From the heat and humidity of Singapore, F1 makes the short hop to face the heat and humidity of Malaysia at the Sepang International Circuit, which has moved from its traditional early season slot. Nico Rosberg has never won the Malaysian Grand Prix, but that was also the case for each Grand Prix since the summer break – and Nico has won them all so far, reversing his mid-season slump in form and putting the pressure squarely back on Lewis Hamilton. Malaysia should provide another cracking instalment in the battle between the Mercedes duo for the world title this weekend, and there will be plenty of interest in the supporting cast as well, as Red Bull will try to continue to prove a thorn in the side of whichever Mercedes driver makes a bad start – and Ferrari will, as at every other race so far this year, desperately seek to unlock their potential and put a perfect weekend together to claim their first win of the season.
Sebastian Vettel is the man who holds the record for most Malaysian Grand Prix victories with 4, last year’s win for Ferrari adding to the 3 he enjoyed while at Red Bull. Fernando Alonso has 3 wins with 3 different teams (Renault, McLaren and Ferrari), and is tied with Michael Schumacher, who would have had four had Ferrari not ordered him to support Eddie Irvine’s championship bid in 1999. Kimi Raikkonen has two wins (one each for McLaren and Ferrari), while Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button both have one Malaysian Grand Prix victory to their names, Lewis winning for Mercedes in 2014 and Jenson taking the chequered flag in his title winning season with Brawn in 2009.
In last year’s race Ferrari offered us false hope for a strong championship challenge, with Sebsatian Vettel qualifying on the front row, a whisker off the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton. On a scorching hot race day, Vettel took the lead by staying out when Hamilton pitted during an early safety car period brought about by Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson spin. Vettel made hay while the sun shined, building up a commanding lead while the Mercedes lost time coming through traffic. Now on different strategies Vettel had the pace to hold off the Mercedes, even having the cheek to pass the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg on track after he emerged from his first pit stop! When the dust settled Mercedes had simply no answer to Vettel, with Hamilton and Rosberg trailing home in second and third place. Max Verstappen made history at the event by bringing his Toro Rosso home in 7th place to become F1’s youngest ever point scorer, finishing one spot ahead of his team mate Carlos Sainz Jr and ahead of both the Red Bulls, a race to forget for the Milton Keynes outfit!
There is a long history of motorsport in Malaysia, with a non championship War Effort Johore Grand Prix being staged around public roads around Johor Bahru as far back as 1940. The Jahore Grand Prix was revived in 1948, with a revised course around the streets of Johor Bahru that ran along the seafront and through the town. The first event to carry the title Malaysian Grand Prix was staged on the Thomson Road Circuit in Singapore in 1962 which had staged an Orient Year Grand Prix in 1961. The Thomson Road race would be run under the banner Malaysian Grand Prix again in 1963 and 1965 before it was renamed the Singapore Grand Prix for 1966.
With the temporary road tracks being dangerous in nature a purpose built track was eventually realised when the Selangor government leased land for the construction of a permanent course at Batu Tiga, which was later renamed the Shah Alam Circuit . The Malaysian Grand Prix thus found a new home from 1968, when the non championship Malaysian Grand Prix would be staged at the Shah Alam circuit. A Malaysian Grand Prix was staged here ever year until 1982, with a further race to take the Malaysian Grand Prix staged there in held in 1995. The circuit is now gone, with the land being sold on for development after the lease was not extended by the government, houses now occupying the site of the former circuit.
In the early 1990s the idea of a staging a Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix started to gain traction, and after state-owned Petronas entered the sport backing Sauber in 1995, the push for a Grand Prix would eventually lead to a brand new track being constructed. Hermann Tilke designed the new track to be situated at Sepang close to Kuala Lumpur airport. The track, built onto an oil palm plantation, features two long straights connected by at one end by a tight hairpin, with a fast and flowing track winding around to connect the other two ends. It’s first grand Prix was staged in 1999, a race won by Eddie Irvine in a Ferrari but remembered for the return of Michael Schumacher from his broken leg (see Memorable Moments below for a recap of that amazing weekend). The track has hosted a Grand Prix every year since, and with the possibility of serious rain at the event has seen plenty of exciting action over the years (my personal favourite race was the 2012, which is described in detail below as well).
