With Singapore’s Marina Bay Street Circuit growing ever smaller in Formula One’s mirrors, the industry turns its sights to Sepang International Circuit, the purpose-built Formula One race track outside Malaysia’s capital city of Kuala Lumpur.
Constructed in an astonishing 14 months, Sepang was the first Formula One track noted designer Herman Tilke built from scratch. When the 5.543 km (3.444 mile), 15-turn circuit opened on 9 March 1999 it was considered revolutionary, with modern facilities and a unique design.
Two massive straights bookended by tight corners are signatures of the track. It’s a twisting layout that challenges the drivers and their engineers. The track’s width encourages numerous overtaking opportunities, but the incredible speed that can be attained on the straights is actually restricted by the fast, flowing corners as teams sacrifice outright speed for aerodynamic grip and balance.
This places extremely high loads on the tyres. Heavy braking increases the load, as drivers spend 17 per cent of their lap under braking. Add an abrasive track surface and high ambient temperatures and you get a cauldron of punishment for the four tyres carrying the driver and the car beneath him.
It’s why Pirelli has brought the hardest tyre compounds in its range to Malaysia – the P Zero Orange hard, the P Zero White medium and the P Zero Yellow soft – a combination that was last seen in early July for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone Circuit.
But with weather often impacting practice, qualifying and the race, expect to see Pirelli’s Cinturato Blue full wet tyre and Cinturato Green intermediate tyre at some point during the race weekend.
Torrential rain storms are a frequent occurrence at the Malaysian Grand Prix as its tropical environment and mid-afternoon start time conspire for unwieldly conditions. This was especially evident in 2009 when the race was forced to end after only 31 laps as rain inundated the track. This prompted the FIA to award half points to the drivers participating, the first time half points had been awarded since the 14-lap Australian Grand Prix in 1991.