Will Brawn dominate again in Sepang? (Malaysian Grand Prix preview)

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Rubens Barrichello aims to go one better in the Malaysian Grand Prix
Rubens Barrichello aims to go one better in the Malaysian Grand Prix

Brawn GP locked out the front row, led every lap and finished one-two in Melbourne. Can anyone stop them in Sepang?

It’s a totally different circuit in a punishing climate – and we just might in for some rain as well.


Tyres played a big role in Melbourne as teams struggled to make the super soft compound tyres last.

Sepang is harder on tyres than Melbourne, so this weekend the teams will be using the hard and soft tyres. Last year the two tyre compounds were hard and medium, so those soft tyres could prove problematic.

But rain has been forecast for the Malaysian Grand Prix, in which case the teams will be reaching for the intermediate and wet tyres.


At Melbourne Ferrari, Renault and McLaren were all KERS-equipped, as was Nick Heidfeld’s BMW. It’s likely that we’ll see the same seven using KERS again, as Sepang offers a greater opportunity for them to get a benefit from it: Melbourne’s longest flat-out section is just 735m long, Sepang offers an extra 100m (and this is still far shorter than what we’ll see at other tracks later in the year).

KERS seemed to offer some help to the drivers that had it at Melbourne. Lewis Hamilton was jabbing his KERS button to pick off rivals early in the race, and Timo Glock complained that he couldn’t get past Fernando Alonso as the Renault driver used his to out-accelerate the Toyota. Williams’ Sam Michael is convinced the technology offers a benefit, and wants their electro-mechanical system on the car as soon as possible.

But Ferrari reported they were struggling with increased tyre wear as a consequence of their drivers using KERS, particularly early in the race when they were on super-soft tyres.

However there is a disadvantage to running KERS in Malaysia – cooling is critical in the humid heat of Sepang, and KERS demands extra heat rejection.

Can anyone catch Brawn?

Nico Rosberg’s Williams may have been fastest in all three practice sessions at Malaysia, but when the business end of the weekend arrived Brawn were uncatchable.

Interestingly although Rubens Barrichello was the fastest of the two BGP001s in Q2 (by 0.072s), he had more fuel on board in Q3. Perhaps he wanted to run a longer first stint so his final stint on the unfavourable super-softs would be shorter? Regardless, Sepang may bring us the Brawn-vs-Brawn battle at the front we didn’t get at Melbourne because Barrichello fluffed his start.

Brawn’s rivals’ best hope of victory are either that the pair tangle or that the punishing Malaysian heat breaks their cars. Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull kept in sight of Button’s car at Melbourne, but the mid-race safety car period diminished their lead over the pack and made Brawn’s margin of victory far smaller than it might have been.

I expect Ferrari to bounce back from their woeful start to the season – much as they did last year – and could even be Brawn’s closest challengers.

Drivers to watch

Kimi Raikkonen – Started his comeback from a disappointing 2008 by being out-qualified by his team mate and crashing. Cannot afford to let that become a habit. Sepang has played to his strengths in the past and he took Massa to the cleaners here last year. Badly needs a repeat performance this time around.

Jarno Trulli – One of my picks from last week, he drove a magnificent race from the back last week and would have been on the podium but for a late error and a penalty. Should get the result he needs this weekend.

Sebastian Vettel – The man who came the closest to taking the fight to Brawn for most of the first race. But he spoiled what would have been a fine debut for Red Bull with a late clash with Robert Kubica. Can he make up for it this weekend?

Robert Kubica – Spent much of practice looking and sounding very unhappy with his F1.09, but produced the goods in qualifying and the race. Perhaps being KERS-free isn’t so bad?

Essential links for the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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96 comments on “Will Brawn dominate again in Sepang? (Malaysian Grand Prix preview)”

  1. If it rains which it look’s likely to do then its going to be awesome!! =D it will be interesting to see if hamilton is good in the wet in the mp4-24! =) But with rain i feel the brawn’s will have a tougher time repeating the melbourne result.

    1. Who’d know? Barrichello’s one podium in 2008 came in the atrocious British rain that saw Massa spinning 5 times.. (amazingly, not hitting anything)

    2. The rain is usually a great equaliser for cars low on power. I doubt that a car low on downforce is going to work well for Hamilton in the rain.

