Round 15 of the 2017 Formula 1 World Championship takes us to Kuala Lumpur’s Sepang International Circuit, a Hermann Tilke-designed venue that was first in the spate of modern circuits built in emerging markets.
It opened in March 1999 and has been a permanent fixture on the F1 calendar as the venue for the Malaysian Grand Prix ever since. Sadly, though, 2017 will be final running. Organizers confirmed in April that the contract for the Malaysian race won’t be renewed due to a combination of steep fees and falling ticket sales.
It’s a real shame because few races place such extreme physical tests on the driver and car.
The Sepang circuit stretches 3.4 miles and is one of the toughest of the year due to the hot and humid weather and track conditions. Ground temperatures can exceed 122 degrees F (50 degrees C) during the hottest part of the day and things are just as hot in the cockpit. And don’t forget, the driver is cocooned in a hot, stuffy and confined space and tightly wrapped in layers of fireproof nomex.
The track surface is also very abrasive. This, coupled with numerous fast corners, means tire degradation is quite severe. Pirelli has nominated its medium, soft and supersoft compounds for the weekend.
Changeable weather is also an issue. Thunderstorms are forecast for both Saturday’s qualifying session and Sunday’s race.
After the major bungle in Singapore a fortnight ago, Ferrari will be more focused than ever. The team set the fastest times during Friday’s practice which was marred by a loose drain cover puncturing a tire on Haas driver Romain Grosjean’s car, sending him into the barriers. Fortunately he was unharmed. The two Mercedes AMGs were running slow so the engineers will be working around the clock to determine what’s wrong.
Going into the weekend, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton leads the 2017 Drivers’ Championship with 263 points. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel is second with 235 points and fellow Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas is third with 212 points. In the Constructors’ Championship, Mercedes leads with 475 points, Ferrari is second with 373 points and Red Bull Racing is third with 230 points. Last year’s winner was Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.
In related news, Toro Rosso has confirmed that Pierre Gasly will make his F1 debut for the team in Malaysia this weekend. The Red Bull junior driver replaces Daniil Kvyat who has struggled for form in recent years.