From one far-eastern capital to another, the teams move from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur for next weekend’s 2017 Formula 1 Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix, at the Sepang International Circuit. Sadly, it looks like it might also be the last. The event has been left off the 2018 Formula 1 calendar due to declining ticket sales.
Constructed in an astonishing 14 months, Sepang was the first Formula One track noted designer Herman Tilke built from scratch. When the 5.543-kilometer (3.444-mile), 15-turn circuit opened on March 9, 1999, it was considered revolutionary, with modern facilities and a unique, twisting design that challenges drivers and their engineers. The track’s width allows for numerous overtaking opportunities, but the incredible speed that can be attained on the straights is actually restricted by the fast, flowing corners where teams have to sacrifice outright speed for aerodynamic grip and balance.
This places extremely high loads on the tires. Heavy braking increases the load, as drivers spend 17 percent of their lap under braking. Add an abrasive track surface and high ambient temperatures and you get a cauldron of punishment for the four tires carrying the driver and the sophisticated car beneath him. But with weather often impacting practice, qualifying and the race, expect to see Pirelli’s Cinturato Blue full wet tire and Cinturato Green intermediate tire at some point during the race weekend.
The very first Formula One Grand Prix to be held in the country was on 17 October 1999. Then as now the race took place over 56 laps of the 5.542km (3.444-mile) circuit, in cloudy and hot conditions. The event marked the return of Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher after breaking his leg at Silverstone.
Michael Schumacher won pole position in qualifying. However, he knew that he was well out of running for the championship. When the race started, he soon pulled over to allow his teammate Eddie Irvine to take the lead, and the win. It put him four points ahead in the championship. However, Hakkinen snatched the title with victory in Japan two weeks later.
Since Eddie Irvine, other drivers to have stood on the top step in Sepang are Michael Schumacher (three times), and his brother Ralf; Scuderia Ferrari Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen won here two times, while former Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso has three victories at the Sepang International Circuit. Giancarlo Fisichella, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo have also won at Sepang.
However the most successful Formula One driver of all in Malaysia is Sebastian Vettel. Scuderia Ferrari’s current driver won here on four occasions (2010, 2011, 2013, 2015). And the most successful team is Ferrari, with a total of seven victories. If that holds true next week, then the title fight between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton might get a lot tighter ahead of the last five races of the 2017 Formula One championship.