SEPANG, Malaysia — After a week off Formula One returns this week with the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang Int’l Circuit, the second round of the F-1 World Championship.
The Australian Grand Prix provided an excellent appetizer for the season ahead, promoting new stars of the sport while suggesting the form guide shaped by winter testing was not entirely to be relied upon. Sepang, however, provides a very different environment to Albert Park and is liable to see a very different race as machinery and drivers are pushed to their limits.
While Australia provided a relatively gentle introduction for the new power units, Sepang will take them to extremes. The Malaysian Grand Prix has the potential to be the hottest race of the year and with around two-thirds of the lap conducted at full throttle cooling performance is expected to play a big part this weekend.
Added to that are the traditional challenges of racing at Sepang. While visually dominated by the long pit and back straights, Sepang has great variety, with a twisting middle sector and several high-speed corners requiring a relatively high level of downforce. It also demands excellent traction, with speed onto the straights being a key factor in setting a good lap time.
It is tires, however, that have a tendency to dictate performance at the Malaysian Grand Prix. Pirelli, as is now customary, will bring its two hardest compounds to the circuit but wear rates are still expected to be high. Of course in Malaysia the ever-present threat of rain means the intermediate and wet tires could also see some use.
► Michael Schumacher (2000, ’01, ’04), Fernando Alonso (2005, ’07, ’12) and Sebastian Vettel (2010, ’11, ’13), each have three victories at Sepang. From 15 Malaysian Grands Prix the other winners are Eddie Irvine (1999), Ralf Schumacher (2002), Kimi Räikkönen (2003, ’08), Giancarlo Fisichella (2006) and Jenson Button (2009). Alonso has the distinction of taking his three victories with three different teams.
► Button’s win in 2009 was the last Formula One race in which half points were awarded. Due to torrential rain, the race was red flagged after 31 laps and a restart was not possible. Button was awarded the victory and the five points that went with it.
► Eight of the 15 grands prix at Sepang have been won from pole. The race has been won from as far down as eighth (Alonso 2012), while podium finishers have come from as far down as tenth (Nick Heidfeld 2005, ’09).
► Of the three F-1 rookie drivers, only Kevin Magnussen lacks significant experience at Sepang. Marcus Ericsson raced in 2012 and 2013, appearing in the GP2 Series on the grand prix undercard. He has two retirements and two 13th-place finishes. Daniil Kvyat has raced at Sepang on six occasions across two events in Formula BMW Pacific. He has two victories at the circuit.
► Magnussen’s elevation to second place at the Australia Grand Prix makes his the most successful F1 World Championship debut since Jacques Villeneuve finished second at Albert Park in 1996 (Villeneuve started the race from pole). The only drivers to better this are Giancarlo Baghetti, who won the 1961 French Grand Prix on debut and (statistically) Nino Farina and Johnnie Parson, who won respectively the 1950 British Grand Prix and the 1950 Indy 500 in the first year of the Formula One World Championship.
► With a ninth-place finish in Australia, Toro Rosso’s Kvyat, aged 19 years and 324 days, became Formula One’s youngest points scorer. The record had previously been held by Sebastian Vettel, who was 19 years and 349 days when he finished seventh in his mid-season debut at the 2007 United States Grand Prix, driving for BMW-Sauber.
► After much speculation regarding the reliability of F1’s new hybrid power units, 15 cars took the checkered flag in the season-opener. Of the seven that failed to finish in Albert Park, two went out in a first lap, first corner collision. Only five cars retired with issues related to the power unit.
► Following the disqualification of Daniel Ricciardo, the revised Australian Grand Prix podium was a clean sweep for Mercedes-powered cars, with Nico Rosberg in the works team car leading home the McLaren-Mercedes of Magnussen and Button. The last Mercedes clean sweep was at the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix where Rosberg took his debut victory ahead of McLaren’s Button and Lewis Hamilton.