Formula One is the highest class of auto racing. The formula in the name refers to a set of regulations which all cars and participants must observe. The season is made up of a series of 17 races held on purpose-built tracks and the results of each race are combined to decide two annual World Championships, one for the constructors and one for the drivers. Drivers commonly race up to 220 mph.
Europe is the traditional centre of Formula One where all the teams have their bases, but the sport has expanded over recent years and events are now held all over the world. Of the 18 races in 2008, nine were held outside Europe and events in Europe and the Americas have tended to be replaced by those in the Far East and Asia.
First included in the Formula One World Championship in 1999, the current Malaysia Grand Prix is held at the Sepang International Circuit in Sepang which is approximately 40 minutes away from KL. It was completed in 1998 and was designed by Hermann Tilke, a German designer who went on to create the facilities at Turkey, Shanghai and Bahrain. It is 5.54 km in length and is known for its wide straights and sweeping corners. It has an unusual layout with a very long back straight, with only one very tight hairpin turn separating it from the pit. The circuit is also used to host kart racing and motocross during the rest of the year.
The Sepang circuit came under fire a few years ago by the organisers of the event for being littered with rubbish and debris. There were concerns that the race would be taken away from Malaysia completely but the Malaysian government stepped in and ensured that in future the facilities would be cleaned adequately and the contract was renewed for a further five years. Overall the circuit is known for its spacious grandstands and as a media-friendly venue.
In 2001 the event was moved from the end of the schedule to the beginning. This has proved to be an interesting adjustment as we get to see drivers and teams coming to grips with new equipment. It often sets the scene for the rest of the series.
The tropical weather tends to add an extra zing to the Malaysian event. In 2001 the middle of the race was hit by a very heavy rainstorm which made for very difficult conditions. The two Ferraris of Michael Shumacher and Rubens Barrichello spun off at the same corner at almost the same time. However, because they already had a commanding lead they managed to recover and Ferrari recorded a 1-2 finish.
In 2009 Jenson Button of Brawn-Mercedes won the rain-shortened race. It was the first F1 race stopped by rain since the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix. Button overcame a poor start to drive through torrential rains, before the red flag went up after just 32 laps, signifying the end of the race.
In the past there were plans to make the Malaysian event the second night race of the series, following the Singapore example. However there were problems securing an adequate lighting system. In 2009 they decided on a late afternoon start, partly to allay audiences in Europe but this proved to be a bad idea as with heavy rainfall the race couldnt be restarted due to low light and had to be abandoned. Therefore the plan is for 2010 to return to an earlier start.