Up until last year there were no major revisions to the Hermann Tilke track, but since the Grand Prix last year a major resurfacing job has been carried out at the track. In addition to giving a new asphalt surface, the works aimed to remove some of the existing bumps and reprofile the track to help improve drainage – so the nature of a number of the corners have changed for this year – these are detailed in the circuit characteristics below. The new surface caused concern during a MotoGP tyre test in July, with water seeping back through the track surface – officials are confident the problems have been resolved – but with sudden downpours an ever present possibility in Malaysia the performance of the track will be under scrutiny this weekend.
Malaysia is another tough test for the cars, with the conditions at the circuit providing a challenge for driver, car, power unit and tyres alike. The conditions here are hot and humid, and the drivers are in for another tough workout. There is 22 meters of elevation change around the circuit, with two long straights connected by a hairpin meaning plenty of work for the power units which will have to work hard in the humid environment. The tyres are worked hard here as well, with 15 corners of various demands to be negotiated, with two heavy braking zones at the end of the long straights. Pirelli will bring their hardest available compounds for this race, and with the track having undergone resurfacing since last year, and also seen a number of changes made to the layout of the corners to increase drainage and potentially increase overtaking opportunities, the teams will be looking to get a handle on tyre performance in the early practice sessions. Changes have been made to ‘improve the driveability’ of Turns 1,2,4,5,7,8,9,12 and 15, with modifications also being made to the kerbing and run off at Turns 1,4,9,12 and 15, so the drivers will have a bit of familiarisation to do in the early practice sessions as well.
From the starting grid the cars have a long run into the first corner, and with plenty of room on the straight we should see the plenty of movement as the cars fight for track position heading into Turn 1. Turn 1 is a long curving right-hander that winds around and heads down into Turn 2, a looping left-hander. The profile of Turn 2 has been smoothed out as part of the resurfacing work done for this year, with the hump removed from the track, so there should be better visibility for the drivers and improved speed on exit. Turn 1 should see plenty of overtaking attempts during the race, as the start finish straight is one o the DRS activation zones, and moves can carry over into Turn 2, with Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India keeping the inside line to Turn 2 and refusing to yield to Daniil Kvyat’s Red Bull here last year as Kvyat went past on the inside in Turn 1, with the Red Bull bumped into a spin and Nico handed a penalty as a result. From turn 2 the cars curve right on exit down to the lowest point of the track, Turn 3, a flowing right-hander, where Fernando Alonso finally got his Ferrari ahead of Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India after running side by side from Turn 15 and down the start finish straight and through Turns 1 and 2 towards the end of the race in 2014. Exiting Turn 3 leads onto a short straight climbing back uphill before braking hard into Turn 4, a tight right hand bend, which famously saw Sebastian Vettel run around the outside of Mark Webber in 2013 after ignoring the Multi 21 team order to hold station behind Webber. The entry to Turn 4 has also been reprofiled for this years race, which should make it easier for the cars hold the inside the bend.
From here the cars rise over a crest before dipping down into Turn 5, a long looping left-hander that winds into a fast right-hander Turn 6. The drop down into turn 5 has also been reprofiled as part of the work for this years race, with the banking increased to cater for drainage of the track, but also providing for a slightly faster entry to the corner. Valtteri Bottas managed to go around the outside of Williams teammate Felipe Massa at Turn 5 last year to snatch a place on the last lap having gotten better traction out of Turn 4. Out of Turn 6 on the kerbs the cars blast down a short straight into Turn 7 and 8, a pair of right handers. Turn 8 was the scene of Vitaly Petrov’s Renault performing a bounce back in 2011 as he ran wide and then launched over a bump in the grass as he tried to rejoin, the force of the impact breaking the steering column in the Renault! Exiting Turn 8 leads out onto a straight, the cars making their way across the track on the approach to Turn 9, a slow left-hander. This section of the track has seen modification since last year, with the track reprofiled to create a slope from the inside of the track out, meaning there will be more of an incline on exit of the corner and should allow the cars carry more speed through the corner. Turn 9 then opens out into Turn 10, a curving right-hander that winds the cars around to a tight right-hander Turn 11, the highest point on the track. The cars then drift across the track heading back downhill on another short straight before Turn 12, a quick left-hander that feeds past the first DRS detection point into the long right-hander Turn 13. The cars wind their way around Turn 13 and head into Turn 14, a tight right-hander that leads onto the back straight, which is the first DRS activation zone. Turn 14 being the corner where Sergio Perez hopes of a maiden victory were dashed in 2012 as he ran wide while hot on the tail of Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari in the closing laps.
