Malaysian Grand Prix: Sepang International Circuit - Track Check
After a very exciting Australian Grand Prix, we move to Malaysia and to the Sepang International Circuit. This is another of those Hermann Tilke circuits but not considered a “Tilkedrome” – name given to Tilke-designed circuits which don’t promote overtaking and hence produce boring races. This fantastic track held its first Grand Prix in 1999 and has been host to the Malaysian Grand Prix ever since. Unlike Melbourne where the F1 fraternity experienced cold weather, here it will be hot and humid with a very high chance of rain during all the three days of running. The typical Asian weather poses a problem for the drivers who are more accustomed to the European style of weather and thus, it becomes one of the most physically demanding races on the calendar.
Sepang is host to motorsport events all round the year and as a result, teams find it ‘rubbered-in’ during Free Practice 1 itself. Even then, with torrential downpour always a possibility, there have been situations in the past where both sides of the grid provided equal grip at the start of the race. The lap length is 5.543 km and with the race running for 56 laps, it results in a total race distance of just over 310 kms. Since its inception, the track layout has remained unchanged.
Three things decide the set-up: (1) hot weather, (2) various kinds of corners and (3) the long straights. It is crucial to find the perfect balance between aerodynamic performance and straightline speed along with proper cooling.
Sepang has the second longest run down to Turn 1 (first being Catalunya) and hence provides a great opportunity for overtaking into the 180 degree hairpin that is Turn 1. Then, it’s into another slow corner Turn 2, taken at 80kph in 2nd gear. On the exit of Turn 2, one must be careful not to apply the throttle too early too hard because there is a chance of the rear snapping out of control. Then, with use of KERS, we are into the long right hander Turn 3 and onto the short straight before the blind-apex corner Turn 4.
Marker boards before Turn 4 (150m, 100m, 50m) play a vital role in helping the driver to correctly judge the braking point given that the circuit has a bumpy nature. The fast sweeping Turns 5 and 6 demand a perfect line for a good lap time. Carrying too much speed into Turn 6 will result in overshooting the kerb on the outside. That leads us into the double apex left handers of Turns 7 and 8 where a wide entry into Turn 7 is advisable so as to carry proper speed into the straight after Turn 8. The Turn 9 hairpin is the heaviest braking point on the circuit and also a chance – albeit difficult due to the wide entry and narrow exit – for overtaking (Button hit Karthikeyan here last year). The exit out of Turn 9 consists of an elevation change and again, too much throttle is inadvisable to prevent a loose rear.
Sector 3 begins with a medium-speed right hander Turn 10 which leads to a tricky Turn 11 – tricky because it’s an off-camber corner and can catch out a not-so-careful driver. Then, we have the fast Turns 12 and 13 after which comes one of the most difficult corners on the entire calendar – Turn 14. It’s a blind apex right hander where it is very difficult to hit the inner apex and that is where a significant amount of the lap time is lost. This is in the dry and in the wet, becomes one of the first areas of rain hitting the tarmac, resulting in the corner becoming even more challenging with drivers finding it difficult to keep the car on track after missing the correct breaking point (a.k.a Perez in 2012).
Then it’s into one of the two longest straights and with DRS being allowed here, it will be a good place for overtaking into the final hairpin. But with the final hairpin being very wide, it provides the opportunity for the overtaken driver to come back at the guy in front by taking the inside line. That leads us to the start-finish straight – another DRS zone. With two consecutive DRS zones, it might lead to something we have already seen in Abu Dhabi in the past where Car 1 overtakes Car 2 on the first DRS straight and then Car 2 retakes the position on the 2nd DRS straight – the DRS detection points play a vital role in that though.
- Tyres allocated: Hard, Medium (with Inters and Wets as always)
- Direction: Clockwise
- Corners: 15(10 right-handed, 5 left-handed)
- Lap Record: 1:34.223 (2004, Juan Pablo Montoya, BMW Williams)
- Gear Changes/Lap: 57
- Pit Lane length: 420 m
- Pit Lane time loss: ~19s
- Tyre Wear: Medium/High
- Full throttle: 65% of lap
- Brake demand: Medium
- Cooling demand: High
- Fuel Consumption: 2.70 kg/lap
- Effect of fuel on laptime: 0.36s/10kg
- Runoff areas: Large