Malaysian Grand Prix history (Video)

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Rubens Barrichello leads a wing-less Schumacher at Sepang

F1 Fanatic guest writer Journeyer is off to the Malaysian Grand Prix this weekend – but he penned this look at the ten races at the Sepang circuit before catching his flight.

The Sepang circuit was the first of what we now call "Tilke-dromes”. Named after track designer Hermann Tilke, this was the first circuit he constructed from scratch. It was Malaysia’s coming-out party – the Malaysian government saw F1 as a marketing platform and worked with the Stewart and Sauber teams since the late 1990s.

The circuit itself, however, was scrutinized for its bland layout and low turnout during Grands Prix. In spite of that, it has produced some magical moments in its 10-year history.

1999: The debut of Sepang saw the return of Michael Schumacher. He had been eliminated from title contention after breaking his leg at Silverstone. His job was now to support his erstwhile Number Two, Eddie Irvine.

But Michael was not your run-of-the-mill Number Two: he did it with relentless speed. He was so quick he had to give up the race lead twice! Irvine duly won from Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen. As Irvine later said, "Michael is depressing. He’s the best Number One and the best Number Two.”

But controversy followed the end of the race – both Ferraris were disqualified for using bargeboards which, the stewards claimed, did not meet the regulations. The revised result briefly handed Mika Hakkinen the drivers’ title, but the FIA’s Court of Appeal duly overturned the decision, stating that the bargeboards were within an allowable 5mm tolerance. Many were stunned, but the sport went on to a final-round showdown at Suzuka.

2000: Another year, another Ferrari win, this time for Schumacher. He won comfortably from David Coulthard, who just held off Rubens Barrichello. Mika Hakkinen wasn’t really in contention for the win, either.

This was also Johnny Herbert’s last race before retirement. But a rather nasty suspension failure meant his F1 career ended on a flat note and an injured leg.

2001: Tropical monsoons are commonplace in Malaysia – we are likely to see more evidence of that this weekend. In 2001 the Malaysian Grand Prix was moved from the end to the beginning of the season, and the weather suddenly became a bigger factor.

Torrential rain suddenly hit the circuit just after the beginning of the 2001 race. It caught everyone off-guard – even the Ferraris, who had synchronized excursions off-track. To make things worse, the Scuderia made a huge mess of their pitstops, dropping their cars from first and second to dead last.

But no matter – thanks to their Bridgestone intermediates, they slashed their way back up the field again. They wound up finishing one-two anyway, although Barrichello was unhappy about Schumacher’s surprise pass on him while they were in the midfield.

This is the first of a series of videos covering the entire race.

2002: It was hard to tell who was happy here. Second-place man Juan Pablo Montoya collided with pole sitter Michael Schumacher at the start, dropping them down the order.

To make matter worse, Montoya was given a drive-through penalty for causing the incident. This was the inspiration for the present rule which hands a ten place grid penalty to anyone deemed to have caused an avoidable accident. But was anyone really at fault? Watch the video and be the judge.

They both managed to fight their way back to second and third, but they were too far back to contend for the win. Schumacher’s podium materialised on the last lap, thanks to Jenson Button’s slowing Renault. The Brit was heartbroken to miss out what could have been his first podium – he finally got there at the same track two years later.

The happy men here were Ralf Schumacher and Sir Frank Williams – the younger Schumacher scored one of only two non-Ferrari wins that year, and Williams got their first one-two since the end of 1996. Williams looked ready to take the fight to Ferrari – but it was a false dawn.

2003: This race for me marked the ascendancy of a new generation of drivers – the future leading lights of Formula 1 in a post-Schumacher era.

Fernando Alonso grabbed his maiden pole position in his second race for Renault. He duly converted this to his first podium finish.

Kimi Raikkonen took control of the race and went on to score his first Grand Prix win. It left Ron Dennis in tears. His team mate Coulthard wasn’t so lucky, going out of the race after mechanical woes beset his McLaren.