At the end of the straight the last bend, Turn 15 awaits, a tight hairpin that doubles back onto the start finish straight, with the pit entry on the outside on the entry to the corner, and the second DRS detection point. Any move to take advantage of the DRS here into Turn 15 needs to be well considered, given that the second DRS detection point is in the corner and the start finish straight features another DRS zone to give a driver passed into Turn 15 the chance to come straight back. Sebastian Vettel demonstrated that Turn 15 can be used to good effect last year, as he used the grip from his fresh tyres to sail up the inside late on Nico Rosberg last year and effectively held off Rosberg’s attempts to get back using DRS on the start finish straight. Such moves will be interesting to watch out for this year, as Turn 15 sees the biggest change to the track configuration from last year, with the corner having been modified to improve drainage (the corner could double as a river when rain fell in the past) , with the entry kerb and camber modified to provide an incline on the turn, which will provide a new challenge for drivers coming at the end of the first DRS zone, and it will be interesting to see if there any mistakes made here during the race which could set drivers up to be attacked down the start finish straight – there should be plenty to watch out for at Turn 15 during the race for sure.
TYRES WITH PIRELLI:
About the only thing in common that the Malaysian Grand Prix has with the nearby Singapore Grand Prix that preceded it is humidity: around 80% humidity is a common occurrence, as a result of which there are tropical torrential downpours almost on a daily basis. The actual circuit however is totally different, with high speeds and long corners as well as high temperatures: one of the reasons why the three hardest compounds in the Pirelli range (P Zero Orange hard, P Zero White medium, and P Zero Yellow soft) have been nominated for the first time since Silverstone. For the first time since Canada, the hardest available compound must be used in the race (with two sets of hard nominated as obligatory sets). The track has been completely resurfaced, following a three-month closure earlier this year, which may mean that it is less abrasive than before: a typical characteristic of Sepang in the past.
THE CIRCUIT FROM A TYRE POINT OF VIEW:
Track temperatures are nearly always high: it’s actually possible to fry an egg on the asphalt.
In the past, wear and degradation has been high, making a multi-stop race likely.
Heavy rain has often been a feature of the Malaysian Grand Prix, even causing red flags. It also means that any rubber laid down is washed away, affecting the weekend’s track evolution.
Thermal degradation is an important factor, again due to high ambient and track temperatures.
Sepang is a varied circuit but there are also some fast corners with high lateral energy loads.
The new surface should mean that the track is a lot less bumpy.
The front-left tyre gets worked hardest, which tends to be the limiting factor in stint lengths.
THE THREE NOMINATED COMPOUNDS:
Orange hard: must be used in the race as two sets have been nominated as obligatory sets.
White medium: should be key to a flexible strategy, which often pays off in Sepang.
Yellow soft: a soft compound but high working range, which makes it very usable in Malaysia.
HOW IT WAS A YEAR AGO:
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel won with a two-stop strategy, starting on medium, switching to medium again on lap 17, then hard on lap 37. Track temperatures of 56 degrees were seen.
Best alternative strategy: Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton used a three-stop strategy to finish second, having started from pole. Three stops were also used by his third-placed team mate.
PAUL HEMBERY, PIRELLI MOTORSPORT DIRECTOR:
“In terms of extreme conditions that provide a real test for the tyres, Malaysia is right up there with anything else we see all year. That’s because of the extremely high temperatures as well as the high energy loadings through the fast corners. The big unknown for this year is the track surface, which is completely new. The weather can also change in an instant, turning the track into a monsoon. As a result of all that, Sepang tends to be quite a varied weekend where track evolution is hard to follow. We’ve seen a high number of pit stops in the past and we would probably expect multiple stops from most drivers again this year: this of course opens up an even wider array of variables when it comes to potential race strategies, now that teams have three compounds to choose from.”
There’s an entirely new surface, plus new drainage, new kerbs and redesigned gravel traps.
Malaysia shifts calendar slot, moving from a March date last year to late September this year.
The 2017 wider tyre test campaign continued last week, with Mercedes testing wet tyres in France.
The track action starts on Thursday this year with the first GP2 session in the late afternoon.
OTHER THINGS THAT HAVE CAUGHT OUR EYE RECENTLY:
The two title protagonists – Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg – have slightly different choices for Malaysia. Hamilton has an extra set of hards, while Rosberg has chosen more mediums
Pirelli recently won the FIA European Rally Championship for the second consecutive season with Kajetan Kajetanowicz in Latvia, as well as the ERC2 category for R4 (Group N) cars.
