Malaysian Grand Prix history 17 Mar 2004
Located just south of the country's capital city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's spectacular Sepang circuit was, until the arrival of Bahrain and China this year, the newest on the Formula One racing calendar, having staged its inaugural race in 1999.
Like Bahrain and China, Sepang is the work of renowned circuit architect Herman Tilke and one of the new generation of Formula One tracks. It is also one of the widest in the sport, and with its combination of long straights and fast, sweeping corners, it provides several overtaking opportunities, which spectators can witness from some of the largest and most dramatic grandstands at any motorsport venue.
The first Malaysian Grand Prix was the penultimate round of the 1999 FIA Formula One World Championship and saw the return of Michael Schumacher, following his accident at Silverstone earlier that year.
With McLarens Mika Hakkinen and Schumachers Ferrari team-mate Eddie Irvine both in contention for the drivers' title, all eyes were focussed on them at Sepang. However, it was Schumacher who stole the show as, having started from pole position, he controlled the race for Ferrari before playing the tactical card and moving over to let Irvine through for the win.
Ferrari continued their dominance at Sepang the following year when the race served as the season finale. With Schumacher having already secured the drivers' title, he and team mate Rubens Barrichello assured the team of the constructors' crown as well as they came home first and third respectively.
Schumacher continued Ferrari's stranglehold on Sepang in 2001, when the event moved to its current spot as round two of the calendar. The race saw some of the most extreme weather witnessed in Formula One racing, as monsoon-like conditions engulfed the Malaysian circuit.
As ever, Ferrari judged things to perfection, putting their cars out on intermediate tyres to seize a tactical advantage over their rivals. Barrichello moved over to let Schumacher through and the German went on to make it three out of three for Ferrari at Sepang.
The Italian teams faultless Malaysian record was finally broken in 2002 by Williams, who scored their first one-two finish since 1996, and their first under BMW power. Ralf Schumacher led the blue and white cars home after Juan Pablo Montoya and Michael Schumacher collided at the start. The Ferrari star dropped to the rear of the field before eventually recovering to third, while Montoya was the first driver to be awarded the new drive-through penalty for what seemed to most people to be just a racing incident.
Last years Malaysian Grand Prix was another race full of surprises, and another in which Michael Schumacher was involved in a first-lap collision, though this time he was held responsible. Renault had shocked everyone by locking out the front row in qualifying, with Fernando Alonso becoming the first Spaniard and the youngest driver ever to take pole. But their strategy wasnt quite enough to stay ahead in the race, and once Schumacher had tripped over Jarno Trulli and the fast-starting David Coulthard had retired it was left to McLarens Kimi Raikkonen to serenely control proceedings from the front and score his maiden Formula One win.
After McLarens disappointing showing in Melbourne last weekend, a repeat performance by Raikkonen this year seems unlikely. However, what is probable is that the gap between the Bridgestone-shod Ferraris and their Michelin-running rivals will be far narrower in the much headier temperatures of Malaysia.