Circuit Profile – 2013: Malaysia, Sepang International Circuit – Round 2

By Track Profile Specialist: Alistair Hunter
Formula 1 2013 Round 2 – Sepang International Circuit:

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The Formula 1 Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix is held at the Sepang International Circuit. The purpose built track is located near Kuala Lumpur International Airport that is approximately 60 km south of the capital city Kuala Lumpur.

The circuit is not only famous for it’s racing but also hosts music concerts. This year has already seen events such as the two day Future Music Festival Asia 2013 take place, which included the seventh concert in Armin van Buuren’s ‘A State Of Trance 600: The Expedition’ world tour, and the Music Conference Asia 2013 event is another and will take place just over a month after the Grand Prix.

History: In the last decade of the twentieth century, ex Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, created plans to build a new Grand Prix circuit in the country. This was intended to be in addition to a multimedia supercorridor, and to industrialise the country through the automobile industry.

The latter paved the way for state-owned petroleum company, Petronas, entry into Formula 1. It has since become the official race sponsor and also sponsored Sauber F1 before agreeing its current deal with Mercedes GP.

Circuit in numbers: The circuit itself is 5.543 kilometres long, and is easily recognisable due to the contrast between the two long straights separated by a hairpin and the variety of slow and high-speed corners scattered throughout the track. 65% of the lap is spent on full throttle, with an average speed of 210 kilometres per hour, rising to a top speed of 297 kilometres per hour.

 

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There are around 60 gear changes per lap for the drivers to deal with. Sepang is also notable for experiencing sudden, rapid downpours that can disrupt races. The drivers sweat so much due to the humidity that they lose more than 3 kilograms in bodyweight as a result of enduring cockpit temperatures that can reach 40 degrees Celsius.

Circuit characteristics: The Sepang circuit combines many elements under the high Malaysian temperatures that could term the course to be a ‘complete’ circuit. Drivers must combine a medium-high downforce set-up and relatively stiff suspension to perform on both high-speed and slow corners, as well as the rapid changes of direction.

Cars must be stable and well-balanced in both the fast and slow corners and drivers should be careful to inhibit the phenomenon of ‘blow-by’ when operating at high revs through turns five and six. The number of high-speed corners on the circuit forces drivers to spend 72 per cent of the lap at full throttle, making Sepang one of the most demanding engine circuits of the year.

A lap with Mark Webber:

Pirelli and Malaysia 2013
Pirelli’s motorsport director says: “We would describe Sepang as genuinely ‘extreme’: both in terms of weather and track surface. This means that it is one of the most demanding weekends for our tyres that we experience all year.

For the first time we see our new Orange hard compound in competition, with this colour chosen to make it more easy to distinguish from the white medium on television. The nomination we have for Malaysia is the same as last year, but the compounds themselves offer more performance and deliberately increased degradation this season.

pirelli-f1_4Last year three stops proved to be the winning strategy in a mixed wet and dry race, with a thrilling finish between Fernando Alonso and Sergio Perez that was all about tyres. We’d expect three stops again but once more it’s likely to be weather that dominates the action.

Even when it isn’t raining, the drivers can expect humidity in the region of 80% and ambient temperatures of more than 30 degrees centigrade.”

The tyre from a circuit point of view: Malaysia is one of the more abrasive surfaces that the cars compete on all year, which is part of the reason why the two hardest compounds from the range have been nominated.

The Orange hard tyre has a high working range, whereas the P Zero White medium has a low working range. This is why Pirelli have selected these compounds as they cover most eventualities. Pirelli claim that the durability characteristics of the new hard tyre are close to those of last year’s medium tyre, resulting in lap times that are around 0.4s-0.5s quicker than the 2012-specification hard.

untitledThe Sepang track is built on what was formerly a swamp, with a fundamentally uneven surface. However, the asphalt was resurfaced in 2007, which smoothed out most of the bumps – although some remain. Last year, the hard and medium compounds were also chosen for the Malaysian Grand Prix. The top five drivers adopted a three-stop strategy: intermediate-wet-intermediate-slick. Bruno Senna meanwhile, in fifth place, stopped four times.

Interpreting the tyres for the Malaysian Grand Prix: Malaysia places heavy lateral demands on the tyres; it’s the second-highest lateral load of the year after Barcelona. This can lead to heat build-up within the tyre, which can reach a maximum of 130 degrees centigrade. Sessions at the Malaysian Grand Prix in the past have been frequently interrupted by heavy rain, and the race was even halted early in 2009, with half-points being awarded.

Pirelli has a new specification of Cinturato Green intermediate and Cinturato Blue full wet tyre this year; with a redesigned construction to help improve traction and prevent snap oversteer.

Although grip levels are high in Malaysia, the frequent rain has the effect of washing any rubber that has been laid down off the track overnight, meaning that there is often a ‘green’ surface at the start of each session. While a dry line can emerge quickly because of the high ambient temperatures, drainage at Sepang is not particularly good, which can lead to pools of standing water.