  2. I’m not sure they will dominate completely, Australia showed us that whilst the Brawns were indeed out front, Vettel and Kubica at least we able to keep roughly the same pace for the race distance – and Rosberg in the Williams, and both Toyotas werent exactly slow either. If it rains I would give any one of those guys a chance at victory (even Vettel from goodness knows where on the grid), although I would still place the Brawns favourite – Button is good in the wet and Barrichello simply revels in the wet conditions! I have to admit in my predictions on another site I have put Raikkonen to win over Button and Kubica – not entirely sure how confident I am in that – I’m not famed for my predictions ability!

    Whatever happens though – I cant wait!! I love that even after one race i cant narrow down who will be at the front from about ten different cars!

    1. Same here Clare- for as much as I root for McLaren, it is fantastic to see some of the other teams at the top of the grid. For the first time in quite awhile there is some unpredictable nature among the gird, and that is very good for the sport as a whole.

    2. Brawn GP admitted they sandbagged at Melbourne. Despite running heavy, they were 1-2 seconds faster in QTT than last season’s top teams. Button and Barrichello 2 pitstops took between 54-58 seconds while Trulli, the 3rd placer, took only 42 seconds which is standard. If there wasn’t any Safety Car or incidents, the Brawn cars would have won by at least 30 seconds. Yet, despite their horrendous pit stops and Rubens’ 2 incidents, they still won 1-2. That, is pure domination. Even Buttons admitted he still had “a lot of reserve left” and slowed to preserve his tires.

  3. Could Ferraris problem be where they have placed the KERS syustem, i have heard they have placed it at the front of the car instead of near the fuel tank. Also I think Ferrari will be better suited to this circuit and this is what happened last year. Brawn will be the one to beat for a long time an if it rains, both their drivers a brilliant in the wet, so expect good results from them anyway. As for Mclaren, i think they will be somewhere in the back of the mid-field, but may have a chance if it rains. the tyres will be a problem as well but thats going to be for all the teams i expect. I Think Renault and Redbull will also give strong perfomances, rain or no rain, especially Renault with Alonso at the wheel. Bmw will come either 3rd or 4th i think as they didnt have a bad start at Australia, however they may a have to battle it out with the Toyotas.

    1. i cant agree with you more..i think renault are going to make a surprise here!!

    2. I hope that Alonso can spring a surprise. I was very disappointed with the way the Renault went in Melbourne. I’ve got this niggling feeling that the cars running KERS aren’t very happy. It seems like the weight balance in the car is off somehow and the drivers aren’t enjoying their drives. Alonso seemed very sluggish in Aus, so did all the other KERS runners, except Vettel, but thats probably down to the genius of Adrian Newey.

      If you look at it, the guys who looked impressive throughout the race, again barring Vettel, weren’t running KERS. We know about the Brawns, Williams looked handy with Rosberg, even Nakajima had some pace, Kubica wasn’t running KERS so weren’t the Toyotas. KERS has its benefits, but I’m not sold, yet.

      Whatever the case,,COME ON ALONSO!

  4. I don’t think anyone can catch Brawn in near future. When other teams will be matching with Brawn, it would be already late and over.

    We should put Brawns on one side and rest on other side. In rest, I would love to see Lewis climbing throughout the race and Vettel dominating others.

    1. I dont agree with you..watch how quickly other teams..Ferrari, Mclaren, BMW and Renault will catch up with Brawn..Besides..look who is at the back of the wheel..Button and Barri (old timer) …i give them 3 more races and the rest of the pack is on them..Big time!!!

  5. Rain would certainly make it interesting…

    Sounds like the Ferrari drivers need to use the KERS
    somewhat later in the straights. Shouldn’t cause
    excessive tire wear if it’s applied when their
    not near the adhesion limit.

    i.e. they’ve probably been told a strategy that
    they get max benefit by applying as early as possible
    as they come off the corner and hit the point where
    they can put the gas down.

    A little bit less aggressive laying down of the power should fix it, and still give them a kicker down the high speed sections.

    1. Indeed I noticed too that the Ferrari drivers used KERS already while coming out of the corners. It might create a longer run for KERS to be useful, but I assume it causes extra wear too.

  6. Lewis hamilton was the driver who used the KERS to perfection in Australia. Should there be rain this weekend he will be near the front regardless of his car as he proved last season he is leagues ahead of the rest in the rain.

