The Malaysian Grand Prix: an abrasive surface with high heat and humidity makes this race a true test for drivers, cars and tyres. Nearly every afternoon there is an intense downpour, making it likely to see the Cinturato tyres in competitive action for the first time this year.
Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director: “The Australian Grand Prix two weeks ago confirmed what we saw in testing: lap times that are two seconds or more faster this year compared to last year, in every session. This exponentially increases the workload on the tyres: something that will be particularly in evidence at Sepang, which has some of the most abrasive asphalt we race on all year and a number of fast corners that take a lot of energy out of the tyres, as well as high ambient temperatures. For all these reasons, we have chosen the two hardest tyres in our range this weekend: P Zero Orange hard and P Zero White medium, as has always been the case in Malaysia since we returned to Formula One in 2011. We should see a return to at least two stops per car in Malaysia – perhaps more if the weather gets in the way – after an early safety car meant that unusually most drivers stopped only once in Australia. Wear and degradation is traditionally very high in Sepang, so managing the tyres and the strategy carefully will be key to success.”
The biggest challenges for the tyres:
Malaysia has got everything it takes to make life difficult for tyres: fast corners with big lateral loads, rough asphalt, high ambient temperatures and a bumpy surface (as the track was originally built on a swamp). As a result, both mechanical and thermal degradation are important factors. The cars tend to run high downforce in Malaysia, adding vertical forces to the varied demands faced by the tyres.
Because it rains almost on a daily basis in Sepang, the rubber laid down on the circuit tends to get washed away between each session. This makes the pattern of track evolution quite hard to predict, and also increases the risk of race stoppages and safety cars (the Malaysian Grand Prix has been halted early on more than one occasion). Drainage is a problem, leading to pools of standing water.
If it does rain during the race, judging the crossover point could make the difference between winning and losing. This is the point at which it becomes faster to switch from one type of tyre to another. With very little wet running so far this year, teams will prioritise gathering information on crossover points if it rains during free practice: data that could be crucial for the race.
The most stressed tyre in Malaysia is the front-left, so this is the one that the drivers will have to watch: especially at the beginning of the race when the cars are fuel-heavy and it is easy to lock up and take life out of the tyres.
Last year’s strategy and how the race was won: The top two finishers in Malaysia last year (Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg) used exactly the same three-stop strategy: three stints on the medium tyre followed by a short stint on the hard tyre at the end. They fought closely for the lead, with tyre strategy proving crucial to their battle, while the highest-placed two-stopper was Nico Hulkenberg in fifth. The race lasts 56 laps.
Expected performance gap between the two compounds: 1.0-1.2 seconds per lap.
Expected weather conditions for the race: Temperatures between 24 and 34 degrees centigrade and 80% humidity, with a high risk of heavy rainfall during the late afternoon.
The Pirelli team choose their race numbers: #27, Mario Isola (Pirelli racing manager)
“I would choose 27, as it was Gilles Villeneuve’s number when I was first getting into Formula One, at the end of 1980 when I was 11 years old. And from then on, I was constantly badgering my father about racing, until he gave in and bought me a kart, which I raced with number 27. Since then 27 has always been my lucky number.”
Who we’re following on Twitter this week: @f1bastard. One of the most irreverent, politically incorrect but hysterically funny accounts on Twitter. Nobody is spared his acerbic insights, which more often than not are painfully true. Worth a visit for those moments when Formula One takes itself too seriously.