This trackside report is brought to you by TheJudge13 guest writer Steve Davis
Editor’s note: TJ13 asked Steve to give an account of the experience this weekend in Malaysia from the perspective of a fan at the event. Steve has reported each day with his musings and observations. Thank you very much Steve and if you missed the other reports there are links to them below.
Today (Sunday) travelling to the circuit, it feels like something special is going on. The train is full of fans looking forward to the race. There is a lot of laughter filling the carriage. I hear quite a bit of talk about the chances of rain with one particularly loud Australian bloke who would apparently bet his house on it raining by 4pm.
When we get to the grandstand it’s very hot; hotter than it has been for the past couple of days. There are a few small clouds about but it doesn’t look like it’s going to rain at the moment. There is a flag on top of the tower grandstand that we’ve been watching for signs of which way the wind is blowing, at the moment it is very still. An announcement tells us rain is forecast for 5pm…
There are definitely more people around today, looking across to the main grandstand it is filling up quickly. The tower is strangely empty, tickets for it were sold out and I think it’d be a great place to watch from.
Searching for Asian food
I got talking to a British guy on the way to the grandstand that had been coming to the race for the past five years. He reckoned the left hand side of Grandstand F is the best place to watch the race as you can see the three corners in front of you, the hairpin and down both straights. My seat is off to the right hand side but I think it’ll be ok.
Also, I find out from him that previous years have seen a load of food and merchandise stalls in the area. There is nothing this year though, apart from the couple hawker stalls under the grandstand which forces people to travel around to the main entrance if they want more food choice or souvenirs. A trick missed by the circuit organisers.
That’s what we decided to do today, after the Super Series support race, hoping to find local food to eat. The options turned out to be Nando’s and KFC, which disappointed slightly as I was really expecting more Asian food. They produce it quickly in the food courts and hawker stalls every night in Chinatown. Don’t see why that couldn’t work at the track! It would add a unique Asian flavour to the event.
As for the merchandise, team stuff is stupidly overpriced as usual. I try and get a t-shirt specific to each race as a souvenir of the event. Unfortunately for the Sepang International Circuit, I don’t really want something with the initials ‘SIC’ on it. There are a couple options without so I elect for one of those.
Waiting for the race to start
Back in Grandstand F I realise my view of the big screen is interrupted by a support pillar. Block A, row P, seat 25, in case you’re interested. Not that having a screen is really necessary; I could watch it on one of those at home, but it would at least give me a rough idea of who’s in what position during the race.
If the PA system decides to start working the majority of the commentary will be in Malaysian. The only word of that I’ve learnt so far is ‘merkasi’ (thank you), which probably won’t get me too far. Not a word Formula One drivers are generally all that accustomed to.
I spot the friends I’ve made over the past couple days nearby; there are spare seats next to them so I join them. Grandstand is mostly full now with just a few empty seats here and there. I reckon there must be about 4-5,000 people in this section now. It’s very hot still and there is only one stall selling water which of course causes enormous queues, stretching the length of the grandstand. It’s looking cloudy back towards KL but clear blue skies are overhead.
The Finnish couple with the flag are back and they’ve brought some friends with them. Their t-shirts spell out the name ‘KIMI’ and they begin to noisily chant his name and clap, trying to get everyone to join in. It’s very welcome addition to the atmosphere as it’s been pretty quiet so far. The Malaysian’s love it, getting the group to pose for photos. They happily comply.
The PA system springs to life just in time for the one minute silence for flight MH370. An air display was due shortly before the race but I guess this was also cancelled as a mark of respect.
As an unexpected bonus we can see the grid from our seats allowing me to witness the start of a Grand Prix for the first time. It was a pretty cool sight hearing them roar away from the line from the other side of the circuit. Everyone appears to get away cleanly, then we lose sight of them until turn 5 and everyone cheers as the cars scream past us into turn 7.
Something must have happened to Raikkonen, he’s moving very slowly as he passes, and going around the hairpin we see the right rear tyre fly off his car, luckily for him the entrance to the pits is right there. The Finnish fans don’t look happy; they chant his name again the next time he goes by.
