jenson Button, McLaren, Melbourne, 2012

McLaren have the edge as F1 moves on to Malaysia

2012 Malaysian Grand Prix preview

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McLaren led the way in Australia but the chasing pack wasn’t far behind.

Red Bull showed strong pace in the race and Mercedes and Lotus weren’t far behind in qualifying.

Can any of them get on terms with the silver cars this weekend?

The Malaysian Grand Prix

Sepang circuit information

Lap length5.543km (3.444 miles)
Distance56 laps (310.4km/192.9 miles)
Lap record*1’34.223 (Juan Pablo Montoya, 2004)
Fastest lap1’32.582 (Fernando Alonso, 2005)
TyresHard and Medium

*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix

Sepang track data in full

The Sepang International Circuit holds the Malaysian Grand Prix for the 14th time this year.

It’s generally considered one of the better modern circuits, with some quick corners and two long straights for slipstreaming and overtaking.

The DRS zone will remain the same from last year – the detection point is prior to the final corner and DRS can be activated as they exit the final turn.

Malaysia makes several conflicting demands of the cars: they need downforce for the corners, ample cooling due to the high temperatures, and minimal drag for the straights. Satisfying all three is essential for a quick and reliable car.

Aside from the sweltering heat and humidity, the other notable characteristic of the weather is sudden heavy rain downpours. That has affected the races only infrequently but when it does – such as in 2001 and 2009 – it tends to be dramatic.

Red Bull

Red Bull seem not to have fully got to grips with the late changes they made to their car’s exhaust system at the end of testing. Further revisions were made early on in the Australian Grand Prix weekend but the wet conditions prevented them getting much running with it.

Nonetheless the race was hardly a disaster as their cars came home in second and fourth.

Sepang will give them more opportunity for development. It also sports more of the long corners where Red Bull have excelled in recent years. Both of which could help them get on terms with Mclaren this year.


Jenson Button, McLaren, Melbourne, 2012McLaren have never started the Malaysian Grand Prix from pole position. Having locked out the front row of the grid in Melbourne, you have to like their chances of ending that streak this weekend.

Had it not been for the safety their cars would likely have come home one-two as well.

They head into the weekend looking to capitalise on their strong start to the season and put some distance between them and their rivals who, sooner or later, are bound to come after them.


Melbourne confirmed the worst predictions about the Ferrari F2012’s performance. It looked evil in the braking zones and both drivers had spins during the race weekend.

They are a little more optimistic about the car’s performance in long corners. But back-to-back race weekends means they are unlikely to make serious progress with their car this weekend.

It’ll be another case of damage-limitation for Fernando Alonso. Meanwhile Felipe Massa will be using a new chassis in a bid to understand why his performance in Melbourne was substantially worse than Alonso’s, even given the car’s shortcomings.


Mercedes caught the eye in Melbourne with some quick performances in practice, but ultimately fell short of expectations. They left the first race of the season point-less, but look like strong contenders heading into this weekend.

Their trick F-duct-style system should help their performance on Sepang’s long straights and could put them in contention for pole position – assuming their rivals don’t find a way to ban it.

Their race performance is a bit more suspect. They admitted to suffering higher tyre degradation than expected in Melbourne, which the heat of Sepang may make worse.


Another team who came away from Melbourne with less than they should have, following Romain Grosjean’s early ejection from the race.

If he can have a trouble-free race and Kimi Raikkonen can avoid a repeat of his qualifying blunder, points and podiums should be possible this weekend.

Force India

Paul di Resta expects the team to fare better in Sepang where tyre warm-up should be less of a problem.

For Nico Hulkenberg the race offers an opportunity to get his season started after his lap one retirement in Australia.


Sergio Perez, Sauber, Melbourne, 2012Despite starting last, Sergio Perez left Australia with a solid haul of points – which could have been greater had it not been for the safety car.

Last year in Malaysia he was fortunate to escape injury when he struck a piece of debris – believed to have been a piece of ballast – which damaged his chassis badly enough to write it off.