The Paris Motor Show takes place during the week of the Malaysian Grand Prix, with a number of prestige and premium cars making their debut using Pirelli as original equipment.
Red Bull put up a real challenge in Singapore, and while Kimi put in a solid effort for Ferrari, one can’t help but feel Sebastian Vettel would have been in the thick of the action had he not had to start from the back of the pack. But in Malaysia, despite a wonderful Ferrari victory last year, it will be Mercedes who once again start as the overwhelming favourites. This is yet another race where Lewis Hamilton will fancy he has an edge over Nico Rosberg, but then Singapore would have fallen into that category as well, but while Nico seemed to find another gear in his performance, Lewis seemed out of sorts, and will need to get his act together if he is to prevent Nico taking a decisive lead in the title battle. The run into the first corner could well prove critical in this years driver’s championship, with the long run to T1 providing plenty of scope for one of the Mercedes to become engulfed in traffic should they struggle away from the line again.
2012– Alonso magic lifts Ferrari as first win slips away from Sergio Perez
Ferrari arrived in Malaysia in a right mess in 2012. Their new car was hopelessly off the pace and it’s unpredictable and unforgiving nature made it a hard beast to tame. In the opening round of the season in Australia, Felipe Massa had qualified down in 16th place. Love him or loath him, Fernando Alonso has shown a remarkable ability to make silk purse’s out of sow’s ears down the years, and his ability to drag the best out of any car put at his disposal saw him a second faster than Massa in qualifying, but even that was only good enough for a lowly 12th on the grid. 5th in the race for Alonso with Massa crashing out meant doom and gloom prevailed at Maranello, and in Malaysia, the weakness of their car was exposed again in qualifying, with Alonso and Massa only managing 9th and 12th, with the lead Ferrari well over a second off the pace, the Ferrari looking singularly unimpressive – a midfield car at best in the early stages of the championship, with Alonso only 1 spot ahead of Sergio Perez in the Ferrari powered Sauber.
And so to the race. McLaren had locked out the front row with Lewis Hamilton ahead of Jenson Button. Michael Schumacher had rolled back the year’s with a fine performance to line up 3rd for Mercedes and Alonso’s Ferrari was well down, with both McLaren’s, Mercedes, Red Bull’s and Lotus qualifying ahead of him. On race day it was wet, with rain falling as the race got underway. At the start the McLarens led away comfortably, with Romain Grosjean in his Lotus making a flying start from 6th on the grid, squeezing between the two Red Bulls on the run down to the first corner, and swooping around Michael Schumacher on the outside of Turn 1 to take third place. The Red Bulls followed in 5th and 6th, with Alonso, 8th at the start due to a grid penalty for Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen, up to 7th after passing a slow starting Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes down to Turn 1, and was followed through by Sergio Perez in 8th. Conditions were tricky, and after a magnificent move by Mark Webber to drag his Reb Bull around Schumacher and Grosjean on the outside of Turn 3 to take third, Grosjean and Schumacher bumped each other into a spin and down the field coming out of Turn 4, and with the rain starting to get heavier, the choice of starting on inter’s suddenly looked to be less of a certainty, although parts of the circuit remained dry – so who would gamble on coming in? Only the backmarker HRT cars opted to start on full wets, with everyone else choosing inters. Sergio Perez made the call to come in for full wets at the end of lap one, as the advantage see-sawed between the inter and the full wet over the length of the circuit. The rain continued to fall, and more and more drivers started to come in for the full wets, Grosjean spun into retirement on his inters on lap 4 as his Lotus mechanics waited in the pits with wets ready, a lap too late for the Frenchman. Everyone was coming in for wets now, and Perez early move to wets proved oved to be the correct call, as the order when the stops played out saw Hamilton leading Button, but Perez having leapfrogged up to third ahead of Webber fourth and Alonso fifth. Conditions continued to deteriorate, with Perez lucky to hold station after first sliding deep into Turn 9 before flying off the track at Turn 12, Perez managing to keep it together and get back on track ahead of Webber. The safety car would be out soon followed by a red flag a few laps later as thunder and lightning shook the track. The field then waited for the weather to improve before restarting under the safety car for a few laps, the whole field now on full wets as they dried out the track. As they restarted, Vettel lined up in sixth with Jean Eric Vergne (the only runner not on wet tyres when the safety car came out) up to 7th for Toro Rosso. The main winner of the tyre lottery was Narain Karthikeyan, who’s HRT had climbed to an unbelievable 8th position before the safety car emerged, and would restart in 10th place, having been passed by Massa and Rosberg’s Mercedes after they came out on their wet tyres before the race was stopped.
