By Track Profile Specialist Alistair Hunter
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.
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.
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.
Malaysia with Lewis Hamilton:
Pirelli and Malaysia 2014
The new world of Formula One, with its new tyres, faces its toughest test yet in Malaysia: a circuit well-known for abrasive asphalt and extreme weather, which ranges from intense heat to monsoon-like downpours. To cope with these demanding conditions, the two hardest tyres in the range have been nominated: P Zero Orange hard and P Zero White medium. The evolutions brought to Pirelli’s tyres this year increase strength and reduce degradation, but maintain the same sporting characteristics and performance, to enhance the racing spectacle.
Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director: “Malaysia will obviously be only the second race that this completely new range of tyres, designed for the latest-generation Formula One cars, have ever competed in, and it also marks the debut of our 2014 hard tyre.
The medium performed well in Melbourne, but Malaysia obviously presents a big contrast to Australia. We go from the smooth asphalt in Melbourne to a highly abrasive surface, and from the relatively cool conditions of Albert Park to much higher ambient and track temperatures. This of course will be as much of a challenge for the new cars as it is for the drivers, and we mustn’t forget that we are still at a very early point in the overall learning curve.
Wet conditions in qualifying in Australia allowed the teams to sample the 2014 intermediate and full wet tyres, and this knowledge could become very useful in Sepang.”
Jean Alesi, Pirelli consultant driver: “Malaysia is one of the toughest races of the year, both for the driver and the tyres. But many of the corners flow quite well, so if you keep a good rhythm you can limit the stress on them.
The biggest enemy of tyres in Malaysia is thermal degradation. It’s going to take a few races yet before we see every team’s full potential, which is an interesting situation. The other thing I always associate with Malaysia is heavy rain. The way that rain tyres have evolved since I was driving is incredible: I don’t think anyone would have foreseen the rate of water dispersal that we can achieve now.
The real problem in Sepang can be standing water: it’s not tyres that are the limiting factor, but the fact that when you have huge quantities of water, the car ‘surfs’ along its flat bottom, which means you have no control at all. Visibility is also very difficult for the drivers following behind.”
The circuit from a tyre point of view
Sepang is a fast circuit, with an average speed of over 210kph in qualifying and several flat- out corners. These high-speed accelerations make traction particularly crucial.
With the high-downforce set-up favoured by most teams, the tyres have to cope with not only high lateral loads, but also the equivalent of 830 kilograms pushing down on them. This challenging combination of forces leads to mechanical and thermal degradation.
The P Zero Orange hard tyre is a high working range compound, suitable for the most extreme conditions, whereas the P Zero White medium is a low working range compound. By adjusting the compound mix, the working ranges of all the tyres have been widened this year.
The same is true for the wet weather tyres. The rear tread pattern has been redesigned to improve resistance to aquaplaning in extremely wet weather, while the compound of the full wet tyre has been adjusted to allow it to cover a wider range of conditions. This year’s full wet can evacuate 65 litres of water per second at 300kph: up by five litres from last year.
The front-left tyre is worked hardest in Malaysia: tyre temperature on the tread can peak at 120 degrees centigrade. In terms of friction energy, Sepang places the fourth-highest demand on the front-left tyre all year (after Silverstone, Barcelona and Suzuka).
Rain affected strategy last year, with the top five drivers all stopping four times. Judging the crossover points proved crucial. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) won: starting on intermediates before moving onto the medium tyre, then completing two stints on the hard tyre, before finishing on the medium.
Sepang with Brembo:
Medium difficulty circuit for brakes with the sole exception being the first and last braking section. These are sections which, although characterised by deceleration close to5 Gs, are preceded by very long straight stretches during which the friction material has plenty of time to cool efficiently. The greatest critical areas have to do with the correct sizing of the air intakes which must allow optimum management of braking system operating temperatures on all the track sections.
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 fifteen Formula One races there (40%). 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.
Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso share the greatest number of wins at the Sepang International Circuit with 2013 champion Sebastian Vettel on three each, with Kimi Raikkonen one win behind. Eight of the races have been won from pole position (53.3%), and the Drivers Championship has been won eight times by the winner of the Malaysian Grand Prix that season (53.3%).
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 Charles Pic’s 14th place in 2013, although reliability this year may offer them their best chance of beating that.
Form Guide: It may only be one race into the season, but Mercedes appear to be dominant. Lewis Hamilton is favourite to regain momentum that was lost at the previous race in Australia, although I still believe that Nico Rosberg is more than capable of bringing the fight to him. Maybe we’ll see more team orders?
If it makes you feel any better though, last year Lotus won the first race of the season and they didn’t win again, so if you aren’t a fan of boring championships, there is a tiny glimmer of hope out there. (My money would be on one of the Mercedes duo, although I haven’t been brave enough to enter the tj13 league and prove it…)
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.
2013 – Mark Webber denied a victory by Sebastian Vettel, who ignored team orders to take his first victory of his fourth championship-winning season, while Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton actually respected their team in fourth and third places respectively.
This Year: The Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix will be the sixteenth edition of the World Championship race, continuing the impressive history of the event that saw Sebastian Vettel controversially take the victory from now ex-F1 driver Mark Webber.
The Formula 1 event is once again supported by the first of five Sepang-based rounds of the Malaysian Super Series for cars and bikes. The Malaysian Super Series adds to the first two races of the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia at the track this weekend, but the GP2 series will not be racing there this year.
Reinforcing the Porsche Carrera Cup’s status as the undisputed leader in regional sportscar racing, it will also join the F1 calendar for rounds in China and Singapore, making up three of their eleven rounds of racing.
|2013||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
|2011||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
|2010||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|