Not getting any info from the Malaysian commentary and the big screen is stubbornly refusing to show a list of positions. It helps that the no2 drivers have yellow flashes on the cameras above the air box. We see that Vettel gets past Ricciardo.
This changes as soon as drivers start to pit. For the middle third of the race, we know the Mercedes and Red Bulls are out front but as for everyone else we’ve no idea. The McLaren’s and the Wiiliam’s seem to keep swapping positions, but which ones we’re not sure. Lapped cars make things even harder.
Things do eventually sort themselves out, but how did Hulkenberg get up into forth? And did Red Bull screw up Ricciardo’s pit stop? What’s he doing so far back? We see Button overtake Massa, which was for sixth, right? How’s Kimi doing? The Finnish fans have been a bit quiet recently. It’s a strange mixture of fun and frustration trying to work out what’s going on.
There was a bloke sat next to us who’d bought along an FM radio and tuned into the circuit commentary. He complained that it kept cutting to music, but did occasionally lean over to give us a bit of information. Things like, ‘it’s raining on turns nine and ten’. Really? The sun is shining, it doesn’t look like it. And ‘Massa has been ordered to let Bottas past to have a go at Button’. We can tell that didn’t happen though.
Suddenly it’s the last lap, we all cheer as Hamilton goes by. Nice to be at a Grand Prix and see a Brit take the chequered flag. On the lap back into the pits Hamilton and Rosberg get a huge round of applause and a lot of cheering. Vettel gets nothing. Better than booing I suppose.
I need to mention the engine noise issue again briefly. There’s no doubting that they are quieter this year. I was wearing earplugs for a while and they deaden the noise so completely they sounded like road cars going by. Without earplugs the engines are plenty loud enough. I found the V8’s screaming past physically painful – lap after lap, that’s not fun. I like the sound of the new engines it’s more interesting listening out for the turbo and trying to tell the difference between each team.
After watching the podium ceremony in the grandstand, gates were opened to allow people onto the track. Some hadn’t waited and climbed the fences, including the Finnish fans, who were now loudly chanting Kimi’s name again. Being able to walk out onto the circuit is great as you can see all the tyre debris littered along the sides of the track. Gives people a chance to pose for photos as well helping to involve the fans.
Climbing over a tyre barrier gets you onto the start-finish straight and from there we walk along the grid past the pit lane. It’s pretty cool seeing all the cars in park-ferme being weighed and checked. You also see some TV interviews going on – Niki Lauda and Damon Hill to name a couple. It’s incredible how quickly the teams dismantle the garages and cars
Half an hour after the race and most garages are practically empty, just lots of boxes stacked up ready for transport to Bahrain. The starting lights on the grid were also being taken down; do they take them to every Grand Prix too? The Finnish fans were there again posing for photos. Thousands of fans were walking up and down the grid, staring into the pit lane, taking funny photos of their mates in the grid slots. It’s really good the organisers allow the fans to do this.
Some pretty dark clouds did appear towards the end of the race but the rain never fell. It’s difficult to tell whether people were hoping for it or not. It’s always fantastic being at a race, feeling the atmosphere of the crowd, seeing and hearing the cars. But I get the impression this probably wasn’t a classic Grand Prix. I enjoyed being here a lot though, it was interesting to watch and I met a bunch of nice friendly people to share the experience with.
The facilities were a little disappointing, nothing going on apart from being able to watch the race unless you were back at the main entrance. It’s also the only Grand Prix I’ve been to where the grandstand areas are fenced off. You also can’t walk around the edge of the track and pick where to watch from with a general admission ticket, there are specific areas for that too. Huge areas of the track have no spectators at all. Grandstand F is isolated from everything else, but i do believe it was the best place to watch the race from.
Should you go to the Malaysian Grand Prix? If you’re in the country while it’s on then the answer is YES. It’s an amazing experience, and Malaysia is a fantastic country. Also compared to other races it’s incredibly cheap, my three day grandstand seat cost £50. If you’re traveling or in one of the neighboring countries and fancy a holiday, sure, why not? Flights to KL from nearby destinations are cheap too. If you’ve never been to a Grand Prix before you’ll love it.
I hope that Australian guy on the train didn’t really bet his house on a wet race; he won’t have a home to go back to for when it does rain.