The Malaysian Grand Prix has been part of the Formula One calendar since 1999, and was one of the first track designs thought up by the now legendary German architect Hermann Tilke. The combination of long high-speed straights, and tight twisting complexes make this track one of the most technical but enjoyable on the F1 calendar.
The Sepang International circuit is renowned for its tropical climate and gruelling heat, which really tests a driver’s endurance and stamina, but the rain, which falls almost every day in nearby Putrajaya, also adds a further element of risk into the equation. The track is also said to have been built on a former oil palm plantation and 260 hectare swamp, which only helps to further the mystique of this much loved venue.
Eddie Irvine was the first ever driver to take victory at the Sepang track, in what was to be the Irishman’s last ever grand prix win, and a somewhat controversial one for the Scuderia Ferrari team, after initially having both cars disqualified from the race for a technical irregularity, when stewards deemed the barge boards on their cars were illegal. An appeal the following week, saw both drivers re-instated however, and the Maranello based squad kept their one-two finish.
Alex Yoong is the only home driver to start the Malaysian Grand Prix, when he raced for Minardi back in 2002. Yoong qualified twenty-second on the grid, but did run as high as fourteenth place at one point, before having to retire from the race with gearbox issues.
Sebastian Vettel has taken the most victories on Malaysian soil with four wins, one ahead of his boyhood hero Michael Schumacher and arch-rival Fernando Alonso. Ferrari are easily the most successful squad to compete in the Malaysian race, with seven wins, three up on the Red Bull Racing team, who are next on the list.
There have been some exciting races at this South Asian venue across the years, here are a few interesting moments and facts from Malaysian Grand Prix gone by:
Let’s go halves…
The 2009 Malaysian Grand Prix was the last race to see drivers awarded half points for their placings, due to the race being cut short because of persistent, heavy rain that led to atrocious driving conditions. The race, which was won by then Brawn GP driver Jenson Button, was red flagged on lap 31 of the scheduled 56 laps, and therefore did not meet the required 75% race distance needed to see full points given.
It is only the fifth time in F1 history that half points have been awarded, the other times being the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix, the 1975 Austrian Grand Prix, the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix and the 1991 Australian Grand Prix.
Alonso scored his first ever F1 pole position and podium at the Malaysian Grand Prix back in 2003 when driving for Renault, becoming the youngest ever driver to achieve those accolades at that time.
It was the first of many achievements for the Spaniard and kick-started a glittering F1 career, spawning the driver we know and love today.
The double world champion also won the race in Kuala Lumpur from the lowest ever grid position, when he started from eighth back in 2012, whilst driving for Ferrari. Weather and safety car incidents may all have helped, but it was still a brilliant drive and result for the mercurial Spaniard.
“Multi 21 Seb, Multi 21”…
The now infamous final straw between Red Bull team-mates Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel at the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix, is a moment in F1 history we will forever remember.
Having forged out a sure-fire Red Bull one-two, Webber who was leading the race was told to turn down his engine to save fuel, whilst Vettel was ordered to remain behind Webber ahead of the final pit stops of the race to bring home the strong result. However, the German was not in favour of playing fair, despite the fact the Australian had done the same for him on numerous occasions throughout his career, and decided instead to take matters into his own hands, making a shrewd overtake on Webber to take victory.
Following the race, the two locked horns in the backroom ahead of the podium ceremony, with Webber clearly heard to be saying “Multi 21 Seb, Multi 21”.
It transpired afterwards that certain scenario’s had been agreed before the race, and in the event that the call “Multi 21” (which was code for Car 2 to finish the race ahead of Car 1) was heard, Vettel was to hold position and come home behind his team-mate.
The German initially apologised for his actions, but then at the next round in Shanghai claimed Webber did not deserve to win the Malaysian Grand Prix and he would do the same again, as well as claiming to not have understood the message from the team for good measure.
It was a right old mess for the Milton Keynes based squad to sort out, which they never truly did in the end.
Pole’s in the bag…
Michael Schumacher was certainly quick around the Sepang International circuit, starting from pole position on five occasions, a feat which remains unbeaten. Lewis Hamilton comes closest with three, and will likely surpass the German’s record in the next couple of years.
Schumacher also shares the honours for most podiums in Kuala Lumpur, with five, alongside Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton.
There’s a first for everything…
The Malaysian Grand Prix has often been the location for a number of F1 firsts, and below are just a few of those:
Kimi Raikkonen took his first ever F1 win at the Sepang International circuit back in 2003, and he did so in dominating style, coming home ahead of Ferrari’s Rubens Barrichello by nearly forty seconds, and lapping everyone up to fourth in the process.
Sergio Perez, who at the time was driving for the Sauber F1 team, took his first ever grand prix podium in 2012, when he finished second to Alonso…but it could so easily have been the Mexican’s maiden victory, had he not made a small error at a crucial moment! Having fought hard to catch right up to the back of the Spaniard’s Ferrari, Perez got onto the kerb at Turn 14 and ran wide, losing enough time to allow Alonso the only chance he needed to make a break for it, remaining ahead of the Mexican to the line.
In 2015, Max Verstappen became F1’s youngest ever points scorer, when he come home in seventh place at the 2015 Malaysian Grand Prix for Scuderia Toro Rosso. At 17 years, 5 months and 27 days the Dutchman broke the previous record, previously held by Daniil Kvyat, by more than two years. Current regulations mean this record is unlikely to ever be broken.
The 2016 Race weekend
Going into the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix this weekend, Mercedes AMG PETRONAS driver Nico Rosberg has taken back the upper hand, and the lead in the championship from team-mate Hamilton following the last round in Singapore, where the German truly dominated and the Brit appeared to have lost his way.
Can the current world champion snap out of his lull and spring back into winning action this weekend, or will Rosberg take control and hammer his advantage home?
Red Bull were definitely in the fight at Marina Bay, but will Malaysia play to their strengths this time around?
Can Ferrari turn their fortunes around and finally start to pose that threat to Mercedes they have been yearning for all year, before the season ends?