The paddock turns its sights to Sepang International Circuit this weekend, the purpose-built Formula 1 racetrack outside Malaysia’s capital city of Kuala Lumpur. After fifteen editions held in spring, the Malaysian Grand Prix returns to its original October spot on the calendar, same as on its debut in 1999.
This first part of a double-header with Japan next week will be held on one of the most technical circuits, that combines long straights with tight and complex corners. Sepang has often been the scene of on-track duels and because of its unpredictable weather the circuit will make life tough for the drivers.
Despite being very hot and humid as racing happens in the heat of the day, Malaysia is not as physically demanding as Singapore due to its flowing characteristic.
Constructed in 14 months and officially opened in 1999, Sepang International Circuit was the first Formula 1 track designed by Herman Tilke. It is now considered one of the most technical tracks on the calendar as its twisting layout challenges both the drivers and their engineers.
The track’s width allows for numerous overtaking opportunities, but the incredible speed that can be attained on the straights is actually restricted by the fast, flowing corners as teams sacrifice outright speed for aerodynamic grip and balance.
Esteban Gutierrez is looking forward to return to one of his first grand prix in Formula 1 back in 2013. While describing a lap of Sepang, the Haas driver mentions that the two main straights are the biggest overtaking opportunities at this track.
“You approach Turn 1 with a lot of speed. After a long straight, at the first corner you brake and turn in with a lot of lateral load. It’s a fairly long corner that goes into Turn 2, which has a change of surface angle which makes it a bit tricky on the apex to get the right grip for the exit. Then you come down flat out and into Turn 3.
“You approach Turn 5, which is basically a 90-degree corner to the right where you can use all the kerbs available. Then you come to Turns 6 and 7, which is my favourite part of the circuit - high-speed corner left and right. Turns 8 and 9 comprise a right-hand corner, which is basically two apexes on one whole corner. Then you arrive into Turn 10, which is a hairpin. Big braking, and there’s also change in the surface which makes it pretty difficult to get the right traction out of that corner. By that time the tyres are pretty hot, so you struggle with the traction out of the hairpin. Then you go into Turn 11, which is not really a corner but preparation for Turn 12, which is a medium-speed corner. Then you have (Turn) 13, which is a left-handed, very high-speed corner where you’re flat out.
“Then you come to the famous corner from Sepang, which is a very long corner to the right with a lot of braking. It’s a very technical corner because it has so many different lines which you can really use depending on the setup of the car and depending if you are on a qualifying lap or in the race. Then you come down the straight and into the last corner, braking pretty late into a medium-speed corner. It’s important to carry the speed in where you really go deep and then prepare with a right line for the exit and come to the straight line.”
Nico Rosberg reclaimed the World Championship lead after his victory at Marina Bay two weeks ago and heads into this weekend with a eight-point lead over his team-mate Lewis Hamilton. On the Constructors’ side Mercedes could become champions this weekend unless they are outscored by eight points by Red Bull or by 23 points by Ferrari.
There are nine different winners from the 17 Grand Prix held so far at Sepang with eight being the lowest winning grid position here, a record set by Ferrari's Fernando Alonso in 2012.
There is a multitude of changes to the circuit this year like kerb and run-off upgrades along with a re-surfaced track meaning that the track walk will be very important so drivers and engineers are aware of
Frequent and torrential rain storms often impact the Malaysian GP due to the tropical environment and this can lead to some unpredictable strategies. The most evident example is the 2009 GP when the race was ended after only 31 laps as rain inundated the track. It was the first time when half points had been awarded to the drivers participating since the 14-lap Australian Grand Prix in 1991.
Sepang places extremely high loads on the tires and this translates in Pirelli bringing the hardest tire compounds in its range to Malaysia.
Tyres: soft, medium, hard
DRS: zone 1 - back straight, zone 2 - main straight
Driver Steward: Derek Warwick
Weather: lows will range from 24-25 degrees Celsius to highs of 32-33 degrees Celsius
Facts and stats
Circuit length: 5.543 km
Race laps: 56
First Grand Prix: 1999
Lap record: 1:34.223 (J.P. Montoya, 2004, Williams)
Most wins (driver): Sebastian Vettel (4)
Most wins (constructor): Ferrari (7)
2015 Qualifying: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2015 Race: 1. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari), 2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), 3. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Moments in time
Fernando Alonso’s front wing fall off as Ferrari decided not to pit him after the Spaniard crashed into the rear of Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull at the start of the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix.
Friday 30 September
Practice One: 10:00 – 11:30
Practice Two: 14:00 – 15:30
Saturday 1 October
Practice Three: 14:00 – 15:00
Qualifying: 17:00 (60 minutes)
Sunday 2 October
Race: 15:00 (56 laps or two hours)