If the season-opening Australian Formula One Grand Prix a fortnight ago was the opening cocktail, then this weekend’s second round in Malaysia will perhaps serve as the appetizer in what is already shaping up to be a veritable feast of motorsport in 2014.


The Circuit

2014 FORMULA 1 PETRONAS MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX

Sepang International Circuit

Date: 28-30 March 2014
Lap Length: 5.543km
Free Practice Session 1 Fri 10:00-11:30
Free Practice Session 2 Fri 14:00-15:30
Free Practice Session 3 Sat 13:00-14:00
Qualifying Sat 16:00-17:00
Race (58 laps) Sun 16:00-18:00
Lap Record 1:34.223 (2004)
2013 Winner Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing)

* All session times are quoted in Malaysian Standard Time (GMT +08:00 hrs)

The Sepang International Circuit, a 45-minute drive from Malaysia’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur, was the first in a spate of Hermann Tilke-designed tracks to grace the Formula 1 landscape, and it certainly made a favourable impression when it made its debut in 1999.

The circuit’s incredible width, the mix of high- and low-speed corners and long straights are very much part of the Tilke blueprint familiar to many F1 fans, who’ve now seen more of these track configurations popping up in more unusual locations across the world in the following fifteen years.

The wide straights that feed onto tight corners have always given fans excellent wheel-to-wheel racing – and the odd collision! – which is supported with a decent mix of hairpin bends and high-speed switchback corners.

Suffice to say, its facilities have perhaps not enjoyed the necessary level of funding in recent years, and maintenance standards have slipped in the last few years. However, it remains a popular venue for the Formula 1 fraternity, even if it isn’t particularly well-supported at the ticket gates.

No doubt offering an insight into the difficulties of establishing a foothold in a country where there is comparatively little in the way of motorsport heritage, the race largely serves to promote Malaysia as a viable and popular international tourist destination.

Take a look at our Sepang Circuit Guide:


The History Bit

As we mentioned before, the circuit’s design has always fostered races where overtaking has been the norm, rather than the exception. However, that is not to say that the past twelve races held here have been edge-of-your-seat thrillers either. There are generally battles up and down the field to keep the fans interested.

Last year’s race provided plenty of controversy, as the spectre of team orders – and a defiance of them – brought some ugly headlines the sport’s way. Perhaps this was the grand daddy of them all, with ‘Multi 21’ becoming the sport’s most infamous coded message: Sebastian Vettel ignored a team instruction to hold station behind teammate Mark Webber, overtaking his teammate in the closing stages of the race to claim undoubtedly the most controversial victories of his career.

Webber was furious at the betrayal and many fans were in uproar over Vettel putting his own ambitions ahead of the team’s. And while he may have made a pitiful apology (which he later back-tracked on), one can’t deny that’s why Vettel is the champion that he is: there are few champions in the sport’s history who haven’t carried an utterly ruthless streak in their quest for victory.

If that doesn’t wet the appetite, the Malaysian Grand Prix has produced plenty of thrillers over the years. Here are a few of our favourites:

So what were some of the highlights from previous races at Sepang? Let’s relive a few of the better races…

  • 1999: The inaugural race at Sepang saw Michael Schumacher make his return to racing after being laid off with a broken leg. He thrashed the entire field in qualifying and then surrendered victory to his team-mate Eddie Irvine, who had inherited the mantle of title contender in the German’s absence. Schumi drove a very wide Ferrari to keep Mika Häkkinen at bay in third place. Ferrari was later disqualified for allegedly illegal barge boards, a decision that was later overturned after appeal.
  • 2001: The first of the Malaysian races to be affected by a tropical downpour, the soaked track saw many drivers flying off into the gravel traps. Ferrari made the clever decision to fit intermediate tyres – while almost everyone else opted for wets – which paid off handsomely when the track dried, allowing Schumi to win as he pleased. Fellow rain-master Jos Verstappen drove a brilliant race in the unfancied Arrows to run as high as second, but he faded to finish just outside the points.
  • 2002: A first-corner tangle between Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya saw the Colombian earn a (dubious, many felt) drive-through penalty for his troubles. Ralf Schumacher took a fine win on a one-stop strategy, which would be Williams’ sole race win of the season.
  • 2003: After the last season spent enduring bad luck and a less-than-competitive car, McLaren’s Kimi Räikkönen took the first of his eighteen F1 career wins. Despite it being his only win of the 2003 season, his consistency would see him in the title hunt until the end of the season, although a fourth consecutive crown would go Schumacher’s way…
  • 2009: Another torrential downpour would hit the circuit mid-race, causing the race to be red-flagged and half-points awarded to the eventual winner, Jenson Button. The first-time twilight scheduling of the race – made with the full knowledge that this was the time when monsoon showers were most prevalent – earned plenty of criticism.
  • 2012: This perhaps goes down as, quite possibly, one of the greatest Grands Prix in Formula 1 history. A torrential storm soaked the track as the race began, and by the seventh lap the Safety Car was brought out before the red flags were unfurled just two laps later. After an hour’s delay, racing was thankfully resumed, and it was Fernando Alonso who took control early on, although his mirrors were filled with the Sauber of Sergio Pérez (pictured below). The Mexican drove sensationally and looked on course to claim a famous win until a late mistake ensured victory would be Alonso’s.

