The Malaysian, or Malaysia Grand Prix as it is now known, takes place on the outskirts of the city of Kuala Lumpur, right by the city international airport. The Sepang circuit features the widest track on the F1 calendar, and easily the highest temperatures raced in all year making it a real test for the super fit drivers.
The Malaysian Grand Prix circuit is located in the Sepang district of Malaysia, just outside of Kuala Lumpur. Up until recently there was nothing there but palm oil plantations but in 1998 it became the site of KL's International airport, one of the largest and most modern in the world. The Grand Prix circuit soon followed along with hundreds of international companies that have made the area a technological hub. However, there is little to see and do in Sepang and there are very few if any places to stay. Kuala Lumpur is not far away though and is the capital of Malaysia. The Petronas Towers dominate the city's landscape and up until recently were the tallest buildings in the world.
When the Malaysian economy expanded at the end of the 20th Century the Government looked to capitalise on this growth and fund a Grand Prix. Construction began on the Sepang International Circuit in 1997 and it was ready for the opening round of the 1999 Moto GP season. Formula One raced at the track for the first time at the end of the same year. The circuit was the first 'modern' Grand Prix layout to be fully designed by Herman Tilke as up until that point he had only modified the A1 Ring in Austria. It was widely accepted to have the best facilities of any racetrack in the world and Tilke has since become Formula One's leading architect.
The circuit is specifically designed for overtaking and uses many slow corners and long wide straights to achieve this. Most of the other corners are taken at medium speed which makes the track predominantly high downforce. The run off areas at Malaysia are very expansive so it is hard for the fans to get close, although at least half of the entire circuit can be viewed from anywhere in the main grandstand. The track follows a giant loop around the pits and main straight which is located in the middle of the layout. The rough surface is hard on tyres and has become increasingly bumpy as the track sinks into the swap it was built on. The circuit is also particularly wide so there is always plenty of jostling on the run down to the first corner.
Ferrari has always done well in Malaysia and scored one-two finishes in the first three races held there. Renault has also been particularly successful at the circuit. The extreme heat takes its toll on engines so the number of mechanical problems is rather high. The racing is always good at Sepang and it is possibly the easiest track of any to overtake on, which is why Schumacher was able to finish third in 2002 despite losing his front wing at the start.
Tyre wear at Malaysia is very high but the biggest challenge to the drivers will come from the heat and humidity. Malaysia is possibly the most physical race of them all and some drivers will lose up to four litres of fluid during the Grand Prix. Unlike the other modern Herman Tilke designed circuits, Sepang does not have any tarmac run-off areas so sliding onto the grass is often punished.
This circuit was particularly designed for overtaking so the racing is always good at Sepang, and the high level of tyre wear and attrition means the interest in the race will last until the very end. Round two of the season is also a good chance to see if the results in the first race were just a one-off and to establish any trends for the upcoming races.
1999 : Michael Schumacher returned to Formula One after breaking his leg, and quickly set aside any doubts about the effect his big accident had on him by qualifying a second clear of the field and dominating the race. He handed victory at the finish to teammate Irvine.
2001 : Both Ferrari's fell off the road as a monsoon hit the Grand Prix, but recovered from the back of the field to finish one-two after using intermediate tyres when everyone else fitted wets.
2002 : Michael Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya crashed at turn one, damaging the Ferrari and giving Montoya a drive through penalty. Both recovered to finish on the podium.
2007 : Lewis Hamilton marked himself as a Formula One superstar by outracing Felipe Massa in a straight fight. He lured Massa into a braking move that was never going to work, and the Brazilian found himself on the grass despite having a much quicker car.
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