When the safety car finally pulled in at the end of lap 13, Hamilton led the restart comfortably from Perez as Button dived into the pits for inters, while Alonso ran around the outside of Webber at Turn 1 and took third position on the inside into Turn 2. Vettel was briefly past teammate Webber inside Turn 4, but Webber dragged back past him on the run down to Turn 5. There was action all the way down through the bunched up field, and on the next lap Hamilton, Alonso and Webber pitted for inters, which left Sergio Perez leading the race for Sauber from Vettel’s Red Bull! Hamilton had a bad stop, coming out behind Alonso and Button. Coming under pressure from Hamilton, Button ripped off part of his front wing with a clumsy lunge from a long way back on Narain Karthikeyan on lap 15, Button looking like he forgot he was racing the HRT for position as Narain was still out on his full wets, with Hamilton easing past his team mate. The remaining cars in front (including Karthikeyan!) on full wets dived in for inters at the end of lap 15, with Button in for a new front wing, and Perez emerged just in front of Alonso as they dived into Turn 1, with a determined Alonso sensing opportunity and forcing his way past while Perez got his tyres up to temperature. Lewis Hamilton was back up to third following his poor stop. Game on! Alonso began to draw slowly clear of Perez, while Perez was able to maintain a gap back to Hamilton. Rosberg had been fourth, but began to drop down the order, with Vettel breezing past with the aid of DRS into Turn One at the start of lap 23, and Raikkonen and Webber followed by over the following laps as Rosberg’s tyres went off. Up front is was as you were, with Alonso’s lead over Perez going out to 8 seconds by lap 29 with Hamilton a further 7 seconds back, with the action in the midfield as Bruno Senna providing plenty of excitement as he stormed through the field, having dropped it on the opening lap and fallen to the back of the field. Over the next series of laps though Perez started to reel Alonso in, and with Hamilton unable to keep pace it was down to a shootout between the young Mexican in the Ferrari powered Sauber and the two time world champion for Ferrari!
Perez was banging in fast laps and managed to get on Alonso’s tail as they started lap 40, but by then the track had dried sufficiently for drivers to start to try slicks, and the teams were able to see from the cars that pitted early that slicks were indeed the way to go, and Alonso peeled into the pits at the end of the lap. Having had Perez in his mirrors, the Sauber now disappeared, Perez not following the Ferrari into the pits, instead taking the final corner as Sauber stayed conservative and kept Perez out on his inters for one more lap, not wanting to risk disaster should their driver go off the track. The move allowed Alonso breathing space, as Perez would wind up some 7 seconds down on Alonso after he had rejoined and gotten his tyres up to temperature. So with 42 of 56 laps complete Alonso had the edge, but Perez was not giving up. Perez had been fitted with the hard compound tyre by Sauber, with Alonso on the medium, and we were in for a tense finish as Perez started to pump in fastest laps as he chased the Ferrari down all over again. The battle for the driver’s championship was given an interesting twist as Sebastian Vettel dropped out of fourth place with a puncture on lap 47, Vettel sweeping close by Narain Karthikeyan as he lapped him and Narain moved across the track behind him too quickly, bursting Vettel’s left rear with his front wing. Unlike the collision with Button earlier, this time the HRT was being lapped and Karthikeyan was found the guilty party by the stewards. Vettel would finish outside the points. Up front Perez really had the bit between his teeth, and by the start of lap 50 he was right on Alonso’s tail, well within the DRS zone. Perez had his DRS open as they shot down the main straight but wasn’t close enough to make a move into Turn 1. No worry, he had plenty of laps to make a move. But then we heard the Sauber team radio, Checo by careful, we need this position. We need this position! A deliberate call to throw the race in favour of their engine supplier or the plea’s of an impoverished team that could not afford to throw away 18 valuable points for second place and the exposure of the podium? Sauber insist the latter, but either way the call could only have affected Perez concentration, and a few corners later the race was lost as Perez put his wheels on the kerb and then ran wide at Turn 14, handing Alonso a 5 second cushion as they crossed the line to begin lap 51. Perez kept trying, keeping the pressure on Alonso but there was not enough time left, and Alonso prevailed to take the win and provide relief for Ferrari and hope that 2012 would not be yet another wasted year. Hamilton came home in third, with Webber fourth and Raikkonen fifth, and Bruno Senna ending up a charging sixth for Williams after an entertaining drive through the field.
