Will rain save Vettel’s Formula One title hopes?

  • Real-time observations of lightning and cloud cover (infra-red satellite observations) over Sepang and surroundings on Saturday 30th September 2017. Image: Copyright MeteoGroup

    General view of the circular stand at the Sepang circuit. Image: Copyright John Marsh/EMPICS Sport/PA images

    Model forecast of 3 hourly rainfall (from ECMWF) for Sepang and surroundings during Sunday's Formula One Grand Prix race. Showers are likely over inland areas of the Malay Peninsula. Image: Copyright MeteoGroup.

  • Will rain save Vettel’s Formula One title hopes?
    30.09.2017 14:50

    Malaysia’s steamy equatorial climate makes this weekend’s race one of the more physically demanding of the Formula 1 season, alongside the previous Grand Prix in Singapore. Furthermore, sudden downpours of rain have the potential to considerably mix up the grid here.

    At Singapore, rainfall prior to the race meant that it was the first night-time Grand Prix staged under wet conditions in Formula One history. This time around the race will be in daylight but will it rain again? After dropping out in the first qualifying session, Sebastian Vettel might be hopeful for rain causing an upset.

    The Malaysian Grand Prix is located at the Sepang International Circuit, close to Kuala Lumpur. The track is 5.5km long and has 15 turns with a mixture of long high-speed straights, long sweeping turns and tight corners, including a slow second-gear hairpin. Indeed, this is one of the more ‘technical’ circuits, requiring both good aerodynamic and mechanical grip. There are also a couple of heavy braking zones, making it tough on tyres.

    At each Grand Prix, the rules state that the drivers must use at least two different specifications of dry weather tyres in the race unless wet (or intermediate) tyres are utilised. Indeed, the teams will be well-aware that their strategies may need to factor in rain at Sepang. However, wet tyres are only compulsory if a wet race is started behind a safety car (which in Singapore it was not).

    On average, Kuala Lumpur receives around 260mm of rain in October, making it one of the wetter months of the year here. Indeed, Malaysia experiences a ‘northeast’ monsoon season from October through to March, in which there is abundant rainfall but also hot and oppressive days with temperatures often reaching around 32C. Incidentally, the race used to be held March, also one of the wetter calendar months.

    In past years, the Malaysian Grand Prix has experienced variable weather conditions. Last year’s grand prix, won by Daniel Ricciardo, was dominated by dry and sunny weather while in other years heavy rain has affected the race. In 2009, the race was stopped on lap 31 out of the 56 scheduled after torrential rain fell and the drivers complained of dangerous driving conditions with near-zero visibility. The last time race day experienced rain here was in 2013, with Vettel winning that one.

    This weekend, the weather will live up to its hot reputation with a high of 32C for the race on Sunday. Track temperatures look like peaking at around 50C. However, the temperature will fall somewhat during the race as early evening approaches and also under any showers.

    There are likely to be at least one or two showers through the day with clouds bubbling-up for a time in the afternoon as the heat builds. However, the showers are likely to be ‘hit’ and ‘miss’ so there is no guarantee of any rain during the race, which starts at 1500 local time (0800 BST). However, if the circuit, or even only part of the circuit, catches a shower, it has the potential to fall as a heavy downpour, and upset any planned racing strategies. The teams (and Sebastian Vettel) will likely be keeping one eye on the sky.

    By: Paul Mott