As last year, Sauber have a car which is kind to its tyres, and in the heat of Malaysia that could be a very handy thing indeed.

Toro Rosso

The STR7s looked quick around Melbourne – Jean-Eric Vergne set the sixth-quickest lap and Daniel Ricciardo reached Q3.

The punishing heat and humidity of Malaysia will expose any shortcoming in the newcomers’ fitness regimes.


Williams’ delight at finding they have a quick car on their hands in Australia tempered their disappointment at seeing Pastor Maldonado crash out of the points on the last lap.

But they can ill-afford to throw any more points away in the thick of a competitive midfield.


Caterham were blighted by reliability problems in Australia, which probably kept them short of their ultimate performance.

Even so, it’s hard to see them challenging for a place in Q2 just yet.


Pedro de la Rosa, HRT, Melbourne, 2012Last year HRT failed to qualify in Australia but made it on the grid in Malaysia.

If they can get some reasonable running done in practice, they should be able to qualify this time.


Despite limited running pre-season Marussia appear to have a car that is both reliable and considerably quicker than HRT’s.

But they’re a long way off Caterham, so Timo Glock and Charles Pic are likely to be in a race of their own.

2012 driver form

How the drivers have fared in the season so far.

Q avgR avgR bestR worstClassifiedForm guide
Sebastian Vettel62221/1Form guide
Mark Webber54441/1Form guide
Jenson Button21111/1Form guide
Lewis Hamilton13331/1Form guide
Fernando Alonso125551/1Form guide
Felipe Massa160/1Form guide
Michael Schumacher40/1Form guide
Nico Rosberg71212121/1Form guide
Kimi Raikkonen177771/1Form guide
Romain Grosjean30/1Form guide
Paul di Resta151010101/1Form guide
Nico Hulkenberg90/1Form guide
Kamui Kobayashi136661/1Form guide
Sergio Perez228881/1Form guide
Daniel Ricciardo109991/1Form guide
Jean-Eric Vergne111111111/1Form guide
Pastor Maldonado81313131/1Form guide
Bruno Senna141616161/1Form guide
Heikki Kovalainen180/1Form guide
Vitaly Petrov190/1Form guide
Pedro de la Rosa0/0Form guide
Narain Karthikeyan0/0Form guide
Timo Glock201414141/1Form guide
Charles Pic211515151/1Form guide

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2012 Malaysian Grand Prix

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Images ?é?® McLaren/Hoch Zwei, Sauber F1 Team, HRT F1 Team

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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66 comments on “McLaren have the edge as F1 moves on to Malaysia”

  1. Can any of them get on terms with the silver cars this weekend?

    Yeah, I think Red Bull can, and I think Merc will be very strong on Saturday and less so on Sunday. I hope Ferrari have learned some things and in spite of the one week span can pull in a more tight weekend. Same with KR.

    1. McLaren excelled better in high speed corners as shown in testing if anything McLaren will definitely pull a bigger gap to Red Bull than in Australia

  2. 1 – Hamilton
    2 – Button
    3 – Raikkonen

    1. soundscape (@)
      22nd March 2012, 1:22

      Qualifying or race?
      Not sure I’d discount Red Bull for race results, let alone qualifying.

  3. A Mercedes pole position and another double points finish for Sauber will make me very happy.

    Although we cannot count out Red Bull.

    1. i’ll take a pass on the mercedes, but i’d love to see Sauber have a great weekend. Their car has the potential for top 5 right now I can feel it, they just need to have a clean quali session and I think it’s achievable.

      It’s one of Kamui’s better tracks so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

  4. Another win for Jenson would be very nice. Then — and only then — can they all start fighting!

  5. i still think McLaren will have the edge, looking at top speed of RBR it will be a sitting duck for a McLaren if the race pace is similar. But i think McLaren have a better package both on Saturday & Sunday. Unless RBR has some updates coming for this race. I expect Mercedes to fare a lot better than Australian GP, Ferrari will have one of the worst weekend if the race turns out to be dry & if Lotus & Merc get the maximum out of the car. problems faced by Grosjean, Kimi, Schumacher & Rosberg during the last race made Alonso’s Ferrari look good for fifth.

