Following Kimi Raikkonen’s victory at the opening round of the season in Australia, Formula 1 moves quickly to Kuala Lumpur this weekend, for the 2013 Petronas Malaysia GP. From a street circuit where cooling wasn’t an issue, to a track with high temperatures and humidity which combined will challenge the entire field. Rain may also play out as a natural obstacle to the drivers or their cars, as it did in 2012 when the race was red-flagged on Lap 9 for almost an hour. For the same reason in 2009 the race was stopped after 31 laps - out of the 56 scheduled – with only half points awarded as the Grand Prix didn’t reach 75% distance.
Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber have a big motivation to score a good result this week-end as it will be their 200th race. Although the most experienced driver on Sepang International Circuit is Jenson Button, who has raced 13 Malaysian GP. McLaren’s driver only missed the inaugural race in 1999.
This will be the 15th running of the Malaysian GP as the track made its F1 debut on October 17th, 1999. The race saw Michael Schumacher return from injury after a three month absence because of a broken leg. The seven-time world champion took pole position by nearly a second and then dominated the race before handing the win to his team-mate Eddie Irvine. Both Ferrari drivers were originally disqualified from first and second places because of illegal bodywork, but reinstated after appeal.
In the first two years of its existence the race was staged at the end of the season. Since 2001, the Malaysian GP has moved to the beginning of the championship and the first early season race saw a deluge in which both Ferraris dramatically slid off the track, dropped to last and fought back to win.
Known for being one of the flattest circuits on the F1 calendar, the Sepang International Circuit is a combination of long high-speed straights and a mix of high and low-speed corners. It is popular for its unusually wide and long start-finish line (the second longest run to the first corner in F1) and the endless Turn 13. Only four turns out of 15 can be taken in third gear or less, while the top speed of 311 kph can be reached either on Turn 15 or 1. Sepang has several overtaking spots and the two DRS sectors (between turns 15 and 1 and between turns 14 and 15) increase the opportunities.
The track was resurfaced in 2007, it has no major bumps and the kerb profile is quite low. The 5.543 km length circuit sits in a valley, giving fans the opportunity to see almost half of the track no matter where they sit.
On seven occasions the driver on pole position has gone on to win the Malaysian Grand Prix, the first winner from pole being Michael Schumacher in 2000. Ferrari is the most successful constructor at Sepang with six wins: Eddie Irvine (1999), Michael Schumacher (2000, 2001, 2004), Kimi Raikkonen (2008), Fernando Alonso (2012). The lap record has been handed to Juan-Pablo Montoya (Williams-BMW) in 2004 who managed to complete Lap 28 of the race in 1:34.223.
Giancarlo Fisichella holds a funny record at Sepang International Circuit. As Michael Schumacher did at the 2012 Hungarian GP - when he incorrect lined-up his Mercedes on the grid - the Italian driver also missed his spot on the grid. Not only once, but twice. At the start of the 2001 Malaysian GP, the Benetton driver parked his car in the wrong grid slot which forced the drivers behind him to do the same. Two years later he came back at Sepang and once again lined-up on the wrong side of the grid.
Of the drivers racing this weekend Marussia’s Jules Bianchi is the only one who has never driven on the Sepang track before. Esteban Gutierrez, Giedo van der Garde and Max Chilton raced in GP2 here last season while Williams's Valtteri Bottas drove in FP1.
2012 Malaysian GP
Last year’s race saw three World Champions at the front of the grid: Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Michael Schumacher. The race started in wet conditions and was suspended on lap nine due to heavy rain. When the race resumed, after almost one hour, Fernando Alonso took the lead and was chased to the chequered flag by Sergio Perez, who was unable to pass. The Mexican driver claimed his first F1 podium finish with second place, ahead of Lewis Hamilton.
Ferrari’s driver started the Malaysian GP from eighth on the grid, the furthest back a winner has started in the history of the race. Sergio Perez’s second place for Sauber was the first time a Mexican driver had appeared on the podium since Pedro Rodriguez finished second in the 1971 Dutch Grand Prix for BRM. That happened 19 years before Perez was born. The 2012 GP was also a good race for one of last year’s rookies. Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne took his first F1 championship points with an eighth-place finish.
The closing stages of the 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix were also animated by a series of confused radio messages sent to Sebastian Vettel. In less than a minute the team told him to ‘Box, box, box. We're going to retire the car’, ‘Stay out, stay out’ and ‘Stop the car, stop the car. Emergency’. Christian Horner explained later that day that Red Bull tried to get him to stop the car for safety reasons, but he didn’t hear the message due to a radio problem. Vettel later infamously called Narain Karthikeyan a cucumber after giving him a puncture.
Friday 22 March
Practice 1: 10.00-11.30
Practice 2: 14.00 - 15.3o
Saturday 23 March
Practice 3: 13.00-14.00
Sunday 24 March