Button, meanwhile, had some more horrific luck. Problems on the final lap for the second year running meant he lost places to Jarno Trulli and Michael Schumacher.

2004: Mark Webber qualified on the front row for the first time. But all that meant nothing on Sunday after an awful start by the Jaguar driver.

It was left to Schumacher to hold off the mighty Montoya for the win. Barrichello should have had the pace for third, but a poor first stint in the drizzle opened the door to Button. The Briton took his first podium – it was the omen of a good season to come.

2005: This was the win that kick-started Alonso’s title campaign. He was dominant all weekend. Not even team mate Giancarlo Fisichella couldn’t do anything about him – and collecting Webber’s Williams towards the end didn’t help, either.

Kimi could’ve also contended for a podium, but a tyre puncture took care of his chances. He and Michael were at the tail end of the points, not good news at all for either of their title chances.

2006: It seemed like upside-down weekend. Ferrari had engine penalties for both cars, and Felipe Massa beat Michael Schumacher. It did wonders for the Brazilian’s morale, and given Massa’s weak start to the season, it definitely helped him.

Similarly, at Renault, Fisichella beat world champion team mate Alonso. A mistake with Alonso’s fuel calculation meant he was carrying more fuel than planned, forcing him to start seventh, while Fisichella started from pole. Alonso’s brilliant start and first stint quickly him moved up the lapcharts, but he could do nothing about Fisichella’s error-free performance. It was Renault’s first one-two in 24 years.

This is the first of a series of videos covering the entire race.

2007: Felipe Massa got pole and was determined to prove that he wasn’t going to roll over for Kimi Raikkonen that season. Unfortunately, both Ferrari drivers fluffed their starts, allowing Alonso to easily take the lead and Lewis Hamilton to sneak his way up from fourth to second.

Things got worse for Massa: he tried to pass Hamilton twice, and ran wide twice, taking him out of contention. A great performance from Hamilton saw him hold off eventual champion Raikkonen, while Alonso won and gave McLaren a one-two for the first time since Brazil 2005.

2008: Last year’s race was dominated by Ferrari and should have led to an easy one-two. The McLarens weren’t on the pace, and a penalty for holding up Heidfeld in qualifying pushed them further back. Kubica was fast enough for a podium, but couldn’t beat the red cars.

Imagine everyone’s surprise, then, when Massa suddenly went off and out of the race. He had been trying to catch Raikkonen who passed him at the pit stops, but pushing too hard cost him eight points. That mistake would come back to haunt him in November.

Will the brilliant racing we saw in Melbourne continue at Sepang? I’m hoping it does, and we see some more great on-track action.

Malaysian Grand Prix 2009

15 comments on “Malaysian Grand Prix history (Video)”

  1. Schumi the greatest
    1st April 2009, 12:13

    i remember the 99 race, schmacher was 1 second quicket than anybody else in qualifying!! talk about a comeback.

    if the race is dry we will definitley see if the new regs have worked because melbourne always is a crazy race think back to last year alonso battling with kovalaeinen, then in malaysia he only just got in the top 10 in qualifying, this race should also give us a clearer indication the the current pecking order if its dry.

    if its wet it will be great to see though

  2. Firstly – I am very jealous of you being over in Malaysia for the race Journeyer – hope you have a really great time and that the race is a good un! Hope you also have an industrial strength raincoat and umbrella with you as well if the rain rumoured does indeed appear – we were most unprepared in Hungary 06!

    Secondly – Ahhhh 2002 – what a result, kept me happy for a long time did that!!!! :D

    And thirdly – Malaysia, whilst it comes under criticism for coming under the ‘Tilkedrome’ umbrella, isnt all that bad when it comes to producing decent races – its a lot better than some of its Tilkedrome companions. Hopefully this year will be the best Malaysia yet! The excitement is beginning to brew again, half way through the week – on the downwards slope towards the weekend now! :D

  3. Thanks nice review.

    Ferrari have traditionally done well on this track. We’ll see how it goes. HAM and VET will figure if it rains.

