Sweltering Sepang the next challenge

Sweltering Sepang the next challenge

The modern, purpose built Sepang circuit in Malaysia is close to the city of Kuala Lumpur and is most favoured by teams as the track with unrivaled facilities. The circuit was built in 1999 and hosted its first Grand Prix in October that year....

The modern, purpose built Sepang circuit in Malaysia is close to the city of Kuala Lumpur and is most favoured by teams as the track with unrivaled facilities. The circuit was built in 1999 and hosted its first Grand Prix in October that year. Like season opener Albert Park before it, Sepang is one of the longer tracks at 5.5km and the Malaysian circuit was designed by renowned German architect Hermann Tilke.

Kuala Lumpur: the Petronas Twin Towers and the business district.
Photo by KL.
Eddie Irvine for Ferrari was the first winner of the race, in 1999, although controversy followed. Both Ferrari's were disqualified for having illegal bargeboards but were later re-instated after an appeal. Michael Schumacher won in 2000 and 2001 then brother Ralf was victor in 2002, he and teammate Juan Pablo Montoya scoring the first ever one-two finish for Williams.

The track is a challenging, technical one, with fifteen corners and eight straights where speeds can reach over 300kmph. There are very few gradients -- if your eyes are good enough it's possible to see the far end of the circuit from the grandstand -- and more opportunities for overtaking than most tracks. The start finish straight is over 900m long and the first corner is the fastest on the layout.

Set up requires medium downforce and a balance between drag and top speed for the long straights. Tyre degradation is medium and the track is more abrasive than Melbourne but the changeable weather conditions can cause the most problems -- tyre choice is often a crucial factor. Hot and humid and prone to unexpected tropical monsoons, the Malaysian Grand Prix is a challenge for car and driver alike.

Dehydration in the heat is a major consideration for drivers and fluid levels must be kept up through the race. Physical fitness is all important at Sepang and drivers will have been working hard to acclimatize themselves, ready for the grueling conditions of the one and three quarter hour race. The car has to be kept equally cool and radiator configuration is often noticeably different.

Last year, Michael Schumacher and Montoya came to grief at the first corner on the opening lap, resulting in Montoya dropping down the grid and Michael having to pit for a new nose cone. Montoya was deemed to be at fault in the incident and got a drive-through penalty for his efforts. A lot of unscheduled early pit stops saw strategies unravel and one of the most startling points of the race was Michael's Ferrari being overtaken by the Arrows of Enrique Bernoldi.

Race winner Ralf Schumacher.
Photo by Sutton Motorsport Images.
Rubens Barrichello was leading until engine failure put him out and Jenson Button was denied what surely would have been his first podium when the Renault slowed on the penultimate lap. He was passed by Michael for third and managed to drag the Renault over the line in fourth. Ralf inherited Barrichello's lead and took victory over Montoya for the Williams 1-2.

For the second race in 2003 it's by no means predictable as to whom the winner will be. Ferrari's unrewarding Australian GP was certainly not expected and McLaren was highly competitive. The new qualifying and no refueling rules gave an interesting grid and unusual strategies that made the race unpredictable -- that and the intervention of the weather and the safety car.

Ferrari will be wanting to redeem itself after Melbourne, as will Williams who could have won at Albert Park if not for an irrational spin by Montoya. McLaren will be very keen to keep its advantage and tyres will critical at Sepang. Michelin proved to have the edge in the hotter conditions last year.

Renault could spring a surprise as both Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso were competitive in Australia and the team is pushing its engine department to squeeze out just a little more speed. Minardi is unlikely to be able to pull off its qualifying tactic from Melbourne, as the FIA intends to shut that avenue down. The most unpredictable thing about the Malaysian GP will be the weather -- it all adds up to what will hopefully be another entertaining race.

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Ferrari , McLaren , Williams , Minardi