19th & Final Edition of Malaysian Grand Prix
‘Snippets’ made his customary ‘Annual Pilgrimage’ to the Sepang International Motor Racing Circuit; just that this time was the ‘Finale’ as Malaysia had decided to cease hosting this International Event which draws F1 aficionados from UK, Europe, Australasia, Singapore and even China – yes, truly a global mega event! Sunday, October 1st 2017 at Sepang was no different in terms of F1 fans’ presence and unbridled enthusiasm!
Let us recount the history
The state-of-the-art circuit, Sepang International Circuit was officially opened on March 9, 1999 by former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad who characteristically gave dynamic leadership to ensure that it was completed in a record 14 months and with the recognition of its ultramodern facilities, it was given the honour to incorporate the F1 logo in its name. Dubbed the ‘hottest venue’ in Kuala Lumpur and best known essentially for high-octane international motorsports events such as the F1 Grand Prix and MotoGP, the Sepang International Circuit (SIC) ticked all the boxes as a choice venue for events of any calibre. Designed by world-renowned architect Hermann Tilke, the circuit itself was a tourist attraction, with its unique shape, layout and history. SIC lived and breathed motoring, from adrenaline driven events, to preserving motorsports history, as well as developing talent with its very own SIC Racing Team, which was established in 2014.
SIC is strategically located near the KL International Airport, the gateway to most major cities, and just 85km from Kuala Lumpur’s city centre. The circuit is accessible via modern North-South Expressway, Railway Links and a network of Highways. The facility can accommodate up to 130,000 spectators at a time. The Main Grandstands and 18 air-conditioned Corporate Suites have a capacity of 32,000, while Grandstands K and F can fill up to 18,500 spectators facing, turns 1 and 7 respectively. With a length of 5.543 km, the track features 15 turns and 8 straights with speeds of more than 300km/h attained. The track allows ample opportunities for overtaking, to ensure a race full of suspense and thrill unlike, let’s face it - Singapore and Monaco, where overtaking is almost impossible, yet ironically both these street venues are firmly entrenched in the F1 calendar!
So how did it pan out?
Malaysia gave Formula One a rousing send-off with the country's last Grand Prix drawing its largest turnout in four years. Organisers said a total of 110,604 spectators [including many from Sri Lanka] went to Sepang International Circuit near Kuala Lumpur's international airport over the three days of practice, qualifying and Sunday’s race. The turnout of 110,604 was one of the largest turnouts in recent years, e.g. 2013 before Formula One replaced the screaming 2.4 litre V8 engines with quieter 1.6 litre turbo-hybrid power units. F1 Weekend spectator turnout was also around 32% more than last year. "We’ve had a great history here," said new Formula One Chief Executive Chase Carey, who replaced former supremo Bernie Ecclestone in January. "But change is part of life”.
Singapore signs up for a further four years until 2021
Meanwhile pragmatic Singapore has just signed a fresh four-year deal securing its place on the calendar until 2021, while China's latest agreement runs to at least 2020. Remember: Malaysia made the sport accessible to other countries in the region as one of the most affordable races to attend, and has been a favourite of international spectators. Alas! No more F1 in Malayasia!
The White Hot Race
The championship battle between Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel has provided a gripping narrative, however, Sunday's race stretched the former's lead to a hefty 34 points. F1 drivers opine Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit is one of the most physically gruelling events on the calendar, with its heat and strength-sapping humidity, posing a real challenge for them. "I think it has provided very good racing," said Vettel, who incredibly moved up from last to fourth in Sunday's race won by Red Bull's Max Verstappen. What a memorable F1 race at Sepang!
Extract from Message of Malaysian Prime Minister on staging F1 at Sepang
“…..Unfortunately over the years, the Malaysian Grand Prix has seen a reduction of spectators year by year. In view of this, Malaysia has decided to take a break from hosting this prestigious race.”
Extract from Message of Chairman Sepang International Circuit:
“…..Formula 1 has brought tremendous benefits to Malaysia in terms of economic gains, motorsports development and elevating Malaysia and SIC into the global scene. From an economic perspective, we have gained both directly and indirectly. Over 80,000 local and international spectators attended the event last year creating a direct positive impact on the hospitality sector. The 2016 race attracted a viewership of around 400 million with significant media value.”
Reading between the lines of extracts of aforementioned messages one could perceive that there are reasons other than logic and common sense to have terminated the Malaysian Grand Prix at the world-class Sepang International Circuit. Most Malaysian F1 fans Snippets spoke to were emotionally sad and some were simply livid that such an irrational decision had been taken by those at the upper echelons of State Power. Indeed the legendary Ex PM, Dr. Mahathir Mohamed who set the ball rolling for Malaysia to be in F1 Map must be a very sad man today. Thank you Dr. Mahathir Mohamed for being the driving force 19 years ago and setting up this truly magnificent world-class motor racing track that was considered one of the best, globally. As Lewis Hamilton had emblazoned on his sleek F1 machine: “Thank You for the Memories Malaysia”. We echo same sad sentiments: “Thank you Sepang”.
What’s new for F1 in 2017?
The general idea of the changes was to make the cars go faster and physically more challenging for the F1 drivers, aimed at a significant improvement in lap time, while at the same time make the cars look aggressive and exciting!
F1 TYRES - The most obvious change is in the size of the tyres and hence the overall width of the cars. Almost two decades after the sport switched to narrow track cars, it has returned to a familiar look from the past with front tyres that are 70mm wider than last year’s and rears that have increased by 80mm. After extensive testing Pirelli has developed new compounds and constructions to cope with the higher speeds and increased loads which will/are seen in 2017.
DOWNFORCE LEVELS & FRONT/REAR WINGS - Down-force levels have increased substantially as well helped by longer and higher diffusers whilst Front & Rear wings have a swept back look, intended to make the F1 cars look more aggressive, while the rear is lower and wider.
POWER UNIT REGULATIONS - In a major change to the power-unit regulations, the token system used to regulate development has been dropped. Instead now the manufacturers have the freedom to develop their power units throughout the season – although they can only introduce new parts within the schedule of changes of the six elements that compromise the power unit. This year only four examples of each of the elements can be used before penalties are applied, rather than five, as was the case last year, 2016. Let me reproduce the Regulation:
NEW REGULATION - “During any single Event, if a driver introduces more than one of the same power-unit elements which is subject to penalties, only the last element fitted may be used at subsequent Events without further penalty.” So there! That’s why some start off back of grid!
SAFETY CAR STOP/START - Races that start behind the Safety Cars due to wet conditions will now be very different, as this season 2017, when the track is deemed to be safe for racing, the field will stop on the grid and conduct a normal standing start, instead of just being released when the Safety Car returns which was the earlier practice: an unfair advantage to stragglers!
Snippet about F1 Steering Wheel: Do you know that F1 Steering wheel is used more than for just directing the car and that it contains a range of controls that the driver has to deal with including a myriad buttons that operate the radio, the DRS wing and even the drinks bottle!
REVAMP OF F1 MANAGEMENT - Finally there has been a major change in the way the sport is run after the American company Liberty Media purchased the F1 Group. Chase Carey replaced the legendary Bernie Ecclestone as CEO, with the latter becoming Chairman Emeritus. Former Team Principal Ross Brawn has returned to F1 as Managing Director Motorsports, working alongside Chase Carey.