    1. Would have to agree, Lewis used the kers very well.

      If it rains I would expect Lewis to be somewhere near the front in the race.

      If its dry Brawn will be hard to beat, but we should not forget Sepang has allways suited the ferraris and its been a good GP for them in the last few seasons

    2. Will the kers be any use in the rain or will it cause more problems like wheel spin? Does anyone know the science?

    3. That is in fact quite a interesting question. I think they’ll have to use it later in accelartion as it is useless if it breaks traction!

    4. I agree that Lewis is very good in the rain. However,I wonder how good his car, which is lacking in downforce, will react to wet weather. We could probably ask this of the entire field as downforce levels are supposed to be down across the board thanks to the new areo rules. (though the Brawn car seems to have clawed a great deal back). what do you all think?

    5. It depends on exactly what McLaren’s downforce problem is. If the car simply isn’t generating sufficient downforce, then that’s going to be a problem in the wet.

      But their problem might by that they can generate comparable levels of downforce to their rivals, but get a lot more drag when they do. It might be easier for them to cope with that problem in the wet than in the dry.

    6. Keith-That is a good point.

  7. If dry I think Brawn will probably win but may not dominate with a 1-2. in Melbouren we saw the Red Bull and BMW keep them honest during the race Rosberg set fast times in practice and the Toyotas had to start from the pit lane.

    If wet I think it could be wide open.

  8. The English and Brazilian fans are lucky ones.
    Their main stars, Hamilton and Massa respectively, are gone from the spotlight, meaning the battle for the championship (at least for now) – but they’ve got swapped for Button and Bubens.

    Knowing how little testing the Brawns had had before the season, with the technical data they’ve gathered in Australia they might only get quicker.
    BMW had some troubles in Ozz they’ve later overcome, so we can predict both drivers will be faster as well – with Kube being perhaps able to keep up with the Brawns.
    Both Red Bulls will be a force to be reckoned with; I hope Webber joins Vettel in that respect.

    The Ferrari’s weren’t that far behind the quickest teams, and with their technological resources I hope they will catch up.

    1. Terry Fabulous
      31st March 2009, 23:31

      Good point Damon, A Brit and Brazilian replaced by a Brit and Brazilian! Well spotted!

    2. The English and Brazilian fans are lucky ones. Their main stars, Hamilton and Massa respectively, are gone from the spotlight, meaning the battle for the championship (at least for now) – but they’ve got swapped for Button and Bubens.

      I hadn’t thought of it that way!

  9. Yeah, don’t forget Vettel has a grid drop on this race.

    1. I’m wondering what they’ll do about that. Would he go low on fuel, shoot for pole, and then put on the option soft tyre and try to overtake as much as possible? He gets the tyre out of the way, minimizes grid position loss, and will be able to pounce late in the race, reversing Melbourne.

      The other alternative is to go heavy on fuel, start with the prime tyre, and pray that it rains before he has to use the soft tyre…

    2. Would he go low on fuel, shoot for pole, and then put on the option soft tyre and try to overtake as much as possible? He gets the tyre out of the way, minimizes grid position loss, and will be able to pounce late in the race, reversing Melbourne.

      I think that’s quite likely, unless they’re sure it’s going to rain in which case they don’t have to use the two dry compounds.

  10. watch out for Alonso, i think he will shine in Malaysia..clever driver!!

  11. I would say going by Melbourne, the only name that should not be on your list is Kimi. But as we all know, Ferrari can always come back so it is neither here nor there.

  12. I’m thinking there could be a couple of soft tyre compound failures during the race, they’ll be punished hard by the long fast corners.

  13. “Nico Rosberg’s Williams may have been fastest in all three practice sessions at Malaysia,”

    *at Melbourne

  14. Bigbadderboom
    31st March 2009, 14:58

    Tyre wear will be an issue, but I think its all about the weather, if its a wet quali I think Hamilton will take the most benefit, but Jenson and Rubens are no slow coaches in the wet either, ferrari have to get on the scoreboard but I will like to see how this years car is in the wet for them as last years LWB car was appalling. I think the toyotas may run well in the wet, but we must not write off Alonso, if its wet it may be in his favour as well.

  15. I disagree that if it is wet Hamilton will benefit from it. Mclaren lacks downforce, which you need a lot in low grip conditions.

