Pirelli's Malaysian Grand Prix Preview: Sepang
The new world of Formula One, with its new tires, faces its toughest test yet in Malaysia: a circuit well-known for abrasive asphalt and extreme weather, which ranges from intense heat to monsoon-like downpours. To cope with these demanding conditions, the two hardest tires in the range have been nominated: P Zero Orange hard and P Zero White medium.
The evolutions brought to Pirelli’s tires this year increase strength and reduce degradation, but maintain the same sporting characteristics and performance, to enhance the racing spectacle.
Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director: “Malaysia will obviously be only the second race that this completely new range of tires, designed for the latest-generation Formula One cars, have ever competed in, and it also marks the debut of our 2014 hard tire. The medium performed well in Melbourne, but Malaysia obviously presents a big contrast to Australia. We go from the smooth asphalt in Melbourne to a highly abrasive surface, and from the relatively cool conditions of Albert Park to much higher ambient and track temperatures. This of course will be as much of a challenge for the new cars as it is for the drivers, and we mustn’t forget that we are still at a very early point in the overall learning curve. Wet conditions in qualifying in Australia allowed the teams to sample the 2014 intermediate and full wet tires, and this knowledge could become very useful in Sepang.”
The circuit from a tire point of view:
Sepang is a fast circuit, with an average speed of over 210kph in qualifying and several flat-out corners. These high-speed accelerations make traction particularly crucial.
With the high-downforce set-up favored by most teams, the tires have to cope with not only high lateral loads, but also the equivalent of 830 kilograms pushing down on them. This challenging combination of forces leads to mechanical and thermal degradation.
The P Zero Orange hard tire is a high working range compound, suitable for the most extreme conditions, whereas the P Zero White medium is a low working range compound. By adjusting the compound mix, the working ranges of all the tires have been widened this year.
The same is true for the wet weather tires. The rear tread pattern has been redesigned to improve resistance to aquaplaning in extremely wet weather, while the compound of the full wet tire has been adjusted to allow it to cover a wider range of conditions. This year’s full wet can evacuate 65 liters of water per second at 300kph: up by five liters from last year.
The front-left tire is worked hardest in Malaysia: tire temperature on the tread can peak at 120 degrees centigrade. In terms of friction energy, Sepang places the fourth-highest demand on the front-left tire all year (after Silverstone, Barcelona and Suzuka).
Rain affected strategy last year, with the top five drivers all stopping four times. Judging the crossover points proved crucial. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) won: starting on intermediates before moving onto the medium tire, then completing two stints on the hard tire, before finishing on the medium.