As a new addition for each race in 2012 here are the thoughts of the leading engineers and team bosses ahead of this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix:
Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren-Mercedes (Team Principal):
“Everybody within Vodafone McLaren Mercedes was tremendously buoyed by our performance in Melbourne last weekend. As we all know, a Formula 1 winter is incredibly tense as it’s almost impossible to know if the targets you’ve set internally will set the standard or leave you wanting. Happily, we were delighted to discover that MP4-27 has been successfully developed into a race-winning package – and that’s a source of huge pleasure, and huge relief, for the whole team. Of course, nobody sits still in Formula 1 and we head to Malaysia mindful that we’ll once again receive a stern challenge from our closest rivals – most notably Red Bull Racing and Mercedes AMG, both of whom will have points to prove this weekend.
“Sepang was one of the original ‘new world’ Formula 1 circuits and one that triggered the sport’s global expansion into Asia at the start of the millennium. I’m pleased that it remains a mainstay of the calendar, but also that it has developed a character and history of its own. It’s an extremely demanding circuit – on both the cars and the drivers – and a real challenge. We’ve enjoyed some highs and lows here, but I think we’re all looking forward to understanding how this unique season will continue to unwind this weekend.”
Ross Brawn, Mercedes (Team Principal):
“The Malaysian Grand Prix is always a special race for the team as the home race of our title partner Petronas. As always, the support that Petronas provides to Formula One, both to our team and to the promotion of the sport and the Grand Prix in Malaysia, has been fantastic, and we are all looking forward to a busy and successful week. Despite a positive start, our first race weekend of the season in Australia did not turn out as we would have wished, and there has been, and will continue to be, a lot of hard work done before we take to the track again in Malaysia. We have a fundamentally good car, now it is up to us to optimise its performance and achieve its potential on track.”
Norbert Haug, Mercedes:
“Last weekend in Melbourne, we began the race well, with our cars running third and fourth, and ended it badly, with Michael retiring from P3, while Nico suffered a puncture on the last lap after contact with another car while fighting for sixth place. Before this, Nico’s lap times were affected by higher levels of tyre degradation than ourselves and Pirelli had expected from testing and the practice sessions in Melbourne. Our team will be working hard to understand and, where possible, correct this before the next race in Malaysia. Our title partner Petronas is headquartered in Kuala Lumpur and they are strong supporters of Mercedes-Benz motorsport activities in Formula One, DTM and our Formula 3 junior programme. However Petronas is much more than a title partner and element of the Mercedes AMG Petronas team name. Thanks to their hard work, the continuous development of fuels and oils has also brought valuable tenths of a second in lap time improvements. Moreover, Mercedes-Benz and Petronas are close business partners in many countries around the world, with notable success. Together, we are working to achieve similar successes in Formula One and, with the potential our car has shown in pre-season testing and in qualifying and the opening stages of the race in Melbourne, we are now working in a focused manner to convert this into strong race results.”
Eric Boullier, Lotus (Team Principal):
“[Sepang] will be a totally different track from Albert Park of course. This said, we think that the E20 should be competitive there. One of its bigger assets is very low tyre degradation. Considering the very hot conditions in Malysia, this can only be a help. We think we can be competitive there.”
James Allison, Lotus (Technical Director):
“Although slightly unusual, Albert Park is actually not a bad weather vane for the season. Its range of corner speeds and traction demands means that cars which are quick in Melbourne tend to do OK over the remainder of the season. The next race will be much hotter, which poses different challenges for the cars, the tyres and the drivers, but we are confident that our Melbourne form, coupled with our reasonable pace in Jerez and Barcelona, will translate into a competitive showing in Malaysia. We don’t have any big upgrades to the car. It is a tight turnaround with a back to back race and we will be concentrating on finding a good setup with the package we have to make sure that we are using the tyres well. Sepang is quite challenging in this regard, due the high track temperatures that we can expect.”
Giampaolo Dall’Ara, Sauber (Head of Track Engineering):
“The circuit in Sepang is a technical one, but also a modern and wide one which therefore allows for more lines. In terms of set-up you have to take into account that it is demanding for the tyres. The tarmac is rather on the rough side and you have high speed corners and changes of direction which put stress on the tyres. Therefore the hardest and the medium tyre compounds from Pirelli are allocated for this race. The car configuration will be almost the same as in Melbourne. It is a back to back race anyway and the downforce level isn’t much different to Melbourne. Drag matters mostly in the first sector and, to a certain extent, also in sector three. Traction is important although a bit less crucial compared to the street circuit we have been racing on in Australia. Braking stability fairly much effects the lap time, so we have to keep an eye on that. In terms of cooling for the engine and gearbox, you normally run the maximum available configuration in Sepang. Last, but not least, there you sometimes have to deal with changing weather conditions at very short notice. It will be another challenging race weekend and we are looking forward to it.”
Mark Gillan, Williams (Chief Operations Engineer):
“The whole team are really buzzing after the good pace shown in both qualifying and in the race in Melbourne. We are now eager to capitalise on this performance and convert it into points in Malaysia. The Sepang track is a medium speed circuit, which is quite hard on the front tyres. With this in mind, Pirelli have specified both the hard and medium tyres. Despite the high ambient temperatures, humidity and chance of late afternoon rain the likelihood of a safety car is low, and indeed is the lowest of the entire season. Aerodynamically we shall be running a similar package to that in Australia, but will probably have to open up the cooling levels to allow for the increase in ambient temperature.”
