Our beloved, highly-acclaimed Sepang Circuit has just celebrated its F1nale as the host to the Formula 1 circus. While there are plans in the pipeline for more attention to be paid on the Moto GP, construction of theme parks and such to be built in the coming years, the inevitable void left by the absence of our revamped circuit at the pinnacle of motorsports will surely be felt.
We’ve seen victories being snatched, championships lost and partnerships strained in various chapters of this 19-year story filled with ups and downs. Before we forcefully move on from Malaysians departure from the Formula 1 arena, these are our 5 most memorable moments to have taken place in Sepang.
Ferrari stripped of double-win (1999)
Drama unfolded at the inaugural Malaysian Grand Prix back in 1999 which also happened to be the penultimate race to the Formula 1 season. Having raced to recovery after a broken leg, the great Schumacher impressively qualified ahead of then teammate Eddie Irvine by almost a whole second.
That said, Irvine took the chequered flag ahead of Schumacher followed by championship contender Hakkinen in third before controversy hit both the Ferrari drivers – they were disqualified for an alleged illegality with their race car’s body work, specifically the bargeboard, a piece by the radiator opening and had their points taken away. This meant Irvine was leading the driver’s championship by just four points ahead of McLaren’s Hakkinen.
Ferrari appealed and their points were reinstated before the final race of the season in Suzuka. It still proved insufficient as Hakkinen clinched the Driver’s Championship with a win in Japan.
Montoya vs Shumacher (2002)
With both having started from the first row, with Schumacher in pole position and Montoya in second, the two clashed when Montoya made a better start with his nose ahead of the Ferrari as they entered the first corner. Schumacher nudged into Montoya as a result of understeer, sending both of them into the pits for front wing replacements.Instead of penalising Schumacher, it was Montoya who was surprisingly hit with a drive-through penalty. Still, the fiesty Colombian fought back to an impressive second place finish.
On the side note, we still keep Schumacher’s unfortunate condition in mind till this day and always pray for his recovery.
Kimi Raikkonen’s maiden win (2003)
Having only found his way into the Formula 1 arena back in 2001 at the tender age of 22, the “Ice Man” joined McLaren two years later to fill in the vacant seat left by another Finnish legend, Mika Hakkinen. Fast forward to years later, the Finn, famous for his lack of expressions and even lesser words stormed from 7th on the grid to clinch his maiden victory in faultless drive at Sepang.
Team Order woes between Rosberg/Hamilton & Webber/Vettel (2013)
Let’s begin with the Webber and Vettel incident; it’s one thing to be competitive, it’s another to be totally ignorant. While some may still argue Vettel’s ruthless urge to win, we believe that team efforts are essential and more crucially, team orders are team orders. Having been relayed the “Multi 21” coded message which essentially meant that Webber should be left to finish first, Vettel defied it and overtook Webber – nearly driving him into the pit wall in the process.
The other incident involving team orders was equally heart-breaking. Hamilton had been challenging the two Red Bulls before fuel and tyre concerns hampered his progress. With Rosberg clearly oozing more pace than his teammate, he was told to stand down and hold back behind Hamilton despite his superior speed.
Malaysian flag-inspired swimwear (2016)
We saved the best for the last – possibly the most ridiculous incident to have happened at the Malaysian Formula 1 Grand Prix, nine unfortunate Australians were in hot water for a foolish act some would still argue was blown out of proportion. Dubbed the “Budgie Nine“, the spectators from Down Under stripped down to their Malaysian-printed swim wear in celebration of their compatriot, Daniel Ricciardo’s win.
Needless to say, trouble ensued as they were all detained for appearing to disrespect the Malaysian flag. They were subsequently released with misdemeanour charges after pleadings from various quarters, including Daniel Ricciardo himself, apparently.
Cover Photo Credit: Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport