Formula One’s south—east Asian leg continues this weekend, as teams make their way, for the final time, to the Sepang International Circuit home of the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Malaysia’s race made its F1 debut in 1999 and has been a staple of the calendar since, but earlier this year the country’s government decided that this year’s event would be the last hosted at Sepang.
Over almost two decades the circuit has become something of a classic, testing the physical stamina of the drivers and engineers’ ability to optimise cars for the track’s particular demands. As with F1’s most recent outing in Singapore, the race is characterised by high ambient and track temperatures and humidity, but by virtue of its afternoon start, conditions here are often more intense than those encountered during Singapore’s night race.
The heat makes life tough for the drivers but it’s also a test for teams. The extreme heat means that cooling of car systems can be problematic. High track temperatures and the lateral loads put through the tyres in the high—speed corners mean that wear and degradation can be severe, though tyre supplier Pirelli has moved a step softer in its allocation compared with 2016, with the Medium, Soft and Supersoft compounds on offer.
For engineers, finding a sweet spot in terms of set—up is tricky, with the high downforce demands of the sweeping corners in sector two balanced against the need for speed on the long straights in sectors one and three.
In the Drivers’ Championship, three straight wins since the summer break have given Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton a sizeable 28—point advantage over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. Meanwhile, Mercedes have an even more comfortable advantage over Ferrari in the Constructors’ battle, with their lead now up to 102 points.
SEPANG INTERNATIONAL CIRCUIT
Length of lap: 5.543km
Lap record: 1:34.223 (Juan Pablo Montoya, Williams, 2004)
Start line/ﬁnish line offset: 0.000km
Total number of race laps: 56
Total race distance: 310.408km
Pitlane speed limits: 80km/h in
practice, qualifying, and the race