The Sepang International Circuit can well lay claim to setting the template that all modern Grand Prix circuits have followed in the 21st century. The brainchild of then-Prime Minister Dr President Mahathir Mohamad, the Sepang circuit formed a central part of plans to transform Malaysia into an industrialised nation. To link the national capital with its international airport, a 'Multimedia Super Corridor' was planned, complete with two 'intelligent' cities featuring buildings linked by fibre-optic cable networks and an integrated transportation system. The new Formula One-standard circuit would complete the project and set new standards in circuit design.
The track features 15 corners and eight straights with a minimum width of 16 meters but rising to 20 meters in some areas, providing a number of good overtaking opportunities. In total, the track can accommodate some 130,000 spectators, with 30,000 in the unique double-fronted main grandstand.
The circuit is covered by 27 closed-circuit TV cameras via fibre-optic cabling and includes online, real-time tracking of race cars, combined with electronic marshal posts which will flash coloured lights to the drivers instead of flags. The two-storey pit building houses all the main facilities. There are 30 pits, including an office, kitchen area and a conference area. Upstairs are 12 offices for the FIA and administration, plus race control, time keeping, media centre and interview room plus photographers' room. There is also a medical centre including a small operating theatre to handle minor surgery.
The circuit is tough on tires, however, because of the wide range of corners and the hard braking at the end of the straights - accounting for 17% of the full lap. Moreover, the track temperature often reaches 60 degrees Celsius, or 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which is also difficult for both car and driver. Seasonal downpours of rain have also created their own hazards, including the early termination of the 2009 F1 event when monsoon rains made driving impossible.
Despite its auspicious start and lavish early funding, government interest in the facilty waned slightly to the extent that by 2010 it had - according to Bernie Ecclestone - become "like an old house that needs a bit of redecorating." Some general improvements to paddock and spectator facilities have sinced been carried out.
There are two main tests for the engine around Sepang the track and the weather conditions. The most notable circuit characteristics are the two long straights, interlinked by a tight hairpin, that form the end of one lap and start of the next.
Each straight is close to 1km in length and allows drivers to really open the throttle for an extended period of time. Outright power down the back straight and good stability under braking can allow drivers to use the width of the track to overtake heading through the final corner of the lap. However, plenty of torque and grip are needed to make the pass "stick" as the cars head back up the main start-finish straight. A quick lap time also relies on the engine delivering effective acceleration on the exits to turns 4 and 9 in order to build up speed quickly through the medium corners that follow. The second big test for both man and machine is the oppressive heat and humidity that is typical of the Malaysian climate.
Even if the rain stays away, the high water content in the air displaces the oxygen available to burn, which slows the combustion process and reduces engine power output. If it rains – as we’ve seen every year so far – the challenge is to set the parameters to reduce power loss while still providing enough grip. Renault engineers will set the pedal maps appropriately for wet conditions to help the driver better modulate the torque application and will then monitor the oncar torque sensor to ensure the engine is always providing the torque requested. This is particularly important in the quick turns, and particularly the back section from turns 9 to 13.
The extreme humidity compromises available power in a normally-aspirated engine but somewhat lessens the challenge in terms of fuel economy, an important factor for the long race distance. A slightly earlier start time for this year's race may not alleviate the risk of a downpour entirely, but wet weather conditions, even in hot temperatures, would place the engine under fewer demands.
There are also tight mid to low speed corners so the engine needs to be responsive on the apex and exit of turns. In particular, the first corner complex requires good stability under braking and response on pickup as it leads onto a long, curved straight. Engineers will try to deliver the correct amount of overrun support here to help the driver on turn in so this exit is not compromised.
The key sections of track are as follows (using F1 data):
Turn 1 is a big engine braking zone, coming directly after the pit straight where the engine has been at full throttle for a touch under 11secs. The driver will brake down from 7th to 2nd gear and just 80kph for the entry of the turn before lightly applying the throttle between T1 and 2. At this point the engine needs to have good torque response as the revs drop to 9,000rpm. Renault Sport F1 engineers will do this through the pedal maps, giving enough sensitivity when the pedal is low.
Turns 5 and 6 are two of the fastest corners on the track, taken at an average 225kph, with only a small lift off between corners. The high speed changes of direction put the internals of the engine under a lot of pressure, particularly the oil system, where the fluids are ‘squashed’ to one side by the gforces. In contrast to T1 and 2 where the pedal sensitivity is required is at low opening positions, the driver will mainly be modulating the pedal towards its maximum travels. The driver needs to have confidence in the torque and pedal maps at these high pedal positions, particularly over the kerbs, to maximize his speeds through these two fast corners.
Top speed will peak at the end of the straight at around 310kph with DRS activated. Getting the right balance between a high top speed and appropriate acceleration is critical, making the choice of gear ratios crucial: you want to hit top speed just before the end of the straight to take advantage of greater acceleration. How the car behaves at this cruise speed will also be important for the driver. It needs to be smooth, so as not to affect the longitudinal acceleration of the vehicle. A smooth engine behaviour at the end of straight will ensure that reaching the top speed will be as transparent as possible for the driver and make overtaking easier. However, this can sometimes be difficult to calibrate, especially at Sepang where you have two long straights of opposite directions, which can mean that the wind can come into play.
