Race starts at 3 pm
Formula One’s south-east Asian leg continues this weekend as the 2017 Malaysian Grand Prix takes place. This year is especially significant as it will be the last time that a round of the F1 championship will be held in the country. Since 1999, when the first race was run at the Sepang International Circuit – built specially for the event – Malaysia has been included in the calendar every year. So this year is the 19th time and as the government has decided not to host the event any longer, Malaysian fans will not have the chance to experience the world championship event in their own country.
Over almost two decades, the 5.543-km long circuit near the KL International Airport has become something of a classic, testing the physical stamina of the drivers and engineers’ ability to optimise cars for its particular demands.
As was the experience in Singapore, the race is characterised by high ambient and track temperatures and humidity. However, conditions at Sepang are often more intense because the race is run in the afternoon whereas Singapore’s race (which began in 2008) is at night when temperatures are a bit lower.
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 the tyre supplier has moved a step softer in its allocation compared with 2016, with the Medium, Soft and Supersoft compounds on offer.
For the 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 total, the drivers will cover a distance of 310.4 kms over 56 laps.
In the Drivers’ Championship, three straight wins since the summer break have given Mercedes-AMG’s Lewis Hamilton a sizeable 28-point advantage over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. It does not help at all that an engine problem during practice prevented him from qualifying and he will start the race from the back. Vettel has had the most wins at Sepang – four, in 2010 and 11, 2013 and 2015 – but it is unlikely that he will be able to add a fifth this year.
Meanwhile, Mercedes have an even more comfortable advantage over Ferrari in the Constructors’ battle, with their lead now up to 102 points. The Italian team has been the most successful constructor at this race with 7 victories, of which three were won by Michael Schumacher.
Race starts at 3 pm