After Australia, Formula One moves to Malaysia and the race at Sepang certainly has no problem living up to its billing as the year’s hottest race.
It’s often punishingly humid and oppressively warm in Malaysia but that’s what sun loungers were invented for. And air conditioning.
The heat and humidity are always factors at this race, but our teams know what to expect thanks to our simulation programmes which help engineers predict the correct car set-up for the conditions. The conditions are actually more of a problem for the personnel than for the car. Turns 1 and 2, which lead into one another can be particularly exciting in the opening laps, especially with some new drivers on the grid.
The track has a reasonably good mix of corners. It is important to get out of the tight corners well in order to be in a position to overtake coming on to the back straight and into the final hairpin. It is a wide track so there are several different lines. This is a medium downforce circuit, where braking is not an issue. It always seems to rain here every day in Sepang and it’s just a case of waiting to see at what point in the day the rain actually arrives.
After you’ve done your duty at the track during the day, there’s a whole other culture beyond the circuit gates to explore. From beach resorts to tour-standard golf courses, amazing cuisine in fantastic restaurants to state-of-the-art clubs in downtown KL, Malaysia’s got plenty of race pace. And the geography helps too. As David Coulthard said: “The Malaysian track is actually one I’ve really enjoyed over the years. The location of the circuit is perfect – it’s right beside the airport, so you can just get in, do your job and get out.”
• The race at Sepang joined the F1 calendar on 17 October 1999 and has been a fixture since. This year will make it a round dozen grands prix for the Malaysian circuit.
• Surprise, surprise it’s (most) people’s favourite un-retired German, Michael Schumacher, who holds the record for most wins here with three.
• Schumacher also has the record for pole positions at the Sepang circuit, with five. In fact, he was on pole four times in a row from 1999 to 2002 before seeming to lose the knack. His 1999 pole position was his first back from a leg-breaking accident at Silverstone, yet despite the injury and the unfamiliar track he was still quickest in qualifying.
• Like Albert Park, Malaysia attempted a twilight race last year but regular late afternoon torrential rain resulted in a race shortened by downpours. The start time of 5pm has now been brought forward 4pm in the hope of the skies remaining clear.
• Former Ferrari star Kimi Raikkonen, currently driving for Red Bull Citröen in the World Rally Championship scored his first F1 victory here in 2003 for McLaren.
• At the 2001 race, Giancarlo Fisichella suffered a moment of brain fade at they lined up for the race, with the Italian forgetting where he had qualified. He parked on the wrong side of the grid, realised his error, tried to steer across to his proper 16th place but with no room to manoeuvre was left stranded across the grid at the start.
• Jenson Button scored his first ever podium result at Malaysia in 2004, finishing third in his BAR-Honda.
• In Malaysia the pole to win ratio is at 66 per cent. Felipe Massa is the least successful pole winner here, with front of the grid spots in 2007 and 2008 but no win to show for his efforts.
• The lap record of 1:34.223 is held by Juan Pablo Montoya (2004).
• Sepang’s track has a traditionally smooth surface but because of the long straights, hard-braking corners and the often extreme temperatures, tyres take a battering around here. With the extra weight of full tanks at the beginning of the race we may see drivers nursing wounded rubber towards the end of stints.
• The track often remains slippery too, with heavy overnight storms washing away whatever rubber was put down by the cars the previous day.
What Happened Last Year
Malaysia’s 2009 twilight race, starting at 5pm was a washout. Polesitter Jenson Button made a poor start, dropping to fourth, Williams’ Nico Rosberg racing into the lead ahead of Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso. Button clawed his way back past Alonso and then eclipsed the front two in the first round of stops to assume the lead. By lap 19 it had started to rain, however, and most of the drivers pitted for wets. They might had more luck strapping on canoes. The rain became a downpour of biblical proportions and the race was eventually halted after 33 laps, the result being taken from the end of lap 31. That mean Button won with Heidfeld second and Timo Glock third. As the race did not make 75%, half-points were awarded for just the fifth time in F1 history.