ATLAS F1   Volume 6, Issue 42 Email to Friend   Printable Version

Atlas F1   A Lap of Sepang

Fastest Race Lap: 1:40.267 (M.Schumacher, Ferrari, 1999);
Fastest Qualifying Lap: 1:39.668 (M.Schumacher, Ferrari, 1999)

The 3.443 mile/5.542 kms Sepang track is constructed on a 260 hectare former palm oil plantation. The inspiration for Malaysia's first Grand Prix circuit came from the top, the Prime Minister, YAB Dato' Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad who appropriately enough, performed the opening ceremony in March. When he visited the Portuguese Grand Prix in 1996, he recognised the publicity to be gained world-wide from hosting a Grand Prix and began negotiations with Formula One Supremo Bernie Ecclestone who emphasised the need for a track. An area for a track was identified near the airport, and the idea took off from there.

The Cabinet requested Malaysia Airports Sdn Bhd to obtain the rights to host a Grand Prix, and subsequently, Malaysia Airports was also asked to build the circuit. A taskforce was then formed to ensure that the circuit project would run smoothly. Members of the taskforce went to Formula One circuits around the world to learn about the layout and organisation of a Grand Prix. They came back with new, dynamic ideas and concepts for the Sepang circuit.

The circuit was designed by Hermann Tilke of Tilke Engineering in Aachen, Germany. Tilke is an amateur racing driver himself, so he mixes that with his engineering expertise to design racing circuits. He formerly worked on the Nurburgring, scene of this year's European Grand Prix, and the A1-Ring in Austria, scene of the Austrian Grand Prix. He is currently updating both the circuits of Brands Hatch in England, and Zhuhai in China. He has been assisted by the local company Iktisas Ingenieurs.

In December 1996, a master-plan was presented to the Prime Minister and soon after, work began. The entire construction of the circuit took 14 months, costing RM286 million. At times, there were well over 1,000 people working on the site.

In December 1998, the circuit opened with its first race meeting, the Proton 300 kms Merdeka. At the same time, the track was inspected by FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting who passed it to be used for FIA sanctioned events. Two months later, it was also awarded a two year licence for motorcycle racing, which culminated in the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix held earlier this year.

At the same time, Bernie Ecclestone awarded the Sepang F1 Circuit the right to incorporate the official Formula One logo in its name and henceforth, the track was to be known as Sepang F1 Circuit. This was a massive boost to the circuit, the first time that such an honour had been accorded to a circuit.

What makes the Sepang circuit so special? Firstly, the architecture blends with modern technology and the Malaysian culture. It is both user-friendly and spectator-friendly. In total, the track can accommodate some 130,000 spectators, with 30,000 in the unique double-fronted main grandstand whose roof resembles a banana leaf.

As the track has been built in a stadium-type location, with the track recessed in the valley, you can see half of it from no matter where you sit. The Hill Stand, for instance, is a man-made hill to give fans an optimum view. The Canopy Tower, nestling at the tip of the V-shaped double grandstand has a roof similar to the Malaysian national flower, the hibiscus. Seats here give a view of 70 per cent of the circuit.

The track features 15 corners and eight straights with a minimum width of 16 meters but rising to 20 meters in some areas, giving tremendous overtaking opportunities.

Sepang track map
If you want to read the driving instruction while looking at the map, Click here to open the map in a separate window

A Lap of Sepang with Giancarlo Fisichella

"Having passed the pits, I start the lap on the long pit straight reaching around 300km/h in 6th gear before braking hard for the right-hand first turn, which is taken in 2nd gear at around 75km/h. This right-hand corner leads immediately into the left-hand corner with 2nd gear being held all the way through, but with the speed dropping down to just under 70km/h.

"On leaving this corner I accelerate for a right-hand bend and on to a short straight where I will reach around 290km/h in top gear before braking hard for the third corner which is a right-hand 2nd gear corner taken at around 100km/h. From here, I will go through the difficult S bend taken in 4th gear with the first part taken at around 225km/h and I will just partially lift the throttle and use a little braking to stabilise the car to get through here. Then, while holding 4th gear, just dabbing the brakes I enter turn 5 at around 215km/h.

"On the approach to the next corner I will reach 5th gear just over 270km/h before entering the double apex 4th gear corner which is taken at 177km/h. Again, a short 5th gear straight where I will reach 275km/h then leads into the very tight turn 8 which is in 1st gear at 65km/h. I then accelerate out of this corner, briefly touching 4th gear before dropping down into 3rd for turn 9. I take this at 148km/h before accelerating through turn 10 which is taken in 5th gear at around 240km/h like turn 4, with just partial throttle being used to stabilise the car with the aide of the brakes.

"Turn 11 is a long right-hand corner taken in 2nd gear at around 115km/h and is extremely important as it leads on to the back straight where I will reach over 300km/h in top gear before braking for the final corner which is taken in 2nd gear at 82km/h. This is one of the overtaking points and hence the exit from turn 11 with good stability on braking into turn 12 is extremely important."

Related Links

The official Malaysian GP web site

The Malaysian GP FORIX page

The Sepang FORIX page

  Related Articles

The 1999 Atlas F1 Malaysian GP Review Issue

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