Formula 1

Malaysia GP preview: F1 teams take on the ultimate challenge

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As the Formula 1 paddock descends on Sepang for the Malaysian Grand Prix, a very thorough test of man and machine awaits.

When the sport first visited in 1999, the impressive pit-lane facilities and incredible back-to-back main grandstands instantly made it the yardstick for how all future racetracks would be judged and indeed sparked many of the upgrades other circuits had to make to stay in F1.

As modern as it looked back then, more circuits have come and in many ways Sepang is now a rare mix of old with new but it is still one of the most instantly recognisable venues on the calendar and offers a very unique challenge.

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Heat and humidity make for physical challenge

Much of that challenge comes from the tropical climate as temperatures are the highest seen throughout the year with the dial in the cockpit reaching upto 60 degrees Celsius. Over a course of the race a driver can lose upto three kilos in body weight so remaining hydrated is very crucial indeed.

That's not to say there often isn't enough water to go around as, because of the high temperatures and humidity, afternoon thunderstorms can be triggered.

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Because of the intensity of the downpours, if one should hit the circuit its almost always a rare time when the full wet tyres are needed to clear the standing water though because of the heat the track is also quite quick to dry.

A typical Tilke creation

The circuit has everything you would expect from a Hermann Tilke design with a mix of slow, medium and high-speed turns and has plenty of overtaking opportunities meaning it is often one of the more action packed races of the season.

It is also a very flowing circuit with no stop, start sections and a nice variety of corners from double-apexes to sweeping chicanes and it also means that driving the perfect lap is very difficult.

Setting a car up is very difficult because of the downforce needed through the medium and high-speed corners but also good acceleration and straight line speed as there are three long straights with a top speed of over 200mph.

Lets go into detail about the key areas of this track and how they will affect the battles up and down the grid, but before I do check out the on-board lap with Lewis Hamilton in the wet from last year.

Overtaking aplenty in first sector

For all the sweeping corners the first sector is all about top speed and traction as the drivers end the main straight at over 200mph before the heavy braking zone into turn one, a long right-hand hairpin.

This is where most overtaking happens but because the track is so wide its often not until turn two where a move is complete.

A much tighter hairpin, it switches back and it is all about maintaining traction for the run downhill through the flat-out turn three.

Turn four is a 90-degree right that also sees some overtaking and traction is important again as the second sector begins.

All about downforce in the middle

Now the long, sweeping corners begin with a long high-speed left, right chicane through turns five and six before a short straight into the double apex right at seven and eight.

Overtaking only happens here in the wet otherwise it is one line through the four corners which test the downforce and aerodynamics of the cars a lot.

If a car runs wide on the exit of turn eight the straight that follows is long enough to be able to overtake into turn nine.

This hairpin left tightens on the exit and goes uphill making traction very difficult, the high torque of the new V6 turbo powered cars means turn 10 is also now very tricky as the controls the power through the right curve, turn 11 is all about hitting the apex as the track widens before going downhill into the high-speed left of turn 12 which tightens on the exit.

Braking and acceleration to end the lap

Finally the third sector and turn 13 is a tricky curve as a driver must pick a braking point for the tight turn 14.

Turning and braking means it is easy to run wide but a good exit is very important as it leads onto the long back straight as cars reach nearly 190mph before braking for the final hairpin at turn 15 which brings back round onto the pit straight and completes a lap of Sepang.

Power vs downforce creates yo-yo effect

With the high-speed sections the first and final sectors will certainly favour the Mercedes-powered cars and in particular Williams in their battle with Ferrari, the middle sector will benefit the higher downforce cars like Red Bull and Lotus but there's one team who will be fine just about everywhere.

Sepang feels like it was designed for Mercedes, as does every circuit at the moment, and their power plus the drivability should see them extend their advantage over the rest of the field.

It is a circuit all about rhythm and smoothness so Nico Rosberg could get a little closer to Lewis Hamilton than he was in Australia but given the commanding victory the Briton had last year, it would be foolish to be against him again in 2015.

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