    Also looking at Williams progress by switching to Renault engine tells that it’s the best engine out there. Cosworth was clearly not up there with the competition. But that makes me wonder that all the progress made by Caterham by using Renault engine & RBR gearbox it too should get among the points unless they have messed up with the chassis. It’s their home GP i hope they have a good race to cheer up their fans.

    1. IF Vettel snatches pole from them, even if the top speed deficit is massive, I expect him to win.

    2. We can’t know for sure, if it was the engine that wasn’t up there or aero. I think it was the latter. Sure there may have been some packaging issues that could’ve been significant, specifically in Williams’ case, but the performance difference between all the engines is marginal

      1. Red Bull top speed is a trick, they ain’t suffering much from it at all they just choose shorter gears so they can accelerate faster.

    3. How so? The Renault engine is in a different chassis this year. The Cosworth engine is one of the most powerful on the grid – if anything let Williams down it was the gearbox and the aero – the performance gain they showed in Oz is far more than just the engine. Renault is not the most powerful engine on the grid but still wins.

      Sorry, just seen someone has got there before me!

  6. Only rain can stop McLaren this weekend.

    1. I think McLaren showed several times that they are the best at stopping themselves sometimes. Remember not going out before the rain?

    2. maybe it will bother hamilton but jenson is a specialist in wet conditions

      1. That was Funny.

  7. Hamilton needs to win this race in my opinion if he wants to beat challenge for the title. I know it may seem a little early to say this but the more confidence Button gets, the harder it will be to haul him back.

    1. obviously the word “beat” shouldn’t be in there

      1. I dunno, it has a certain charm.

    2. ‘Challenge’ to get pole position on Saturday

  8. After Melbourne, I feel we have masses of what ifs.
    What if Vettel hadn’t fluffed qualifying, could he have won.
    What if Kimi hadn’t fluffed qualifying, could he had got near a podium !
    What if Grosjean hadn’t screwed up his start, ditto a podium ?
    What if Lewis had led after the first corner, would he have won?
    Maybe Malaysia will mean some of the above get a better return for their efforts…cant wait!!

    1. The answer to your first question is known to everybody-no. Even if Vettel hadn’t messed up qualy he would end up around P3-4, as he lost around .3-.4 of a second because of his scruffy lap. Half the difference to the Mclarens.

    2. Vettel – No.
      Kimi – He would’ve had a podium.
      Grosjean – No.
      Lewis – Yes, I think whoever was into the first corner ahead would win the race, a la 1998.

  9. It will be closer than you think. There are at least ten drivers who might win if a bit of luck falls their way. Remove last weekends bad luck and the standings would look much different than they are. Sepang is an interesting place and the track layout offers some challenges. Ferrari getting any results will be bigger news than a RED BULL win. If Button wins over Hamiliton again then it will open the tides of long term internal problems for them , maybe better said a moody Hamilton for sure.

    Next Monday we will better understand how the season is shaping up.

  10. My saturday dream:
    Webber on pole position with a great lap in the wet. :)

    1. @me4me While Im a Mclaren fan, I would be really happy if the qualy goes like in 2010. The first few laps with both Ferraries and Mclarens starting from the back of the grid, that was awsome. And if it rains on sunday too I will pray for another last-to-first win from Button. That would make my day.

  11. I’m looking forward to seeing what Mercedes and Lotus can do this weekend. With regard to the former, it’s not unlikely they will qualify near or on the front row, and with their record of super fast starts, we could have Mercedes 1 and 2 at the first corner. Although, similar to @damonsmedley ‘s consideration, I wouldn’t mind if Hamilton manages to stay ahead of everyone…

    Another entirely possible scenario is that Red Bull find their form, and Vettel drives away from pole, however that is one I am less eager to see. Anyway, the current weather forecast at the official formula 1 site is thunderstorms each day, so let’s wait and see.

