The history of the Malaysian Grand Prix is soggy. More than that, at times it’s been positively sodden with the waters of those torrential downpours that have marked so many of the races there. If you wrote a history of the race and published it in book form then left it on a table for the afternoon it’d be ruined, left totally unreadable, so heavy is that rain.
And that’s no bad thing – unless you happen to like F1 history books (which we do, but let’s forget that for now) – because it has, on several occasions, brought the races to life and made them truly memorable. But which is the most memorable? There’s only one way to find out: it’s Badger’s Top Five Malaysian Grand Prix!
It took Michael Schumacher several seasons to win a title with Ferrari, but when he did he did it in some style. The ’00 race was the season finale, and Schumacher and long-time rival Mika Hakkinen scrapped it out for pole, even though the German had an unassailable points lead.
Hakkinen jumped the start and would suffer a penalty because of it, leaving McLaren team-mate David Coulthard to fight the Ferrari threat. Under pressure, the Scot ran wide and had to stop earlier, and for longer, to clear the sidepods of debris, handing Schumacher his record-equalling ninth win of the year.
Further down the grid, Johnny Herbert’s last grand prix resulted in a suspension failure with the Brit having to be helped out of the car. Ironically, Herbert would have to be helped into the car for his first race way back in 1989.
The true nature of the changeable conditions in Malaysia became apparent for the very first time in 2001 – and so did just how far in front the Ferraris were in terms of true pace. A mid-race rainstorm brought many cars in for wets, but the Prancing Horses suffered the most with both Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello sliding off the track at the same corner, the Brazilian subsequently held in the pits for over 40 seconds after a gravel excursion. Both cars ran last and second from last at mid-distance.
In the chaos, the Arrows of Jos Verstappen moved from 18th on the grid to run as high as second. But, with the drying track, Ferrari flexed their muscles to the point where both cars were nearly 5 seconds a lap quicker than anyone else on the circuit, and Schumacher romped home with Barrichello 2nd. As for Verstappen, he fought all he could but only managed to finish 7th, just outside the points paying positions.
Ralf Schumacher may be the punchline for many a joke among F1 fans, but at the ’02 event he was pretty quick indeed. The race would be decided at the very first corner though, with a head-scratching steward’s decision involving his team-mate and brother.
Michael Schumacher led from pole, but Juan Pablo Montoya had a better start and tried to pass him around the outside line. Schumacher braked too late and understeered into the Williams causing a collision that damaged the Ferrari’s front wing. Montoya left the track briefly only to rejoin undamaged. Schumacher pitted, but unbelievably the Colombian’s move had been deemed over-zealous by the stewards, who handed out a drive through penalty.
Not that it stopped Montoya. Ralf led, with the McLarens of Coulthard and Raikonnen challenging before both dropping out with blown engines. Rubens Barrichello and the Renault of Jenson Button were behind Ralf, but Montoya and Michael had managed to fight their way back up. Montoya muscled his way past Barrichello and Button to finish second, but Button would slip to fourth and miss out on his first podium finish.
The 2003 Malaysian Grand Prix was significant for more than just the racing: it was a bellweather moment for the next generation of Formula One superstars.
Because over the course of the weekend two future world champions would take momentous F1 firsts, with Fernando Alonso bagging his maiden pole and podium finish and Kimi Raikkonen capturing his first grand prix victory. The Spaniard was aided in his quest for the quickest qualy time by a light fuel load, beating team-mate Jarno Trulli to P1 by two-tenths of a second. Raikkonen started seventh but quickly climbed up the order thanks to a number of tangles and mechanical failures in front of him. He was second by lap two and was able to leap Alonso by going five laps further in to his first stint and emerging from the pits ahead of the Renault man.
From there Raikkonen was able to bring the McLaren home for the first of his 18 Formula One victories whilst Alonso slipped behind Rubens Barrichello to finish third. A classic race? Not at all, but it was undoubtedly very significant in recent Formula One history. And hey, it’s an excuse to run a picture of young, pre-facial hair Fernando.
The first time is always the best, isn’t it?
Malaysia 1999 was, in some respects, the start of a new era: it was the first Herman Tilke-designed Formula One circuit, and the first in a seemingly-endless conveyor belt of new grand prix soon to be added to the calendar. It was also the scene of Michael Schumacher’s comeback from a broken leg which, unlike his more recent return, was dazzlingly brillaint. Michael had been out for three months but it simply didn’t show, the German taking pole by almost a full second from team-mate Eddie Irvine.
With Irv the Swerve fighting a world title battle with McLaren’s Mika Hakkinen it was clear from the word go that Schumacher would have to hand this one to his stablemate – as Eddie had done for him on a number of occasions. Michael did just that on lap four, only to jump Irvine during the pitstops as the Northern Irishman dropped in to the clutches of Hakkinen. He once again allowed his fellow Ferrari driver through to take a victory that elevated him to the top of the world championship standings.
But the drama did not end there. Post-race Ferrari’s cars were judged to have run illegal bargeboards and subsequently excluded from the result. That promoted Hakkinen from third on the road to race winner, a result that gave him an unbeatable points lead heading to the season closer in Japan.
Still Ferrari still had some fight in them and Ross Brawn, armed with his trusty ruler and protractor, made a case for the legality of the bargeboards. It was riveting. Later the next week the FIA Court of Appeal ruled in Ferrari’s favour; Irvine got his win back and the scene was set for a dramatic world championship showdown at Suzuka (which he lost).
A stunning comeback, action on the circuit and courtroom drama off it. What more could you ask?
The Brawn fairytale had already stunned many experts in the first race of 2009, and Malaysia would be a continuation of the same. But, with a raft of rule changes such as KERS coming into effect, they weren’t the only surprise team to be at the sharp end of the grid. Jenson Button took pole, with Jarno Trulli, Timo Glock and Nico Rosberg lining up behind.
When the lights went out Rosberg jumped everyone to lead into the first corner, Trulli followed and Fernando Alonso used Renault’s KERS to move from 10th to 3rd. Button fell back to fourth but stayed with the leading pack, passing Alonso for third place. Rosberg and Trulli stopped first, proving that they were lightly fueled to be at the front. The heavier Button carried on and inherited the lead, while the skies darkened around Sepang. Kimi Raikkonen was the first to blink and stopped for wets, but it was too soon and the tyres quickly shredded on the dry tarmac.
The heavens then well and truly opened. In the spray and rain, it became apparent that the race had to be stopped, with several drivers voicing their concern over team radios. On lap 33, the race was red flagged and after an hour – with drivers sat on the start-finish line waiting for the rain to stop – the decision was made to abandon the event completely. Counting back to lap 31, Button was declared the winner, with Nick Heidfeld taking second and Timo Glock third. As the race hadn’t reached 75% distance, only half points were awarded.