Remi Taffin, Williams (Head of Renault Sport F1 Track Operations):
“Malaysia places a very different set of stresses on an engine from Australia. The heat and humidity can present stiff challenges for an engine’s cooling systems that may mean extra holes have to be put in the bodywork to diffuse heat. The safeguards Renault has put in place mean no such measures need to be taken with the RS27 so we can focus entirely on delivering the drivability needed for the flowing corners and those two long straights, which account for 25% of the lap, and building on the strong start in Melbourne.”
Dr Vijay Mallya, Force India (Team Principal):
The Australian Grand Prix was certainly an action-packed race and good viewing for the fans. It’s just a shame that we got caught up in some of the drama when Nico was taken out on the very first lap of the race. These things happen in racing, but it was a cruel end to an excellent weekend for him.
Paul’s race was strong and he did well to pick up the final point. It’s difficult to judge much from the first race, but we have learned a lot from Melbourne and we will try and improve our race pace consistency this weekend in Malaysia.
What is clear is that all the teams around us are very closely matched in terms of absolute pace and even the smallest mistake in qualifying or the race can cost you several positions. It will be very competitive in the midfield, just as we predicted during the pre-season.
Sepang this weekend should be another good indicator of where we stand in the pecking order. I’m optimistic that it will suit the characteristics of the VJM05 more than Melbourne and that we can remain in the hunt for points.
Mark Smith, Caterham (Technical Director):
“The obvious challenge facing everyone in Malaysia is how you cope with the heat. This will be the first time this year where we will be able to see how the 2012 tyres operate in the sort of temperatures we will be facing throughout the weekend, and we also have to take into account the strong possibility of heavy rain when we are planning the setup options for each session.
“We saw in Australia that we have some work to do on generating heat into the tyres as early as possible when the cars are on track, and the increased ambient temperatures in Malaysia will obviously help that, but I think managing degradation levels will play a key role in the race strategies of all the teams. We need to make sure we improve our qualifying performance and then I think we can be reasonably confident of repeating the sort of race pace we saw from both cars in Australia. We know what the car is capable of and we need to maximise track time on Friday and Saturday to help us extract the performance it has within it, so the main aim will be to have a reliable, problem free weekend and put on as good a display as we can in front of our home fans and our shareholders.”
Tony Fernandes, Caterham (Team Principal):
“This is our third visit to one of our two home races and the first for us as Caterham F1 Team, with the legal wrangles we have been involved in for the last two years now behind us, firmly in control of our own destiny and writing a brand new chapter in our story. I am very glad we are back home as Caterham and it feels like only yesterday that we were making our debut at Sepang, and recording what was for us an historic first appearance in Q2 in only our third ever race. While I would obviously like to see us repeat that in 2012 I am not sure if we are quite there yet. We have obviously improved our pace relative to our 2011 speed, but the teams ahead have also improved, so even though we are closer than this time last year we still have work to do to bridge the gap in qualifying.
“However, in the race I think it looks like a different matter. At the end of last year we were agonisingly close to a number of cars ahead, and this year our race lap times in Australia were on a par with at least three cars ahead. With a bit of luck, which obviously deserted us in Melbourne, I think the Malaysian race will give us a chance to show just what we have achieved over the winter, and that gives us good reason to be optimistic about the weekend ahead.”
Luis Pérez-Sala, HRT (Team Principal):
“Winter has been a period of hard work where we have achieved many things in a short period of time. But this is Formula 1 and what counts in the end are results so, although for us it was important to make it to Australia and run from the first day, to have made it so far and not quite make it didn’t please anyone. Anyways, the F112 is a young car with potential and the team is also new and promising. They both need running time and adaptation, but we are aware that the Championship doesn’t stop and there is no time to lose. That is why we will continue to work to the maximum as we have done until now and I’m confident that in Malaysia we will continue to progress and take that extra step to improve.”
John Booth, Marussia (Team Principal):
“The team and the car faced a tough test in Australia last weekend and both passed with flying colours. However we are under no illusions that we’ll have to work very hard to ensure that things continue to go our way this season. Our mileage last weekend enabled us to gather plenty of data which has been carefully evaluated over the last few days back at our operational base in Banbury. This will enable us to pinpoint any underlying issues that fortunately did not surface in Melbourne. Every new car has its gremlins so we want to get to those as quickly as we can as last year one of our key strengths was our reliability. Once you have a good mechanical baseline – which we have – and a reliable car, that’s when you can really start to turn your mind towards development – and we have plenty of that to focus on. There won’t be any significant changes to the car for this weekend, given the tight turnaround, but we’ll be able to look at optimising the set-up for this circuit. It’s a tough race for team and driver given the fierce heat and humidity, although the absence of a long lead-up to the weekend means there will be less time to think about it. No doubt both drivers will be thankful that they put in the hard training miles over the winter when the race is run on Sunday! As for our expectations, it would be nice to have as seamless a progression through the weekend as we had last time, but we’ll have to see how well the MR01 copes with the challenge of Sepang.”
Paul Hembery, Pirelli (Motorsport Director):
“Malaysia is one of the biggest challenges that we will face all year, and that is simply down to the nature of the track and the weather. We can expect track temperatures of up to around 50 degrees centigrade and a similar performance gap between the two nominated compounds as we saw in Australia. Our target is still for that gap to be less than one second – even though there is a whole step missing between the soft and the hard compounds that we have chosen for the race. Malaysia is good for overtaking, and that should fit in well with the characteristics of our P Zero tyres, which have been specifically designed to promote overtaking through a certain degree of deliberate degradation. Tyre strategy is going to be very important, particularly when it comes to looking after tyres at the beginning of a stint. Last year the battle for the podium places went down to the very last lap, and our objective for this year’s tyres is to encourage even closer racing, following the thrilling start we saw in Australia last weekend.”