    1. And you need a driver who has a good feel for the conditions. McLaren are lacking downforce, but there is no-one currently in F1 who compares to lewis in the wet. Last year he obilterated everybody at silverstone and monaco by seconds a lap so even in a slower car i feel he will still be in the top runners.

    2. I agree with Mahir. I don’t think the Mclarens have the same levels of downforce and grip they had last season.


      Based on 2 races last year, you’ve concluded that Lewis is the best wet driver in F1? When you’ve got Ruebens who’s been in F1 for 15 years and has claimed numerous scalps in the wet? He put a dog of a car on the podium in Silverstone last year, whereas Lewis had arguably the car with the most grip last year…so yeah. He’s pretty handy in the rain, but I wouldn’t say he’s the best by a mile. Jenson is pretty good in the wet, so is Fisi, even Trulli.

    3. Jay – he came on top the last time we discussed it: Alonso, Hamilton, Raikkonen… Who’s the best F1 driver in the wet? (Poll)

    4. Keith,

      Can’t argue with facts, so I’m gonna go with it. As you can tell, I’m not a Lewis fan (haha), but I will agree that he is a good driver in the wet. I just diagreed for conversation’s sake..you know?..hahaha

      Come Sepang..rain or shine..hope Lewis doesn’t win..hehehehe

  16. I also wonder what the Brawn will look like. More red? better placed Virgin logos? Reckon they’ll have enough time in the next couple of days to cange the overalls at all?

    1. Sush Meerkat
      31st March 2009, 18:43

      red rear spoilers, like the virgin airline tailfins.

    2. I was thinking the same thing as soon as the deal was announced. By the time China rolls around we should see the brand displayed quite well on the car/overalls/etc.. I would also imagine that the team is contracted for some promotional work for Virgin Group companies, although I have yet to hear anything specific.

  17. The Brawn team has a car that works: clearly fast, probably easy to set-up, and with drivers who aren’t perhaps the top of the class, but they’re still better than most, so I expect them to be up front again. I just hope they revert to their normal helmets this weekend.

  18. I don’t think KERS is going to wear that much soft tyre compound. So of course it is an advantage.
    Not enough to let Ferrari and McLaren reach the pace of Brawn, I think, but enough to get closer.
    I didn’t see that outstanding pace from Brawn last sunday (they were the strongest for sure, but not by that anormous margin), so I think that Kubica or Vettel can catch them from closer.
    And after all there is weather uncertainty also…
    I see Malaysia as a more tricky game for Brawn.

  19. If it rains for shore my tip is to bet your money on Rubens, that Brown’s car certainly has a lot of down force in the back of the car (about 89% down force from the 2008 Honda)and that is the joker they are holding for wet racing. Button for shore is a good driver in the wet but i think Ruben’s experience is going to have the last word. I also think that Williams will have far better race from Melbourne where i think Nico Rosberg had the fastest lap in the race.

    Can someone explain to me what Ozz means?? Sorry for my bad English, thank god there is a grammar check here :)

    1. sayonaraman
      1st April 2009, 6:19

      Ozz = Australia:)

  20. “Started his comeback from a disappointing 2009”


    1. Fixed, ta!

  21. @damjan006
    Ozz is lazy slang for Australia. Your English is great; at least as good as many native-speakers who post here! And I think you are right, the high downforce cars will have it in their way in the wet. In the dry, I think Ferrari won’t chew up the medium compound as quickly as the did the soft, and will feature in the results.
    Roll on the weekend!

  22. StrFerrari4Ever
    31st March 2009, 17:46

    Rain will make this race this race even more unpredictable i think in Quali its going to be about being on track at the absolute right time i expect Vettel , Hamilton , Rubens , Jenson & Sutil to shine in the rain however with Malaysia the weather is so unpredictable it could just be sunny then start peeing down so it’s going to be fascinating as for the race i hope Vettel goes on an aggresive strategy and i hope it pays off for him :D

  23. theRoswellite
    31st March 2009, 18:14

    Keith, when do we get to pick our Q-1 and top 3 finishers? How are your picks coming? (from…he of the Unlucky Selection Committee)

    1. Friday – here’s last week’s results: Australian GP predictions results

  24. Eduardo Colombi
    31st March 2009, 18:26

    Think ferrari will have a great recovery from the awful race in Australia making de two drivers in the podium, if the rain doesn’t shows.
    if it comes, Rubens is my one-sure bet for winning the race.
    Rosberg or Trulli for the pole followed by Button and Barrichello, Vettel 4th, Massa 5th and Alonso 6th.