Expected tyre behaviour in 3D:

Race Facts and Statistics: The first race would be won by Eddie Irvine on appeal in a Ferrari in 1999, and the team would go on to become the most successful at the track, winning six of the fourteen Formula One races there (42.9%). The only other constructors to have achieved multiple wins at the circuit are the other constructors to have won multiple Constructors Championships during this time – McLaren, Renault and Red Bull.

untitledMichael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso share the greatest number of wins at the Sepang International Circuit with three each, with Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel one win behind on two each. Half of the races have been won from pole position, and the Drivers Championship has been won seven times by the winner of the Malaysian Grand Prix that season (50%).

Only one Malaysian driver has participated in the Formula One World Championship, with Minardi hiring Alex Yoong for the 2001 and 2002 seasons. His best finish was seventh in the 2002 Australian Grand Prix, and his only appearance in his home country saw him retire due to a collision with Eddie Irvine after qualifying last.

Fairuz Fauzy was the closest to becoming the second Malaysian Formula One driver, making five appearances in Friday practice sessions for Lotus Racing in 2010, with a highest finish of 21st in the first free practice session for the German Grand Prix.

Two Malaysians have won previous editions of the Malaysian Grand Prix – Tony Maw as part of the Tasman Series in 1969, and Sonny Rajah as part of the Formula Pacific series in 1973.

Singaporean driver Yong Nam Kee also won the Formula Two Malaysian Grand Prix in 1962 – named as the Malayan Grand Prix at the time – held at the Thomson Road circuit in Singapore. This area was still part of the Malaysian federation until their expulsion from the Federation of Malaysia by Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman in 1965.

There have only been two Malaysian Formula 1 teams that have participated in their home Formula One Grand Prix. Malaysian entrepreneur Tony Fernandez set up both teams, Lotus Racing/Team Lotus and Caterham F1 with their best finish coming from Heikki Kovalainen’s 15th place for Team Lotus in 2011.

Memorable Moments:

2000 – Ferrari won the constructors championship at the circuit with Schumacher winning the year’s race.

2001 – The beginning of the circuit’s short but important association with changeable weather conditions, albeit with the same victor as the previous year.

2002 – Ralf Schumacher won in 2002, and Massa finished in his first point scoring position.

2003 – Fernando Alonso took his first ever pole position at the circuit, which was then followed by Kimi Raikkonen’s first F1 victory.

2005 – Alonso became the first Spaniard to lead the Formula One world championship thanks to victory at the circuit.

2006 – Giancarlo Fisichella, then teammate to Fernando Alonso took his final Formula One victory.

2009 – Half points given for the 5th time due to the race not reaching 75% of the race distance, and Brawn GP became the second constructor to win their first two Formula One World Championship Grands Prix since 1950, when Alfa Romeo won the first two ever.

2012 – Fernando Alonso held off a late charge from Sauber’s Sergio Perez to take victory in a wet race, which saw the best result for the independent Sauber team and Jean-Eric Vergne’s first point scoring finish in Formula One.

This Year: The Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix will be the fifteenth edition of the World Championship race, continuing the impressive history of the event that saw Fernando Alonso claim victory in changing conditions last year.

The Formula 1 event is supported by the Malaysian Super Series for cars and bikes (which also supports the MotoGP event). The Malaysian Super Series adds to the first two races of the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia and is the first round of the GP2 Series, the support series for the Formula One race this year.

Sepang Results

2012 Fernando Alonso Ferrari
2011 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault
2010 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault
2009 Jenson Button Brawn-Mercedes
2008 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari
2007 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Mercedes
2006 Giancarlo Fisichella Renault
2005 Fernando Alonso Renault
2004 Michael Schumacher Ferrari
2003 Kimi Räikkönen McLaren-Mercedes
2002 Ralf Schumacher Williams-BMW
2001 Michael Schumacher Ferrari
2000 Michael Schumacher Ferrari
1999 Eddie Irvine Ferrari

 

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10 responses to “Circuit Profile – 2013: Malaysia, Sepang International Circuit – Round 2

  1. Sepang was the first Tilke GmbH-designed circuit that entered the F1 calendar, must say that they have come a long way…

    • When you put it that way, it is amazing how much influence Tilke GmbH have had on the Formula One calendar, as I guess they have been responsible for designing more tracks than anyone else. Whether they create better racing than any other is another debate entirely though!

      • If you look at the two most recent Tilke GmbH-designed tracks – India + Austin – I think they are now creating better racing but it took them a while before they were able to do so…

        • they are all very similar though. both featuring a long striaght as well as alot of elevation change

    • If all cars where the same your article would make sense. If Grosjean was even remotely close to Rosberg’s level it would also help as a comparison.

      Practically everyone regards Schumacher in 2012 as the best year of his comeback for as you describe it as a disaster which tarnishes his legacy. How is becoming the oldest driver to be on the podium or get pole in forty years tarnishing your legacy?

      Don’t get me wrong I’m a big fan of Kimi and hope he wins the championship this year but you don’t need to try to run down another driver to make Kimi look good.

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