The Big Preview: Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang International Circuit 26 March, 2014 After a short break, Formula 1 returns this week, with the teams assembling at Sepang for the Malaysian Grand Prix, the second round of the 2014 F1 World Championship. The Australian Grand Prix provided an excellent appetiser for the season ahead, promoting new stars of the sport while suggesting that the form guide shaped by winter testing was not entirely to be relied upon. Equatorial Sepang, however, provides a very different environment to Albert Park and is likely to see a very different race as machinery and drivers are pushed to their limits. While Australia provided a relatively gentle introduction for the new Power Units, Sepang will take them to extremes. The Malaysian Grand Prix has the potential to be the hottest race of the year and with around two-thirds of the lap conducted at full throttle cooling performance is expected to play a big part this weekend. Added to that are the traditional challenges of racing at Sepang. While visually dominated by the long pit and back straights, Sepang has great variety, with a twisting middle sector and several high-speed corners requiring a relatively high level of downforce. It also demands excellent traction, with speed onto the straights being a key factor in setting a good lap time. It is tyres, however, that have a tendency to dictate performance at the Malaysian Grand Prix. Pirelli, as is now customary, will bring its two hardest compounds to the circuit but wear rates are still expected to be high. Of course in Malaysia the ever-present threat of rain means the Intermediate and Wet tyres could also see some use. The forecast is for thunderstorms across all three days, though recent history suggests that the rain is as likely to bracket the sessions as it is to fall during them. Sepang International Circuit Data Length of lap: 5.543 km Lap record: 1:34.223 (Juan-Pablo Montoya, BMW-Williams, 2004) Total number of race laps: 56 Total race distance: 310.408 km Pitlane speed limits: 80 km/h in Practice, Qualifying and the Race Circuit Notes The kerb on the exit of Turn Five has been extended further towards the apex of Turn Six. Artificial grass has been removed from areas around the outside of Turns One, Five, Seven, Eight and 12. A new kerb has been installed on the Turn 15 entry. Attention has been paid to levelling the grass verges as bumps were noted during December’s inspection. The DRS sectors will be between Turns 14 and 15 and Turns 15 and One. The first zone has detection 54m after Turn 12 and activation 104 m after Turn 14. Zone two has detection 16 m after the Turn 15 apex followed by activation 28 m after Turn 15 Malaysian Grand Prix Fast Facts Michael Schumacher (2000, 2001, 2004), Fernando Alonso (2005, 2007, 2012) and Sebastian Vettel (2010, 2011, 2013), each have three victories at Sepang. From 15 Malaysian Grands Prix the other winners are Eddie Irvine (1999), Ralf Schumacher (2002), Kimi Räikkönen (2003, ’08), Giancarlo Fisichella (2006) and Jenson Button (2009). Alonso has the distinction of taking his three victories with three different teams. Button’s win in 2009 was the last Formula One race in which half points were awarded. Due to torrential rain, the race was red flagged after 31 laps and a restart was not possible. Button was awarded the victory and the five points that went with it. Eight of the 15 grands prix at Sepang have been won from pole. The race has been won from as far down as eighth (Alonso 2012), while podium finishers have come from as far down as tenth (Nick Heidfeld 2005, 2009). Of the three 2014 F1 rookie drivers, only Kevin Magnussen lacks significant experience at Sepang. Marcus Ericsson raced in 2012 and 2013, appearing in the GP2 Series on the grand prix undercard. He has two retirements and two 13th place finishes. Daniil Kvyat has raced at Sepang on six occasions across two events in Formula BMW Pacific. He has two victories at the circuit. Magnussen’s elevation to second place at the Australia Grand Prix makes his the most successful F1 World Championship debut since Jacques Villeneuve finished second at Albert Park in 1996 (Villeneuve started the race from pole). The only drivers to better this are Giancarlo Baghetti, who won the 1961 French Grand Prix on debut and (statistically) Nino Farina and Johnnie Parson, who won respectively the 1950 British Grand Prix and the 1950 Indy 500 in the first year of the Formula One World Championship. With a ninth-place finish in Australia, Toro Rosso’s Kvyat, aged 19 years and 324 days, became Formula One’s youngest points scorer. The record had previously been held by Sebastian Vettel, who was 19 years and 349 days when he finished seventh in his mid-season debut at the 2007 United States Grand Prix, driving