  12. I’ve looked at the weather forecast and it’s not good: rain all weekend.

    1. Friday should be dry from what I’ve heard. Possibly rain in qualy, very likely to rain in the race.

    2. I pretty sure that it says every year that it’s going to rain all weekend, only for it to rain usually after the race.

    3. @fer-no65 In itself, rain isn’t necessarily bad (if that’s at all what you meant), though let’s hope we don’t have to go through endless red flag and safety car situations.

      1. Rain is brilliant… even if it means the race is red flagged. I wonder if Kimi will do the trick and have an ice-cream midrace again!

        1. After retiring from the race Kimi had an ice cream. I’ve never understood how this is funny.

          1. He not retiring. When the race was red flagged, he decided to change his overall and have an ice cream and coke while other driver waiting on the grid for restart.

          2. @sesku The team decided not to continue, as he had a KERS failure. Others waited on the grid, but he had a car failure, so he changed and went for an ice cream. Should he wait on the grid without a working car?

          3. @sesku Kimi had a issue with KERS, but Ferrrai were adamant that Kimi would still be racing. As to why Kimi would race after Ferrari made him run on Wet tyres during the dry phase till his tyres worn out is anybody’s guess

          4. Awkward to post the same comment after 16 mins. Should have refreshed the page :(

          5. Kimi was told by Ferrari they would retire, he ate ice-cream, then the team changed it’s mind and said they’d see if there’s anything they could do to start again. Minutes after that it was announced the race would not continue.

            So yeah, Kimi was told he would not be able to continue.

  13. I’m hoping we have a start to the season similar to 2003, with a different winner for the first few races and an unpredictable podium!
    I’d love a pole from a Lotus or Mercedes. As for the winner I said Hamilton for Australia, so I’ll say Hamilton this weekend. Bound to be right sometime! :)

  14. It also sports more of the long corners where Red Bull have excelled in recent years.

    Didn’t winter testing indicate that Reb Bull and McLaren has traded places here? RedBull strong in tight corners, McLaren strong in fast sweepers.

    Since Melbourne is almost all tight corners and Sepang has more sweepers, this could end up with Red Bull having even more troubles.

    1. winter testing indicate…

      Those words are never together :P.

  15. @keithcollantine, Not sure if Pirelli said something different, but I remember they were going to send the Medium and Hard compounds, not Softs and Hards…

    1. @fer-no65 Apologies, you’re right, corrected it.

      1. Your welcome :)

  16. trick F-duct-style system

    @keithcollantine, let’s have an article on F1 Fanatic where we discuss, then vote on what to call that system. There isn’t an accepted name for it at the moment as Mercedes aren’t talking about it very much – and when they are, they’re denying that it should be called an F-Duct – so let’s take the lead! It doesn’t really matter what it’s called so long as everyone uses and understands the same term. You never know, the name we decide might stick in the wider world, bringing us, erm, fame and glory.

    1. It doesn’t really matter what it’s called so long as everyone uses and understands the same term

      The media names it as “F-Duct”, though, so everyone knows it as such. The original F-Duct wasn’t really named like that within McLaren, if I remember correctly…

      1. Then why did this article have to pad it out with “trick” and “-style system”? I’ve heard multiple commentators stumble over what to call it already, as well.

        1. They probably don’t know how to name it because no one knows exactly how it works… so maybe, as it supposedly works like an F-duct, stalling something, they call it like that.

      2. @fer-no65 No it was not. the F came from the inlet at the front being under the “f” letter in “Vodafone”.

        1. * Forgot to add that the name was not a McLaren invention

      3. Let’s call it the “DRS Duct”.
        After all, that’s where it starts and stops from.

    2. Numerous sites have labeled it the FDFW (F-Duct Front Wing)

    3. Double DRS. DDRS

  17. Presumably, as there is little time for updates for all the teams, if McLaren get their fuel consumption figures right then nobody will be able to catch them, if they qualify in their expected position.

