FIA Preview: Malaysian Grand Prix, Sepang

Malaysian flag held by grid girls on the grid. Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday 5 April 2009.

Mar.21 (FIA) Just a few days after Jenson Button’s victory for McLaren at the season-opening race in Australia, the battle for the 2012 FIA Formula One Championship gets even more intense as we journey to Malaysia and the grand prix billed as ‘The World’s Hottest Race’. With in-car temperatures often edging above 50º C and with track temperatures to match, the race places huge demands on man and machine.

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - APRIL 10:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Red Bull Racing leads the field at the start of the Malaysian Formula One Grand Prix at the Sepang Circuit on April 10, 2011 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Start of 2011 race

The energy-sapping heat and humidity aren’t the only problems however. While quite smooth, the circuit’s long straights and heavy-braking corners mean that the tyres, already hurt by the heat, also take a beating from the circuit surface. Car set-up is tricky too, and the combination of flowing sections, power-hungry straights and tight corners makes it a tough balancing act for the engineers. Finally, there’s the weather to contend with. Heavy storms are a constant threat and can lead to major trouble, as we found out in 2009 when a torrential downpour led to the race being stopped after just 31 laps.

That race was, of course, won by Button on the way to the 2009 World Championship, and the question now is whether he can take a second win here and set himself up for another shot at the title. It won’t be easy. In Melbourne, the Red Bulls recovered well after a tricky qualifying session to finish second and fourth in the race. Mercedes and Lotus, too, gave notice that, once minor issues are ironed out, they are ready to make the step up to championship contention. Further back the midfield looks incredibly tight with a number of teams all in the mix for points. And, naturally, Ferrari can never be written off. If Melbourne was a baptism of fire for the Scuderia’s new car, then Fernando Alonso’s fifth place showed they can stand the heat. And as we get ready for sizzling Sepang that can only be a good thing.

Sepang Circuit

  • Length of lap: 5.543km
  • Lap record: 1:34.223 (Juan-Pablo Montoya, Williams-BMW, 2004)
  • Start line/finish line offset: 0.000km
  • Total number of race laps: 56
  • Total race distance: 310.408km
  • Pitlane speed limits: 60km/h during practice; 100km/h during race

Changes to circuit since 2011

  • The verge on the exit of turn 8 has been re-worked in order to remove the bump in the grass which caused a problem in 2011.
  • The entire debris fence around the outside of turn 1 has been renewed.

Malaysian GP Fast Facts

  • Winner Eddie Irvine (GBR) Ferrari F399 passes his pit Malaysian GP, Sepang, 17 October 1999

    Ferrari driver Eddie Irvine wins the first ever Malaysian GP in 1999

    This will be the 14th Malaysian Grand Prix. The race joined the calendar on October 17th, 1999, as the second to last race of that season. The inaugural event was also significant as it marked Michael Schumacher’s return to racing after a three-month lay-off following leg injuries sustained in a crash at the British Grand Prix. .

  • That 1999 race ended in controversy. Thanks to Schumacher’s pace-setting, Ferrari team-mate Eddie Irvine was able to take victory but afterwards both Ferraris were disqualified due to technical infringements. That handed the title to Mika Hakkinen but Ferrari successfully appealed and the championship battle rolled on to the final round in Japan. Hakkinen still managed to win.
  • In 2001, Giancarlo Fisichella, driving for Benetton, had an embarrassing moment as the cars lined up for the race. The Italian seemed to forget where he had qualified and parked on the wrong side of the grid. Realising his error he tried to steer across to his proper 16th place but with no room to manoeuvre was left stranded across the grid at the start.
  • Sepang should have good memories for Kimi Raikkonen. The Lotus driver took his first F1 victory in Malaysia in 2003. The Finn started from seventh but moved up to second in the first stint and then passed pole winner Fernando Alonso on in the first pit stop. Fernando’s pole position made him, at the time, the youngest driver to start a race from the front of the grid. Sebastian Vettel then took that record at the 2008 Italian GP.
  • Alonso had gained his race seat at Renault in ’03 at the expense of Jenson Button, who had been controversially dropped. Jenson moved on to partner Jacques Villeneuve at BAR-Honda and the following year Button scored his first podium finish at the Malaysian Grand Prix, taking third place behind Juan Pablo Montoya and race winner Michael Schumacher.
  • Giancarlo Fisichella scored the last of his three Formula One victories here, winning the 2006 race from pole position. Team-mate Fernando Alonso finished second in the race, handing Renault it’s first 1-2 finish as a constructor since the 1982 French Grand Prix.
  • Johnny Herbert, one of the three FIA stewards here in Malaysia, drove his final Formula One race at Sepang in 2000, having announced his intention to retire from the sport earlier in the year. It wasn’t the smoothest curtain call either. The suspension on his Jaguar failed after 48 laps pitching Johnny into a nasty accident from which he thankfully emerged from the wreckage with just a badly bruised knee and dented pride.
  • Formula One tyre supplier Pirelli will bring its white-banded Medium and silver-banded Hard tyres to Sepang due to the high temperatures endured at the track and the heavy braking the cars have to put in at the end of the circuit’s long straights.

Race Stewards Biographies

  • Paul Gutjahr started racing in the late 1960s with Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Lotus and Porsche, then March in Formula 3. In the early ’70s he became President of the Automobile Club Berne and organised numerous events.He acted as President of the organising committee of the Swiss GP at Dijon from 1980-82. From 1980-2005 he acted as President of the Commission Sportive Nationale de l’Automobile Club de Suisse and in 2005 he became President and board member of the Auto Sport Suisse motor sports club. Gutjahr is President of the Alliance of European Hill Climb Organisers and has been steward at various high-level international competitions. He was the Formula 3000 Sporting Commissioner and has been a Formula One steward since 1995.
  • Johnny Herbert’s motor sport career began in 1974, aged 10, in karts. Five years later he was British junior karting champion and by 1985 he’d won the Formula Ford Festival. A year later he took the Formula Ford 2000 title, while also competing in Formula 3. In 1987 Herbert won the British F3 title and the F3 Super Grand Prix, successes which led to Formula One tests with Benetton that year and in 1988 with Team Lotus. But that same season brought a near-career-ending Formula 3000 accident. He recovered to race for the Benetton F1 team in 1989 and had a 160-race career, winning three grands prix before his retirement at the end of 2000. Herbert also won Le Mans, with Mazda, in 1991 and continued to race sportscars post-Formula One. He still races and last year competed in the VW Scirocco R Cup and the 24 Hours of Spa.
  • Roger Peart is a civil engineer by training and designed the Gilles Villeneuve circuit, Canada’s F1 venue since 1978 (excepting 1987 and 2009). He first became involved in motor sport as a racing mechanic while still at school in the UK from 1949-1953 and by 1960 he had become a competitor. Until 1963 he drove in the Canadian National Rally Championship, before switching to racing from 1964 to 1976. In 1967 Peart became involved in the organisation of Canadian motor sport and was instrumental in getting the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve onto the F1 calendar. Since 1991 Peart has been President of ASN Canada FIA and, since 1999, President of the FIA Circuits Commission.