Malaysia offers a fascinating mix of urban sophistication and rural charm. The cities - and particularly the capital Kuala Lumpur (KL) - are developing extremely quickly, but the countryside has maintained its innocence. The people continue to farm the land and the sea, as they have for centuries.
“Malaysia is a fantastic place,” says FIA President Jean Todt. “I love spicy food, so when I'm in Kuala Lumpur, I go and visit one of the local restaurants in Petaling Street or Chinatown. I also like to have massages in one of the traditional spas, or go shopping near the Twin Towers.”
The bulk of KL’s development has occurred since it hosted the 1998 Commonwealth Games, in accordance with the government’s ‘Vision 2020’, which is for Malaysia to be a fully-developed country by 2020.
The Sepang Circuit is in keeping with that vision. It was built in 1998 and, so good were its facilities, it became the inspiration for all of Formula One’s subsequent new tracks.
Did you know?
At 452 metres, Petronas Towers in the centre of Kuala Lumpur remains the world’s tallest twin-towered public building.
Over 50 international airlines fly to Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), which is five kilometres from Sepang and 60 kilometres south of the city.
A train service operates from the airport into Kuala Lumpur, though there is no train service to the track. Hiring a car is advisable, particularly if you want to visit the coast or surrounding countryside, but a taxi from KLIA to the track is also an inexpensive option. Taxis are also the best way to get around Kuala Lumpur itself.
Huge grandstand capacity at the Sepang International Circuit makes for great viewing, particularly in the double-fronted stand opposite the pits. However, general admission is a good option as well because some of the best corners on the track - Turn 5, for example - are only accessible by foot. All tickets are competitively priced in an effort to make the race as affordable as possible to local people and visitors alike.
Malaysia’s weather is generally glorious, though 70 percent humidity is not unusual, so take lots of water with you to the track.
Where to go?
The Golden Triangle in the centre of KL is home to the best shops and restaurants, but to balance your experiences of the city, take the time to visit Chinatown or Little India. The bustling markets, food stalls and hawker restaurants give a colourful insight into indigenous living Malaysian-style.
You can find surprising tranquillity in the centre of Kuala Lumpur. The green square of Dataran Merdeka was once the centre of the old, colonial city and is now a place where shoppers and office workers go to relax.
Where to stay?
There is every type of accommodation available in Kuala Lumpur and hotel prices are modest by western standards. For the race, however, you could also try staying outside the city.
Most of the Formula One fraternity stays at the airport hotel for convenience, but the coast is only a 40-minute commute from the track and the luxurious resorts of Putrajaya are a short drive inland.
"There are two hotels that I recommend," says Todt. "The Mandarin Oriental, which is just a stone's throw from the Twin Towers, and the Carcosa Hotel, which is very exclusive and colonial-style."
There are literally hundreds of holiday destinations available to you in Malaysia. You can stay in Kuala Lumpur, head to the beaches and temples of Penang or the island of Langkawi, or even the rain forests of the Kinabalu National Park.
“I suggest people visit the east coast of Malaysia,” says Todt. "That area boasts some of the most pristine beaches in the whole of south-east Asia. There are also the mountains and jungles for the adventurous - again, east Malaysia is the best place to go.”
Sepang hosts races all year round, including a round of the MotoGP championship. When there aren’t events going on you can take a closer look at the track by booking yourself (in advance) on to a two-hour circuit tour. Highlights include visits to race control, the medical centre, the paddock building and even the winners’ podium!
Sepang International Circuit