Hot on the heels of the Australian Grand Prix is the Malaysian Grand Prix this weekend. Sebastian Vettel will aim to make it a hat-trick of victories after winning the previous two years, however based on the pace McLaren showed in Australia, he will have his work cut out for him. McLaren dominated qualifying and it was a fortuitous safety car timing that saw Vettel leapfrog Hamilton for third.
The Sepang circuit entered the Formula 1 calendar in 1999 and all but three victors (Irvine ’99, Ralf Schumacher ’02, Fisichella ’06) will be on the grid this weekend. The most recent winners are listed below, along with the Australian Grand Prix winners from the previous race that season.
– Pole position: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
– Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
– Aus GP pole: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
– Aus GP winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
– Pole position: Mark Webber (Red Bull)
– Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) (from 3rd on the grid)
– Aus GP pole: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
– Aus GP winner: Jenson Button (McLaren-Mercedes)
– Pole position: Jenson Button (Brawn-Mercedes)
– Winner: Jenson Button (Brawn-Mercedes)
– Aus GP pole: Jenson Button (Brawn-Mercedes)
– Aus GP winner: Jenson Button (Brawn-Mercedes)
In the thirteen years since racing in Sepang commenced, the driver on pole has won seven times. In the eleven years since the race was rescheduled to follow the Australian Grand Prix, the winner in Australia in has won in Malaysia five times.
In qualifying, Red Bull and McLaren locked out the first two rows on the grid, while Ferrari and Renault (now Lotus) made up the third and fourth rows. Vettel won qualifying with Hamilton 0.104 seconds off his pace. The top five were identical to the qualifying positions in the Australian Grand Prix two weeks earlier, however Vettel’s margin over Hamilton was 0.778 seconds in Melbourne.
In the race, Vettel made a clean start with Heidfeld moving up from 6th to 2nd after the first few corners. Vettel built a solid lead and won the race comfortably, despite experiencing some KERS issues in the second half of the race. Behind the serene Vettel was a chaotic fight for the other podium places, which was contested between Button, Hamilton and Alonso. Hamilton and Alonso clashed with ten laps to go in an incident that saw both of them given 20-second penalties. Button went on to take second with Heidfeld collecting third.
Impressions from the 2012 Australian Grand Prix and other titbits
Sergio Pérez impressed in Australia, using a one stop strategy to come in 8th after starting 22nd on the grid to serve a penalty for changing his gearbox. At times he matched and even bettered the lap times of the front runners, and was able to manage his tyres in a race where others were running three stop strategies.
Ferrari were awful in qualifying, but Alonso managed to snag 5th place after starting 12th on the grid. Massa continues to disappoint, qualifying 16th, then suffering balance issues before retiring with collision damage after 46 laps.
Red Bull matched McLaren’s pace during many parts of the race, however McLaren hinted over the in-race driver audio that they weren’t running Button’s engine at the highest level.
There is some controversy over the design of the Mercedes ‘F-duct’ rear wing, which could come under scrutiny in Malaysia. Update: the design has been approved by the FIA, so it will be interesting to see if rivals move to implement the same setup.
Malaysian Grand Prix Preview
McLaren are confident about their chances in Malaysia. The team has previously been off Red Bull’s pace in circuits with demanding corners, but McLaren feel their car this year is more versatile, and can be competitive at all circuits this year. McLaren technical director Paddy Lowe said pre-season testing had demonstrated the car’s versatility. He points to McLaren’s strong performance in pre-season testing on Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunay, arguably the most demanding track in Formula 1 of a car’s all-round capabilities, as evidence that McLaren should be strong again in Malaysia.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner is bullish about his team’s competitiveness, feeling his team underperformed in Australia, rather being dominated by McLaren.
Anything other than a McLaren or Red Bull victory would be a huge shock. All indications are that it will be a more closely contested race than Australia.
Malaysian Grand Prix Betting
Below are the latest qualifying and race day odds.
If you fancy a punt, qualifying session 1 is fun to bet on because of the uncertainty over which tyres the drivers will use. The top teams aim to avoid using the softer compound in the first session to save a set for the race, so they often fail to top the first session. Last year Massa was forced to use the softer compound to avoid missing out on session 2, which resulted in him topping the time sheet in session 1. He then went on to qualify 7th overall. In the Australian Grand Prix last weekend Kamui Kobayashi topped session 1 and went on to qualify 14th overall. Your success in qualifying session 1 betting is based on your ability to predict who will run which compound. If you are able to bet live online, then you can wait and see which of the faster drivers look most likely to duck back into the pits for the softer compound tyres based on their first efforts. For sessions 2 and 3 the top drivers will likely use the softer compound, so expect to see the McLarens and Red Bulls near the top in those sessions.
Based on what we saw in Australia, it seems that Red Bull have opted to sacrifice some qualifying pace at the expense of race pace, so the McLaren’s are arguably your best bet for overall qualifying (pending the practice session results of course). Previous history suggests that there’s a good chance the Red Bulls will be at least closer to the McLaren qualifying pace this weekend, because the gaps often narrow from race 1 to 2.
Since racing began in Sepang the pole winner has gone on to win the race 53.8% of the time. Without knowing anything else about the race, that translates to fair odds of 1.86 for the pole winner to go on and win the race. Until we see the practice times and qualifying results it’s hard to say much more at this stage.
Some people to keep an eye on for minor places are Räikkönen who finished 7th in Australia after a shambolic qualifying session saw him qualify 17th. Sergio Pérez also impressed in Australia, matching the front runners at times during the race. Pastor Maldonado was unlucky not to collect points last week, while Kamui Kobayashi managed 6th despite racing with a damaged rear wing.
If you like to bet in-play, Button and Vettel are excellent at leading a race from start to finish if they find themselves at the front of the pack after the first few corners.
Looking at the weather forecast for Sepang, scattered thunderstorms are predicted with a 60% chance of rain (at the time of writing). This increases the risk of backing the favourites, although the likes of Button are great at handling wet weather conditions.
Below are the latest season futures odds.
I wrote last week that Ferrari didn’t look to be as competitive based on pre-season testing, and that Alonso’s odds to win the title could blow out past 10.00. This meant he was worth laying on Betfair. At the time of writing this article, his back odds have now blown out to 18.5. If you have placed a lay bet on Alonso or Ferrari, you may want to wait before hedging because they appear to be a second off the pace at the moment, so further odds blowouts look likely.