F1 - Mercedes/Petronas GP Race Preview - Malaysia
What do you enjoy, and what are the unique challenges, of the Sepang International Circuit?
"Let's put it like this: we consider Malaysia as one of our home Grands Prix, so it obviously gives us a big boost to go there and have the support of PETRONAS and the Malaysian people. The track itself is great as it gives you a wide variety of possibilities during every lap. You can take multiple lines through some of the corners, which is something you can do hardly anywhere else. I have always liked driving there, and I look forward to doing it again."
The team had a difficult time in Australia. What do you expect from the second race?
"There is absolutely no doubt we want to do better than in the opening race, which was a disappointment for all of us. We clearly see that as a challenge and it is much too early to write us off. Everybody in the team remains positive and is in a fighting mood. So I expect a better weekend for us to come; a weekend we can build on."
How do you rate the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia?
"To be honest, Sepang is my favorite circuit on the Formula One calendar. It's fast and challenging with a nice layout and a real variation of corners which make it an exciting track to drive. Last year I qualified second and achieved the team's first podium of the season. I have a good feeling coming back here this year and hope to achieve a good result at the home race of our title partner PETRONAS."
Are you expecting a better weekend in Malaysia?
"We had a tough weekend in Australia but the team has worked hard and we are confident that the car will be running reliably in Malaysia. Melbourne is a unique circuit and we know that we will have a much better understanding of our level of performance after the next races. I think we can surprise people next Sunday. We know that the car is fast from the last test in Barcelona, so now we have to work on proving that potential."
Ross Brawn, Team Principal
"As the home race of our title partner, PETRONAS, the Malaysian Grand Prix is a very important and prestigious race for our team. The whole team enjoys our annual visit to both Kuala Lumpur and the Sepang International Circuit, and the unparalleled hospitality of our friends from PETRONAS and the Malaysian fans.
"We endured a difficult weekend at the first race of the season, despite having reasonable expectations after completing a successful testing programme in Barcelona. We suffered a number of problems which resulted in a far from optimum car for qualifying and the race, and then were unlucky to suffer a disappointing double retirement for Michael and Nico.
"Our priority since Melbourne has been to regroup back at our factories in Brackley and Brixworth, to review the weekend in detail, and to establish the best way to achieve the full potential of the car from Malaysia onwards. How we respond to the disappointment of Melbourne, and the challenges we faced, will be a true measure of our team."
Norbert Haug, Vice-President, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport
"The Sepang circuit presents many challenges. It has a wide variety of corners with varying radii which demand good aerodynamic stability and efficiency from a Formula 1 car. There are four major braking events during the lap, and extreme climatic conditions are the norm in Sepang, with high temperatures and humidity - which create a high likelihood of rain in the late afternoon during both qualifying and the race.
"The Malaysian Grand Prix is one of our home races, with our title partner PETRONAS headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, and Nico scored the first podium for our team last year at this circuit with a third-place finish.
"Since the first race in Australia, we have worked hard in Brackley and Brixworth to analyse the reasons behind, and to solve, the reliability and performance problems which hampered our first race weekend of the season. Our target is to be in better shape in Malaysia."
Race Preview Feature: The Safety Car Briefing
Since its formal and permanent re-introduction to the F1 rules in 1993, the Safety Car (SC) has played an increasingly prominent and important role in the sport. Last season set a record for the total number of SC deployments in one season, with 40 per cent more than the next highest season (2008). In total, eight per cent of the season's laps were completed behind the Safety Car in 2010.
What changes for 2011?
The rules have undergone subtle revisions for the 2011 season to further improve both fairness and safety. The SC speed limit, which represents a decrease in lap time of approximately 20%, will now be enforced over two laps instead of one, meaning all cars should be able to pit - if they wish to - prior to the SC being deployed on track. The pit-lane exit light will remain green for the duration of the SC period, while no car may enter the pits during an SC deployment unless for the purpose of changing tyres. This rule does not apply should the SC itself need to use the pit lane.
Can the Safety Car still be used to strategic advantage?
The SC can still be very much used to advantage by teams if correctly managed. It could allow you to gain track position relative to rivals with the advantage of fresher tyres, or remove a planned tyre stop from the race.
How is the SC integrated into strategy planning?
The SC is factored into race strategy as a percentage probability. This probability varies according to factors such as: the ease of clearing an incident by marshals; circuit layout and overtaking opportunities; the likelihood of wet weather. The team also holds accurate statistics on accidents and SC deployments during the last ten years, and these are categorised as random or circuit-specific to determine the likelihood of recurrence. They are then used to determine the probability of an SC occurrence during the race.
What is the SC probability for Malaysia?
The precise calculations used by the team remain confidential. However, there have historically been very few SC deployments in Malaysia - just two in the past ten years. This can be expressed as a 'rule of thumb' probability of 20% (signifying two of ten races featuring the SC), one of the lowest values of the entire season.
How does the later race start time affect the SC probability in Malaysia?
The race has been run in the late afternoon on just two occasions. The first, in 2009, saw the SC deployed once on lap 32, immediately before the race was red-flagged and ultimately abandoned on lap 33. Last year's race featured no SC periods at all. However, the probability of rainfall significantly increases with the later start time. Furthermore, rainfall in Sepang is unpredictable owing to its convective rather than frontal nature; this typically translates to very intense rain that begins very suddenly.
Which circuits have the highest probability of SC deployment?
The highest-probability circuits are Brazil, Melbourne, Monaco, Spa and Singapore. The race in Singapore has been a total of five SC deployments in three races, and carries a 100% SC probability based on historical data.
Which circuits are the least likely to see the SC deployed?
In addition to Malaysia based on historical data, the lowest probability circuit are Hungary and Bahrain. Both have significant run-off areas and a low probability of wet weather.
How much was the SC deployed during the 2010 season?
The 2010 season saw a total of 21 deployments. This more than doubled the total from 2009 (10 deployments) and was some 40 per cent higher than the previous highest number recorded in 2008. The 21 deployments accounted for a total of 92 laps, or eight per cent of the season's total race laps.
What was the longest ever SC period?
The longest SC deployment came in Japan in 2007, when the cars completed 26 laps behind it at the start of the race. This figure was neared in 2010 in Korea, when the first 24 laps of the race were completed behind the SC. The most deployments in a single race came at the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix, with five deployments. Last year, two races featured four deployments: Monaco, which finished behind the SC; and Korea, which started behind it.