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Malaysiian GP 2011

APRIL 9, 2011

Practice 3 Report - Red Bull contemplates tyre gamble in Malaysia

Lewis Hamilton, Malaysian GP 2011
© The Cahier Archive

Lewis Hamilton (1:36.340) set the quickest time in the final free practice session ahead of qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix, lapping half a second quicker than the fastest Red Bull Racing time from Friday.

Mark Webber's Red Bull (1:36.630) was second quickest, marginally faster than Jenson Button (1:36.762) in the second McLaren. Nick Heidfeld's Renault (1:37.115) lapped six hundredths quicker than Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull (1:37.115).

With Red Bull having gone a quarter of a second quicker than that yesterday, it was obviously an unrepresentative time form Vettel, who was held up in traffic and also lost his onboard camera. There was also some debate about whether Vettel was on soft or hard tyres on that last run. It wasn't obvious from TV pictures and the team wasn't playing ball. "No comment and no comment!" smiled a PR representative when asked whether Vettel was a) on hards or softs, and b) using KERS or not.

The question is interesting because the speculation is that Red Bull has enough pace to qualify on the hard tyre, which is reckoned to be around a second slower than the soft Pirelli on one hot lap. From Friday's data though, it seems as if the soft is good for around eight or nine laps, while the hard lasts 12 or 13.

What that means is that anyone who qualifies on the soft faces an early stop in the race, most likely as early as lap 5, and the prospect of emerging from the pits behind the leading Q2 runners, who will start on hards. Normally, the soft affords a big enough first stint advantage to be able to clear those cars.

Red Bull said after the opening day that they would make a decision on KERS overnight and while it would seem obvious that you would want to use it in Malaysia given the circuit layout, especially if you were going to try to qualify on the hard if, by not using it, you could eke another lap or two out of a set of rubber, it could make a difference between a three and four stop race on Sunday.

Another downside of qualifying on the hard for Red Bull, of course, is that if, as predicted, there is rain at Sunday's 5pm start time, a pretty even bet in Kuala Lumpur, then all bets are off, everyone starts on wet tyres and you've taken the hot for nothing.

Behind Vettel, Alonso's Ferrari (1:37.284) was closer to the pace than yesterday, with Petrov's Renault (1:37.297), Massa's Ferrari (1:37.762), Kobayashi's Sauber (1:38.059) and Schumacher's Mercedes (1:38.300) completing the top 10, Michael seven thousandths of a second up on team mate Rosberg.