  18. Actually I expect the gap to McLaren to be even bigger. I think McLaren said testing revealed they have an edge in fast corners, whereas Red Bull has advantage in the slow traction dependent corners. As almost everyone had straight-line speed advantage over RB we might actually see a commanding 1-2 from McLaren, with Lotus (which an all-rounder, very good in every aspect, excelling at none) and then Mercedes next in the line due to two proper straights and relatively short pitlane (which makes pitstops for teams with high tire degradation not so painful). What Red Bull can make out of this will heavily depend on the strategy.

  19. You can overtake at Sepang, so pole position isn’t a must! Button proved that in Australia, but I still feel that Red Bull is the main threat to the McLarens’. Mercedes have come along way in only a few years, but their target is clearly to win a grands prix. I have serious doubts about them maintaining a title threat to either Red Bull or McLaren. Ferrari, they can do no worse than they did in Melbourne, and I think people would be foolish to underestimate Alonso’s race pace around a track he clearly likes.

    1. Agree very much.

  20. So many waited for a glimpse of a car other than a Red Bull on pole throughout last year. It got to a point where many could not really accept the sheer dominance of Red Bull. Suppose McLaren have a similar season, are people going to do the same thing? I noticed that this was the case during the Ferrari – Schumacher years, when I hadn’t even seen an F1 race, that teams had almost threatened to break away from F1.

    I have come to feel that what makes F1 interesting (in my case at least) is not a different dominant team – dominant driver every season but 2-3 different dominant teams and drivers vying for the top. I would not like to see McLaren roll over the opposition like Red Bull last year even though I would want Button to win the drivers championship.

    On a side note, this year Vettel looks like he will be tested particularly in the overtaking department. Last year there was a fair bit of doubt whether he was good enough to win from say a P10 or P18. I will be watching closely.

    1. I agree 100% on your point about dominance. First and foremost I am a fan of F1. McLaren is my favorite team but the season would become very stale if we have to endure another season of dominance like last year. There is nothing more exciting than watching a race that is unpredictable, and although last year had its moments, it just lacked the unpredictability because you always knew that deep down Vettel would some how pull off the win.

      For this race then I am secretly hoping that qualifying gives many surpirses. I wouldn’t doubt if Mercedes are up there due to the FDFW. Overall I’m hoping it will be more exciting than Melbourne, not saying Melbourne was boring :).

    2. teams had almost threatened to break away from F1

      That was for many reasons though, other than Schumi and Ferrari dominating the sport.

      But I agree with you. Even if it’s your favourite team, I don’t think people would like to see them winning and winning and winning. The 2004 season was boring as hell, and I bet even the tifosi wanted something different.

      People want to see their drivers really fighting for the win, to make it sweeter. If you become used to it, then it doesn’t taste as good.

  21. Pole for Schumacher, victory for Hamiton, 2nd place for Button and 3rd for Raikkonen.

  22. great easy to read preview keith!
    I wonder if Murussia’s 14th place in Melborne will win them 10th place come the end of the season? if reliability through the field is strong, Caterham getting higher than 15th could be tricky…

  23. McLaren have only won one (1) race so far, so I think it’s a bit too early to talk of them dominating in 2012.

    (I’m a McLaren fan)

  24. I am going for a Michael pole. I am not sure if they’d even finish the race in the Top 10 though as tyre degradation in the massive heat is going to cause massive havoc for them!

  25. At least HRT will have a tad better a chance of qualifying – . Seems they really did not get DRS on the car in Australia, so no wonder they were outside the 107% mark then. With that on the car and a bit more time to get everything working it shouldn’t be to big an ask.

  26. If the rain holds off I expect RBR to be in a much stronger position come qualifying. The car just suits the circuit. The real crunch will be if they can hold off McLaren and others down the two long straights, particularly the main straight where the DRS zone is.

    Although Button managed it in Australia, I’m not convinced that RBR will have enough of a performance gap to get out of that crucial 1s zone within 2 laps.

    If we have rain, then I would put Button down for the race win. He’s smooth, very smooth, but he also knows when to change and that often puts him light-years ahead of the rest of the pack.

    I hope Mercedes do a better job of qualifying and I’m sure Raikkonen will have dusted off any cobwebs he had. Lotus seem to have the upper hand out of the two of the teams at the moment.

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