Sepang is relatively severe on tyres as it has many different corner types and two heavy braking zones after long straights. This means the energy going through the tyres over a lap is considerable. Drivers will have to be careful not to lock their brakes, especially when they have heavy fuel loads and cool tyres in the early laps. The section between turns seven and eleven are very important at this track as they give a very good illustration of a good overall car set-up. Being strong here is crucial for a good performance at Sepang. High temperatures are usually a factor in Malaysia and this could mean more tyre degradation.
The circuit creates high lateral demands on the tyres, with the most challenging sequence of corners being turns five to seven and turns 12 to 13 – as we can see when we look at the track from a tyre’s point of view.
During the entry to turn one, 460 metres after the start-finish line, the front tyres have to provide both braking and steering – which becomes critical in the middle of the corner due to the low speed and consequent lack of aerodynamic downforce. Traction is particularly important for turn two, as it leads into a high-speed section so a good exit is required.
Through the fast corners of the circuit (two of them are taken at speeds higher than 250kph in a grand prix car) the tyres have to cope with lateral forces of up to 4G that place heavy demands on the shoulder: the part of the tyre where the most heat tends to build up. A driver needs plenty of stability from the tyres throughout turn three in particular.
Turns five and six are also fast: the car can be run low with a stiff suspension set-up as there are no big kerbs in Sepang. As always, the tyres form a vital part of the car’s suspension, absorbing any bumps and imperfections on the track.
The final corner – turn 15 – takes in a deceleration of 5.3G in a grand prix car. All the braking is done in a straight line to maximise braking efficiency. Then the driver turns into the corner at speed, with the external tyre absorbing all the force of both the lateral and longitudinal accelerations. The entry to this corner usually provides a good opportunity for overtaking and drivers often take a variety of lines here.
Circuit Length: 5.543 km
Race Distance: 310.408 km
Number of Laps: 56
Full Throttle: 65%
Engine severity: Medium
Brake Wear: Medium
Brake cooling necessity: medium
Downforce Level: Medium/High 8/10
Tyre Usage: Medium/Hard
Grip evolution: Medium/High
Average Speed: 205kph (127mph)
Ride height setting particularity: None
Lat/Long grip: lateral
Aero eff ratio: Medium
We've teamed with Chassis Sim to provide a reference trace file for Sepang, using F3-type data (or the closest representative car type).
A data outing is available to download for each of the major circuit variations. Fine tune your own setup before you even set off for the circuit!
You'll need Chassis Sim's programme or similar data analysis software to open these files.
Address: Sepang International Circuit Sdn. Bhd., Jalan Pekeliling, 64000 KLIA, Selangor, Darul Ehsan, Malaysia
PH: +60 3 8778 2200
Circuit type: Permanent road course
The circuit is very close to the airport's two terminals (slightly closer to the Air Asia terminal) where plentiful taxis can be found. However be sure to use a taxi off the official rank, and insist that the meter is used: there are many shady taxi operators at KLIA who are well versed in ripping off foreigners.
Sepang is generally very, very hot and humid and working there can quicky result in dehydration, be aware of this and arrange plenty of fluids.
Track temperatures in Malaysia can exceed 50 degrees centigrade during the hottest part of the day. This can impact hybrid systems, drivers and even pit crew. Be aware.
The 80% humidity that is a constant feature of the area frequently results in heavy rain. Usually this occurs at the same time every day, the locals will be able to advise you when that is.
Whenever it rains in Sepang, the track tends to dry up quite quickly but it does not drain particularly well. This leads to plenty of standing water that can catch drivers out even when there appears to be a dry line.
English is very widely spoken in Malaysia, especially in the circuit/airport area.
Food and drink is very much a fusion of Asian cuisine and is generally excellent.
The staff at the circuit are very friendly (as are most Malaysians) but can sometimes be a little disorganised.
Local hotels will run shuttles to the circuit, often free though they sometimes charge extra to go to the paddock which is some distance from the main gate.
There are many hotels at both terminals of KLIA, generally they are of a reasonable to good standard. Notable hotels include the Concorde Inn which is nicknamed the 'Cockroach Inn' but, aside from the occasional appearance of the aforementioned life form, the rooms and catering are excellent. It operates a (fee payable) shuttle to the circuit.
The Tune Group hotel is built to a high standard, as this is the home airport of its sister company Air Asia.
For major events such as the Malaysian Grand Prix the airport area hotels book up quickly. Plentiful alternatives can be found in the centre of KL. The high speed train to the airport is a good way to commute back and forth.
The Sepang Circuit is located about 60km from the capital city of Kuala Lumpur and adjacent to Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) - although the drive from the paddock or main entrance to the main international airport terminal is actually 12km, so will take between 8-10 minutes to drive, or around 4 minutes if heading to the Air Asia terminal, which is slightly closer to the track.
The circuit is linked to the city and the airport with a dual-lane highway system and high-speed train service. Travelling by road on the expressway will approximately takes about 40 minutes from the city to the circuit. Street signs are well placed and clearly visible on the highway.