1999– 1st Malaysian Grand Prix – Schumacher and the art of defensive driving
For those who think aggressive defensive driving and questionable blocking tactics were invented by Max Verstappen, then you are probably too young to recall the manner in which Michael Schumacher dominated his peers and the sport. The 1999 Formula One season was all set up to be a repeat of the duel between reigning champion Mika Hakkinen and Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher, with the 1998 season having going down to the wire. However we were robbed of that fight in 1999 when Schumacher broke his leg at the British Grand Prix, seemingly handing the championship on a plate to Hakkinen. Ferrari threw their support behind former number 2 Irvine, who stepped up to the challenge, and with a little help from new number 2 Ferrari man Mika Salo, who slowed and allowed Irvine to pass him for victory in Germany, and mistakes from McLaren and Hakkinen, Irvine arrived at the penultimate round in Malaysia just 2 points adrift of the flying Finn. While Salo had undoubtedly performed admirably filling in for Schumacher, Irvine’s cause was boosted when Ferrari announced that Schumacher would be returning for Malyasia to support his bid to be Ferrari’s first champion since Jody Scheckter in 1979 (although the level of enthusiasm Schumacher had for performing support duties for Irvine’s title bid is open to question). In Malaysia Schumacher proved that whilst he was the dominant force in Formula One, he was also the best damned number 2 driver the sport had ever seen! Schumacher made his superiority known first, securing pole position by a whisker off a second faster than his title chasing teammate while the McLaren duo of David Coulthard and Hakkinen occupied the second row. When the lights went out the first four got away cleanly, Ferrari’s followed by McLaren’s, and Schumacher initially gave yet another reminder of his superiority by streaking into the distance, opening up a commanding lead of 3 seconds over his teammate within 2 laps, a truly remarkable performance given his long layoff, but, point proven, he now settled into his task as number 2 – not just mildly acquiescing and allowing a slower team mate by, but slowing and blocking his team mate’s title rival for all he was worth! Schumacher first allowed Irvine by on lap 3, slowing enough on the run out of Turn 8 to allow Irvine through whilst covering off Coulthard into Turn 9 and slowing up the McLarens. With no title at stake Coulthard could afford to be aggressive, and he barged Schumacher out of the way, diving late up the inside into turn 2, climbing the inside kerbs and pushing Schumacher wide at the start of lap 4. But Hakkkinen could not afford to risk colliding with Schumacher and crashing out, and over the next laps Schumacher bobbed and weaved as he kept Mika behind. Coulthard closed up on Irvine, and with the Scot looking to have race day pace advantage and nothing to lose it seemed only a matter of time before he pulled a move on the title contender. But on lap 15 Coulthard’s McLaren gave up the ghost, retiring with a loss of fuel pressure, and Irvine was clear in the lead, Schumacher and Hakkinen still circulating close behind, but Hakkinen unable to make a move on the canny German. Schumacher now began to back up Hakkinen prior to the first round of pitstops to give Irvine a buffer, with the gap between the two Ferrari’s suddenly going out to over 12 seconds prior to Irvines pitstop. Although Michael would claim damage from the early contact with Coulthard was responsible for his difficulties in driving the car, when he needed to ensure a gap to Hakkinen prior to his own stop he suddenly picked up his pace remarkably, putting in a string of fastest laps to distance Hakkinen. With the gap back to Scumacher chopped to 8 seconds Irvine pitted on lap 25, with Hakkinen following two laps later, but despite being backed up by Schumacher Mika did not take on enough fuel to get to the end without stopping again. Schumacher came in on lap 28 for what would be his only stop of the race, and Hakkinen’s hopes were now gone as Schumacher returned to the track ahead of him, with Irvine out front. Schumacher backed Hakkinen up again prior to Irvine’s second stop on lap 41, and although Irvine would rejoin behind them, Hakkinen would have to stop again, and Schumacher calmly let Irvine through once Hakkinen pitted. Indeed, such was Schumacher’s slowing of Hakkinen that the McLaren returned to the track from his second stop on lap 47 behind the Stewart of Johnny Herbert, and had work to do to even return to the podium. Hakkinen would manage to get by Herbert to take a vital third place with a move into the final corner a few laps from the end, with Irvine taking the chequered flag closely followed by Schumacher. There was no denying Schumacher’s dominance after the race, but there was doubt over Ferrari’s success, with the cars from the Scuderia disqualified after the race after their barge boards were deemed to be oversized, provisionally handing the championship to Hakkinen who inherited the win. But the FIA would re-instate Ferrari a few days later (apparently their cars were deemed not illegal enough to be penalised!), and Hakkinen would have to go on to beat Irvine and his number 2 in the final round Japan to take his second driver’s crown.