    I hope to see Hamilton doing a god job as he did in Australia but he will not fight for the podium unless the rain comes rains.

  25. theRoswellite
    31st March 2009, 18:31

    Oh, one additional question for all the aesthetically gifted contributors to this site…..

    I’m getting really fond of the Brawn colors and “simple” livery, if that is the correct term, especially the wheel covers.

    Anyone else have a similar appreciation???????????????

    1. Terry Fabulous
      31st March 2009, 23:35

      I’m with you mate, I love the simple but elegant paint scheme and the larey yellow wheel covers.

  26. I agree… But i do think they should change the helmet colours… Im hoping it will rain… Interesting to see how the cars perform in the wet

  27. djdaveyp: ‘but there is no-one currently in F1 who compares to lewis in the wet’


  28. i have a theory that Button’s helmet has changed because the brawn cars will be rebranded (red and gold virgin colours perhaps?) and his new yellow, white and black helemt will celebrate the original brawn colours!

  29. @ theRoswellite
    Yup, I’m with you on this. The clean untouched white colour adds to the mystic of the super technology of the cars, whereas the yellow stripes make them look aggresive.

    You know – one thing bugs me:
    Will Brawn be able to keep their momentum and build another super car for 2010 being now without Honda’s resources and technology?
    The fairy tale might last only one season…

    1. Good question regarding their car next year. They may not be able to compete resource-wise with Mac and Ferrari. I think a major issue for BGP will be the rules for mandatory KERS in 2010. This would effect the balance of the slim little Brawn car. Also Job cuts at BGP may create problems in the future, or hopefully keep them lean and mean! In anycase, I do not want to think too far into the future-I want to enjoy this season!

  30. yep…sure hope the arrival of Branson millions doesn’t screw up a very neat looking Brawn package. Doesn’t that car look so ‘together’ ? And the way it stood up to the damage inflicted on it by Baricello’s ‘incidents’ was sensational. Can we all remember when the Red Bull cars were just a bit on the fragile side a few years ago ?

    I think it WILL rain for both qualifying and the race at Sepang. But probably not continuously, which really makes the mix interesting…because no one yet knows when will be the right time to switch tires on a drying track.

    Gonna be quite a weekend guys !

  31. djdaveyp: ‘but there is no-one currently in F1 who compares to lewis in the wet’


    1. And Rubens and Button are hardly slouches in the rain either! Rubens got that Honda on the podium at Silverstone last year. And talking of Silverstone – Heidfeld looked pretty handy in the rain there too – didnt stop him pulling off a double overtake or two!!!!

      I think it is quite hard to judge Hamilton in the rain (same with Vettel – although Monza was nothing short of amazing) – he has had relatively few wet races compared to some of the others – and whilst he was no doubt impressive in them – someone like Barrichello dragging up a car from nowhere in the rain, which he has done more than once in wet races, is different to taking a wet win from the front. Taking nothing away from Hamilton (or Vettel) though – I wouldnt want to be ahead of him in a wet race!

      Plus Malaysian rain will be completely different to say Silverstone rain – Silverstone will be like a light drizzle compared to what Malaysia could potentially offer!

  32. theRoswellite
    31st March 2009, 20:30

    Just a little add on to our thoughts about Sepang….

    Note the following quotes…

    Nakajima said: “It was difficult with the low sunlight in Australia, especially as it flickered and changed through the cover of the trees. We won’t have that type of shadow at Sepang, but there is the possibility of reduced light conditions mixed with the likelihood of rain, so these late race start times will have a bearing on my approach to qualifying and the race.”

    Nick Heidfeld added: “We’ve often experienced cloudbursts in Malaysia in the late afternoon and early evening. This year’s schedule increases the chances that we will still be on the track at this time. Hopefully it will still be light enough.”

    Nico had previously complained to the media about this problem.

    This is a potential nightmare, pun intended, and if the late start combines with heavy rain to shorten the race or even precipitate, pun intended, an accident (a bit of dark humor this, pun intended) the concern that Bernie is showing for his commercial interests is going to pale, pun kind of intended, in comparison with the significance he should have directed toward race safety. (Forgive me this paragraph)

    So, come on GPDA………..stand up for your own safety, doing so after the fact is pointless.