2016 Malaysian Grand Prix preview: The championship battle hots up

Ahead of round 16 of 21 in the 2016 Formula One season in Malaysia, here is the guide to everything you need to know ahead of the weekend.

2016 Malaysian Grand Prix preview: The championship battle hots up
The Sepang track has undergone resurfacing which should lead to lots of running in practice. (Image Credit: Sutton Images)

Heading into the final six rounds of the championship, starting in Malaysia this weekend, Nico Rosberg heads the summit on 273 points, compared to team-mate Lewis Hamilton on 265, following the dramatic events of Singapore last time out. The duo were this closely matched at this stage in 2014, and that went down to the final round. All the signs are there for a final-race showdown. Here’s hoping.

Round 16 of the championship comes from Sepang in Malaysia. For those who aren’t aware, for the Grand Prix’s first two Formula One events in 1999 and 2000, the race weekend was held at the back-end of the season. The shift has been done so for commercial reasons.

There are also two extra variables that the teams must contend with this weekend. The first being that the track has been resurfaced since 2015, meaning it is as green as can be. It has been reported that the surface could be akin to Russia, where tyre doesn’t really wear fast. Which means flat-out racing.

Also, as Malaysia is quite near the equator, the weather in Sepang can change at a moment’s notice. The 2001 race was hit with a biblical downpour, although 2009 topped that, with the race being abandoned and half-points awarded.

The top three teams will more than likely have an exclusive battle up front, with Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel always going well in Sepang, and Red Bull hoping the track conditions aid their challenge.

Further down, the battle for fourth will continue as Force India seem to have the advantage over Williams, although anything can of course happen.

McLaren and Toro Rosso won’t be as strong here, although the former will run a new upgraded Power Unit for Fernando Alonso in FP1, before deciding to continue to use it. Alonso has incurred a 30 place grid penalty as a result and will start P22 and last.   

What happened last year?

Mercedes were defeated for the first time, without running into car problems or each other. Sebastian Vettel, in just his second outing for Maranello squad shocked the Mercedes pit-wall by doing a two-stop strategy, whilst the Merc’s both committed to a three-stop when Marcus Ericsson caused a Safety Car by beaching his Sauber early on.

Sebastian Vettel has won four times in Sepang, and is still looking for his first 2016 win. Could it happen this weekend? (Image Credit: Sutton Images)
Sebastian Vettel has won four times in Sepang, and is still looking for his first 2016 win. Could it happen this weekend? (Image Credit: Sutton Images)

Try as they might, the Silver Arrows just couldn’t catch the relaxed Vettel, whose victory was made all the more sweeter by the fact that he emulated his hero, the great Michael Schumacher in winning for the Scuderia.

Where will there be some overtakes?

The best places to overtake are at Turns 1, at the end of the first DRS zone, up the hill into T4, into the hairpin at T9 and at the end of the second DRS zone down the back-straight into the final turn.

What tyres are Pirelli bringing?

The hardest possible combination of compounds have been shipped to Sepang, with the Hard, Medium and Soft tyres on duty. As ever, the Intermediate and Wet tyres will also be available for use when needed.  Hamilton has opted for three sets of Hard’s, three mediums and seven soft. Rosberg has one less Hard set of tyres, preferring the familiar Medium.

Will it rain?

Friday is to bake the track, in typical Malaysian heat. There is a chance of a thunderstorm on Saturday morning, potentially disrupting FP3. Come Sunday however, the forecast changes. There is 60% chance of rain and as we have seen in the past, the weather can change in Malaysia in an instant.

When is it on?

For us back in Europe, its either a early start, or late night throughout the weekend, with FP1 underway at 03:00am UK time on Friday morning. Qualifying is underway from 10:00am UK time on Saturday with lights out at 08:00am on Sunday. Sky Sports F1 will also show coverage of the GP2 support series and Channel 4 offer alternate viewing for freeview viewers with live coverage.

First Practice – Friday – 03:00am – 04:30am

Second Practice – Friday – 07:00am – 08:30am

Third Practice – Saturday – 07:00am – 08:00am

Qualifying – Saturday – 10:00am – 11:00am

Race – the 56 laps of the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix gets underway at 08:00am on Sunday morning.

All times UK.