Malaysia sees the return of GP2 and GP3 to the support menu, while the TCR International Series and Porsche Carrera Cup Asia will also provide entertainment.
In GP2, Pierre Gasly continues to lead the way, but endured more frustration last time out in Monza, when after grabbing a dominant pole position and looking to be coasting to a certain victory in the feature race the safety car arrived after he had pitted and doomed him to a fourth place position. The safety car had to be called out after Sergio Canamasas was flipped into the air and sent rolling across the gravel at the second Lesmo after being nudged by an overly optimistic Arthur Pic, who would receive a grid penalty for the sprint race for his indiscretion. But the safety car did not pick up the leading cars ahead of Gasly (who had yet to pit), instead picking up Gasly back in sixth place. This allowed cars who had yet to make their mandatory stop leap frog Gasly and have the benefit of fresh rubber for what would be a sprint finish once the safety car finally pulled in. Gasly did well to hold fourth, but his team mate and title rival Antonio Giovinazzi would jump from 3rd on the restart to take the win with moves on Gustav Malaja and a last lap divebomb on Raffaele Marciello into Turn 1. The aggressive moves earned Giovinazzi a memorable home win, having come from the back of the pack after his front row grid position was wiped out after his tyres were found to be under pressure after qualifying. Giovinazzi had the boost of time in the Ferrari simulator after his Italian win, and will be looking to push Gasly all the way in Malaysia. Norman Nato took the sprint race victory from Gasly and Giovinazzi, but the championship is coming down to a head to head battle between Prema team mates Gasly and Giovinazzi, with just 10 points between them, with Marciello a further 26 points back and hit or miss Sergey Sirotkin seemingly out of contention now following yet another pointless weekend in Monza. Local driver Nabil Jeffri will be hoping he can put in a decent performance in front of his home crowd and add to his solitary points finish from the Baku sprint race earlier on in the year.
In GP3 Charles Leclerc continues to enjoy a healthy lead in the series, heading fellow Ferrari Driver Academy pilot Antonio Fuoco by 24 points with Alexander Albon still in the mix for the title a further 8 points adrift. At Monza Leclerc took pole but slipped back it the feature race, which saw a first GP3 victory for Arden’s Jake Dennis, who lead home teammate Jack Aitken and DAMS Jake Hughes with Leclerc back in fourth. Nyck De Vries took his first GP3 win in the sprint race, leading home Albon and Fuoco, who recovered ground on Leclerc, who scored no points, with the championship leader squeezed onto the grass as he tried to pass his ART teammate Nirei Fukuzumi on the run down to the first Lesmo on the third lap, resulting in both cars tangling and being eliminated as Fukuzumi hit the wall and Leclerc slid off into the gravel! Akash Nandy will be representing Malaysia in GP3, and will hope he can record his first points scoring finish this time out.
In the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia France’s Maxime Jousse continues to lead a tight series, with just 11 points separating the top four drivers with two rounds to go. Germany’s Nico Menzel jumped into second position just 7 points behind following his second place finish behind Austria’s Martin Ragginger in Singapore. Australia’s Mitchell Gilbert is a further point back in third and Singapore’s Andrew Tang, who will be buoyed by his selection to represent the Carrera Cup Asia in the Porsche Junior Shootout, is just a further 3 points adrift in fourth place.
In the TCR championship, there were wins for Jean-Karl Vernay and Mikhail Grachev in the Singapore Grand Prix support races, with Briton James Nash briefly losing the series lead only to regain it after the second race. Defending champion, Swiss Stefano Comini has moved into second and is only 2 points adrift, while last year’s runner up Spaniard Pepe Oriola has slipped to third in the standings. Vernay closed the gap in fourth, and with only 2 race weekends left the title looks set to go to one of these four drivers.
|2013||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
|2011||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
|2010||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|