The Malaysian Grand Prix is just a few days away, so Badger is turning an eye to the past and looking at some of the memorable races that have taken place at the Sepang circuit.
2010 isn’t Michael Schumacher’s first F1 comeback, and it’s certainly not the most impressive. In 1999 the first ever Malaysian GP was the scene of Schumacher’s return to F1 after a 3-month absence with a broken leg, and the German wasted no time in showing the injury hadn’t diminished his speed.
But the championship had moved on in Michael’s absence, and heading to the Sepang circuit teammate Eddie Irvine was now leading the title race. The Ulsterman had handed races to Michael in previous years- would the favour be returned now Eddie was fighting for the championship?
In qualifying Schuamcher was in another world, putting his Ferrari on pole and nearly a second quicker than Irvine. The German made a great start to the race and began dropping his teammate quickly. But when Eddie started to come under pressure from the McLarens of Hakkinen and Coulthard Michael slowed and allowed his teammate through. Irvine took off, whilst Michael did his best to hold his rivals up. What a team player.
Coulthard eventually got past, but his car failed soon after. Schuamcher now focused on holidng up Eddie’s title rival Hakkinen. Michael did his job perfectly, and the race ended with a Ferrari one-two, Irvine heading Schumacher”.
“We knew he was the best Number One and now he is also the best Number Two”, Eddie said afterwards. Praise indeed from one of the most obedient teammates F1 has ever known.
The result sent Irvine in to the lead of the championship and Ferrari to the top of the constructors table. There was some after race drama, with the Ferraris excluded for technical infringements, but they were subsequently reinsiated thanks to some convincing words from Ross Brawn, tape measure in hand. Irvine lost the title to Hakkinen in the final race of the year but, despite the spotlight at the time being on the title battle, Malaysia ’99 was all about Michael. Over a decade on he’ll be hoping Sepang can be the stage for another glorious comeback.
The 2003 Malaysian race was significant more for the emergence of two future world champions than the action on track. Not that there wasn’t good racing- there were plenty of decent battles throughout the field- but it was a first pole position for Fernando Alonso and a first Formula One win for Kimi Raikonnen that make this race worth remembering.
Alonso stuck his Renault on pole in what was only his second race for the team. He was just 21 years-old, a fresh faced Flavio Briatore protegee whose only previous F1 experience was battling at the back in a Minardi. Impressive as that may have been this was what put Fernando on the map. These days we can’t go five minutes without hearing from the chicken-obsessed double world champ.
In the race it was a 23 year-old Kimi Raikonnen who took the glory, getting ahead of Alonso in the pitstops and claiming his first win. It was to be a big year for Kimi, despite this being his only win of 2003. A string of second places saw him challange Michael Schumacher for the title all the way to the last race in Japan. He lost out by just two points.
Of course Fernando had made his name known with a great season in a snail-slow Minardi in 2001, whilst Kimi had made his mark the same year in a Sauber. But it was at the Malaysian Grand prix of 2003 that these two future champions really lit their names up in lights. Could a star of the future emerge at this weekend’s race?
There aren’t many things in life more frustrating then a grand prix being stopped halfway through. Unfortunately we don’t have to cast our minds back far to remember the last time that happened, as just 12 months ago in Malaysia torrential rain and increasing darkness lead to the race being called off after 33 laps.
Jarno Trulli had taken pole for Toyota, but lost the lead in the pitstops to the Brawn of Jenson Button. Rain began to fall, but nothing too serious, with intermediate tyres enough to keep the drivers on track. Then, on lap 31, the heavens opened.
The rain was incredible- torrential doesn’t do it justice- and within two laps the race had been stopped with Button leading. There followed a whole lot of discussions about whether the race should restart whilst all the while the light faded. The drivers looked pensive, all except Kimi Raikonnen, who in a now legendary act of nonchelance had retreated to the Ferrari pits to enjoy an ice cream.
“The most dangerous conditions I have ever raced in,” said Lewis Hamilton; “we could have a serious accident,” commented Fernando Alonso; “do we have any Cornettos left,” asked Kimi. The race never got going again and Button took the victory, with half-points awarded to the top 8.
Thunderstorms are a possibility this weekend, and with the race starting at 4pm local time the light could be an issue again. Let’s just hope this one goes full distance.
So those are our three memorable Malaysian races, not necessarily the best in terms of on-track action but all significant in their own way. Got your own favourite? Then why not join in and tell us what you think has been the most memorable grand prix at the Sepang circuit.