    Starting the race at 5:00 PM local time even in the tropics is really pushing it. If it’s raining or cloudy at 6:30 near the end of the race, visibility is going to be very poor indeed. The drivers will do well to remember that it ain’t over until the fat lady sings.

    1. definitely – if it does rain, and doesnt get stopped you could have drivers 1,2 or 3 laps down say scoring points. Hadnt thought of that – its a decent possiblity if the rain really does come down hard

  4. Mouse Nightshirt
    1st April 2009, 13:46

    I’ve always had a soft spot for Malaysia – it was the first Grand Prix I ever went to, plus I managed an all access pass (my uncle just happened to be head of security!)

    But, I must say, although I hear so many people criticising the place, it does produce interesting races. Let’s hope it does so again this season

  5. The Montoya-Schumacher incident of 2002 reminds me of the Vettel-Kubica tangle in the 2009 Australian GP: neither driver is willing settle for 2nd, to give room to the other to make it through the first run. Guys: you win the race in the last corner, not necesserily the first.

    1. Macademianut
      1st April 2009, 15:55

      Oops.. I posted my comment without reading the comments; and exactly the same point here. :)

  6. Macademianut
    1st April 2009, 15:54

    Regarding the 2002 Malaysian GP, it looks like the exact situation of Kubica (Montoya) and Vettel (Schumi). From the video, it looks like Montoya’s car was ahead of Shumi’s going into the turn. Only that Montoya got the penalty! In the last race, it was Vettel.

  7. I think Vettel’s words on radio and immediately apologizing to BMW made it easy for the stewards – they didn’t risk controversy punishing him. It would have been interesting if he’d tried to bluster his way out of it from the beginning. The stewards would have really had a difficult decision to make then.

  8. I can’t think of too many magic moments at Sepang, although I guess the ’99 race (and afermath) was the memorable. When I think of Sepang I just see huge empty grandstands. Does anybody know if F1 is that popular in Malaysia?

    1. I’m Malaysian, and it upsets me when I go to Sepang and see large areas not occupied. The figures coming out over the past couple years have shown that we’ve an average of about a 100,000 fans at the race each time. I can believe that, but unfortunately, there are huge gaps because the track can hold around 150,000.

      F1 isn’t really famous in this country, unfortunately, people just don’t get it. They’d rather watch the Barclays Premier League, which has huge following here. F1 on the other hand, is niche. In my opinion, getting a 100K people to the race is a great achievement because 2/3 of the audience don’t know what they’re watching.

      I see the popularity of the sport growing, as more and more youngster and taking up karting and attending motorsport schools. But as you know, motor racing is an expensive sport, and although there are plenty of rich folk in Malaysia who have resources to launch their children into racing, they wouldn’t because most of us are expected to become lawyers, accountants and doctors.

  9. Alonso’s start here in 2006 was just ridiculously, stupidly brilliant. Rivals his USGP starts in 2004 and 2006.

  10. Mclaren’s win at Malaysia was also their first win since Suzuka 2005… quite a big gap…

  11. Thanks for that Jay. It’s interesting to know how the sports popularity grows (or dosen’t) in the country’s that have been added to the calendar over the last decade or so. Malaysia especially so because it’s been on the calendar for 10 years now, so if there was a growth in popularity purley through holding a race then you’d expect to see it by now. I guess there’s more to growing a sports popularity than just holding an event in that country. Things like promotion, advertising and so on (this is something I’d imagine the premier league are better at than F1…) and of course there’s nothing better for boosting popularity than having a winning driver from that country (see Alonso/Spain).

  12. Ah, Malaysia 2001. Where the star of the rain was Jos Verstappen, who in a under-powered Arrows managed to pass Mika Hakkinen among others in the rain. He was second and catching up to Coulthard who was leading at the moment, before M. Schumacher past him. He eventually finished 7th, because of an extra pitstop he had to make.

    Comment from Schumacher after that race: “Jos was really flying out there.”

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