Sepang, home to this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix, was the first F1 track to be designed by Hermann Tilke, whose company has helped to design 11 of the 21 circuits on this year’s calendar. Sepang was opened in March 1999 and it hosted its first grand prix later that year, since when it has been a permanent fixture in F1. This year the race is taking place in October, for the first time since 2000.
It has an interesting mix of medium and high-speed corners, but the biggest single challenge for the teams is cooling. The ambient temperature rarely drops below 30 degrees at this time of year, which places added pressure on the cooling of the power unit in particular.
Grip levels here are medium, the circuit has been re-surfaced this year, so grip levels will depend on how the asphalt has cured since it was laid six months ago. The fast corners have high levels of grip due to the aerodynamic downforce created by the cars, but the new surface will be the biggest single factor influencing grip levels.
This is a modern racetrack, with excellent run-off areas. There are more gravel traps than asphalt run-off areas because they are the preferred safety option for bike racing, which also takes place at Sepang.
Drivers will need to watch out for the rain – and when it rains in this part of the world, it usually pours. In 2009 the race had to be stopped after 31 laps due to a flooded racetrack and the later-than-normal start time of 3pm leaves the race vulnerable to a late-afternoon thunderstorm.
For McLaren driver Fernando Alonso, the new surface will pose a challenge, but it is one he is looking forward to….
“I’m looking forward to heading back to Malaysia after 18 months since the last race there,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see how the cars cope on the newly-resurfaced track, and I imagine the weather conditions will be different from our last visit.”
“Still, we expect it to be a tough race in the heat and humidity, but there’s a good combination of slow and high-speed corners and fast straights, so it has a little bit of everything. It tests every part of the package, and the driver too, so hopefully there’ll be some close racing and an entertaining weekend for the fans.”
“The Malaysian Grand Prix is always a fun event and among the drivers’ favourites on the calendar. There’s great food, lively fans and good racing so I hope we can put up a strong fight there. I’ve won this race three times before so I have happy memories, and we’ll be aiming to continue the momentum from the past couple of races and get a strong result there again this year.”