Formula One in Malaysia: Memorable Moments

29 September 2017

Malaysia has hosted the Formula One World Championship since 1999, but this weekend marks the final race at Sepang.

It’s been a solid 19 years since the Sepang International Circuit made its debut. The 5,543 meter long track has seen many moments of high drama over the years, and was even described by Lewis Hamilton as “an epic grand prix in terms of a physical challenge.” Here’s a look back at its history.

The Launch
The inaugural F1 race at the Sepang circuit in 1999 was a roaring marker of a decade in Malaysia that also saw the construction of the Twin Towers and Putrajaya. It also signalled a new era for Formula One itself, as it grew its global brand with new circuits around the world. 

The legend of Michael Schumacher – still one of the few names that non-F1 fans know, like an Ali or a Pelé – was building, having made his switch to Ferrari three years prior. After only being able to read about him and his competitors in the newspaper, actually have them come to Malaysia was an unforgettable moment.

Schumacher vs Häkkinen
Schumacher had broken his leg at the British Grand Prix in 1999. He thought he was done for, even saying “the lights went out.”

Sepang was meant to be his comeback. He was probably never going to win the thing after being out for nearly 100 days, but it was pivotal to his and Ferrari’s near-complete dominance of F1 for the next five years.

And as with all great narratives needing great nemeses, 1999 was when the sun shone on house Häkkinen. Although the Flying Finn finished behind the Ferrari tag team in Sepang, he became World Champion that year, cementing his place as one of the greatest drivers in history, and Schumacher's greatest ever rival.

Dancing in the rain
F1 recently asked fans to vote for one race that it would share in full online, and they went for the 2001 Malaysian GP. For good reason – the race was hit by massive rain, which culminated in Schumacher and his teammate Rubens Barrichello comically spinning off the same corner at the same time. They also endured a ridiculously long pit stop, which caused them to drop out of the top ten at one point.

And yet, somehow, they won. After the sun came out, they miraculously finished in first and second places, with Schumacher getting done nearly half a minute ahead of the Brazilian.

Winning on half points
In 2009, for only the fifth time in F1 history, a race finished without full points being awarded. Attempting to accommodate Ecclestone’s hints that later in the day was better for overseas TV audiences – due to the success of Singapore’s night GP – the race only kicked off at 5pm.

It didn’t end well. The race was hit by heavy rain, and had to be stopped after just 31 of the 56 laps, falling short of the 75 percent needed for full points. Jensen Button was given just five points for winning.

What are your favourite moments from the Malaysian Grand Prix? Let’s not call it the end of the road: as the return of the French Grand Prix after a decade shows, perhaps the future holds more for the chequered flag. 

Text by Helen Khoo
Photos via Shutterstock

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