for BMW-Sauber. After much speculation regarding the reliability of F1’s new hybrid Power Units, 15 cars took the chequered flag in the season-opener. Of the seven that failed to finish in Albert Park, two went out in a first lap, first corner collision. Only five cars retired with issues related to the Power Unit. Following the disqualification of Daniel Ricciardo, the revised Australian Grand Prix podium was a clean sweep for Mercedes-powered cars, with Nico Rosberg in the works team car leading home the McLaren-Mercedes of Magnussen and Button. The last Mercedes clean sweep was at the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix where Rosberg took his debut victory ahead of McLaren’s Button and Lewis Hamilton. Malaysian Grand Prix Reuters Statistics Sebastian Vettel’s retirement in Australia ended his record run of nine race wins in a row. The German has 39 career wins, Fernando Alonso 32, Lewis Hamilton 22, Raikkonen 20 and Jenson Button 15. Nico Rosberg, winner in Melbourne, has four. Vettel needs two more race victories to equal the late Ayrton Senna’s tally of 41. Only Alain Prost (51) and Michael Schumacher (91) have won more. Ferrari have won 221 races, McLaren 182, Williams 114 and Red Bull 46. With Kevin Magnussen second and Jenson Button third, McLaren returned to the podium in Melbourne for the first time since 2012. Button’s podium was his 50th in Formula One. Vettel took nine poles last year and now has 45 career poles. Mercedes and Red Bull were the only teams to start on pole in 2013 and that run continued in Australia with Hamilton on pole for Mercedes. Hamilton now has 32 poles. Ferrari have finished a record 68 successive races with at least one car in the points, a run that dates back to the 2010 German Grand Prix. Caterham and Marussia have yet to score a point after four seasons in F1. In Australia, Magnussen and Russian Daniil Kvyat became the 60th and 61st drivers to score points on their Formula One debuts. After finishing ninth in Australia, Toro Rosso’s Kvyat became Formula One’s youngest points scorer aged 19 years and 324 days. Vettel (2010, 2011, 2013) and Alonso (2005, 2007, 2012) are both three-times winners in Malaysia. Raikkonen has won twice (2003 and 2008). Button won in 2009. Ferrari have won six of the 15 races held at Sepang to date. Eight of the 15 have been won by the driver starting on pole. The lowest grid placing resulting in victory was Alonso’s 2012 win from eighth place. Button has competed 14 times in Malaysia, more than any other driver. He took his first F1 podium at Sepang in 2004. Mercedes have Petronas as title sponsor while Caterham are Malaysian-owned. Malaysian Grand Prix Race Stewards Biographies Lars Österlind is a highly experienced FIA steward who has officiated at more than 100 grands prix and a similar number of World Rally Championship rounds. A social sciences graduate and lifelong motor sport enthusiast, Österlind was President of the Swedish Rally Commission from 1978-1982, then President of the Swedish Automobile Sport Federation from 1982-1996. He became Honorary President in 1996 and has been a member of the FIA World Council since 1984. Outside motor sport Österlind has specialised in management, working as a consultant and pursuing his own business interests. He is also experienced in local government at city council level. Silvia Bellot began marshalling in 2001, when she was 16. She has been a steward in a number of national and international series, including the, European F3 Open, GT Open, BMW Europe, Spanish Endurance Championship, DTM, World Series by Renault and the WRC. In 2009, she took part in the FIA trainee stewards’ program for GP2 and F1. She made her first appearance as an F1 steward at the 2011 Turkish GP and in 2012 was awarded the FIA’s Outstanding Official prize. She is currently a steward in GP2, GP3, WTCC and F1. She is a member of the FIA’s Women in Motorsport Commission and works closely with RACC, the Circuit de Catalunya and the Spanish federation in event organisation. Ulsterman Martin Donnelly was a star of junior racing categories in the 1980s before making his grand prix debut with the Arrows team at the 1989 French GP at Paul Ricard, substituting for Derek Warwick. He qualified 14th and raced to a creditable 12th. He was offered a race drive at Lotus alongside Warwick for 1990 and started 12 races, recording a best finish of seventh at the Hungarian GP. However, his time in Formula One was cut short when, later in the season, a suspension failure caused a huge accident in practice for the Spanish GP at Jerez. Despite the serious injuries he suffered, Donnelly recovered sufficiently to race competitively in national events. He now runs Donnelly Track Academy in Norfolk, England and has held a number of racing team management positions. Subbed by AJN.