Alonso and Perez battle it out in a thrilling 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix


The Form Guide

There’s no question that the race at Albert Park was – as it always is – a great event. But in fairness, being the curtain-raiser and being a street circuit race, it has had a history of throwing up a few odd results.

One might argue that Daniel Ricciardo’s drive to second was one such performance. Certainly, the Australian outdid himself on home soil, keeping the Red Bull Racing Renault RB10 in second place against more-fancied opposition from the chasing McLarens. It was, in all fairness, a delightful surprise.

But then came the crunch: Ricciardo was disqualified after the team ignored clear directives from the FIA to reduce the fuel flow rate in his car after its fuel feed sensor started to play up. Whether Ricciardo gained a competitive advantage from the team’s decision will continue to be debated, but the evidence was demonstrated – one could argue – in the fact that his car, wholly unexpectedly, finished in second place.

The announcement – after much dithering from the FIA stewards – created consternation back in Australia and plenty if disappointment among his fans. It was not the kind of publicity that the new technical regulations needed, but Ricciardo gracefully copped it on the chin and has vowed to bounce back.

The team’s subsequent decision to appeal Ricciardo’s disqualification was entirely predictable, although quite what it hopes to gain given the wealth of evidence against it remains to be seen.

That pending case – which will not be heard until after the third Grand Prix in Bahrain in another two weeks’ time – will bubble along as a back story as the field gets set to go racing this weekend in Malaysia, along with the tragic news of the fatal passenger jet accident that befell the country’s national carrier, Malaysia Airlines. We extend our sympathies to all family and friends who have been affected.

But on to Malaysia and the Sepang International Circuit, a terrific purpose-built facility designed to showcase just how well designed and engineered each Formula One car is, particularly with respect to aerodynamics and cooling.

While the high ambient temperatures are always a risk for overheating, the turbo/hybrid nature of this year’s power units won’t make things any easier, particularly along the circuit’s two long straights where the engines are under the greatest strain.

The circuit’s incredible width, the mix of high- and low-speed corners and long straights are very much part of circuit designer Hermann Tilke’s blueprint familiar to many F1 fans, who’ve now seen more of these track configurations popping up in more unusual locations across the world in the fifteen years following the first Grand Prix at Sepang in 1999.

The wide straights that feed onto tight corners have always given fans excellent wheel-to-wheel racing – and the odd collision! – which is supported with a decent mix of hairpin bends and high-speed switchback corners.

A well-designed and balanced car will be well showcased here, needing a set-up quick enough to get through Sepang’s sweeps without overloading its Pirelli tyres.

The bigger areas of concern will be to do with cooling, and this will particularly be the case for the Renault runners after their rather challenging pre-season build-up which was punctuated with a number of cooling-related failures for the ultra-complex turbo/hybrid power units.

While the Australian season-opener saw three Renault-powered runners cross the finish line and comfortably inside the points (that became two after Ricciardo’s disqualification), that still mean five DNFs: Sebastian Vettel, Romain Grosjean, Pastor Maldonado and Marcus Ericsson all retired with mechanically-induced failures.

But Renault has been hard at work trying to improve reliability and performance, and it believes it will be in a much stronger position this weekend.

“After a difficult race in Australia we are really looking forward to Malaysia,”Rémi Taffin, Renault Sport F1’s Head of Track Operations, said in the company’s event preview.

“We had several issues across the cars in Melbourne but we have recreated the problems in the dyno at [the factory in] Viry-Châtillon. Most are fixed and the remaining will be under control by Friday in Sepang.”

That is very promising news, and it will particularly give those in the Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso camps plenty of confidence heading into the weekend.

Those two outfits were on the pace during the race in Melbourne, and it would not be a surprise to see similar, if not improved, performance levels come Sunday in Sepang.

We’ve sung Ricciardo’s praises already, but a nod must go to the STR camp, which managed to get both of its drivers into the points in its very first outing as a Renault team: that’s quite an achievement.

Despite not getting either of its cars to the finish line, Caterham showed better than expected qualifying and race pace in Melbourne, and it will be looking to build on that this weekend in what will be a physically tough race for the team and their machines.

Lotus looks to be in the toughest position after failing to show much in the way of competitiveness last time out in Australia. The mantaray-nosed E22 is well short of track time after its late launch, and the team will be focusing on maximizing the mileage as much as possible in order to develop the potential of its radical new car.

Of course, the form guide will get completely thrown out of the window if the area is hit with the customary tropical downpours over the weekend, particularly if these come in either qualifying or the race. The Grands Prix here have always been fantastic when spiced up with a little bit of precipitation, and seeing the drivers thread almost 800bhp of turbo power through their right feet will be fun to watch if the track is a little damp!

In any respect, this weekend is shaping up to be a terrific show for all Formula One fans – we can’t wait to go racing!


Don’t forget to enter your Malaysian Grand Prix Predictions!

The second round of our 2014 RichardsF1.com F1 Predictions Competition is now open for business, and you can enter and edit your predictions for the race right up until five minutes before qualifying!

Entry is open to all of our readers, and it’s so easy to submit your predictions!

All you’ll need to do is predict:

  • which driver will win pole position and the race
  • which two teams will earn the best finishes in the race
  • which eight drivers will finish in the top-eight positions
  • who will post the fastest lap of the race
  • who will gain the most positions relative to their starting position

You can also choose to ‘double up’ your points tally for the Malaysian Grand Prix – but be careful, you can only do this twice per season!

To enter your predictions, click here!

Images via Sutton Images

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.

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