Malaysian Grand Prix: A final farewell to the Sepang circuit

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With as much certainty as one can ever say these things, Formula 1 is going to Malaysia for the last time this weekend.

The country's government, which has funded the grand prix since 1999, has decided the race no longer justifies the investment.

And so Malaysia goes the way of other nations that joined what used to be Bernie Ecclestone's travelling circus in the last decade or two - a huge investment, a poster event for the country, and a white elephant at the end of it.

What will become of Sepang in the next 10 or 20 years? The race never attracted many fans, and no obvious motorsport infrastructure has grown.

If F1 has left no significant lasting impact on Malaysia - beyond the people who watch the races on television - the same can not necessarily be said the other way around.

Lewis Hamilton's only Malaysia Grand Prix win was in 2014 when he led home a Mercedes one-two ahead of Nico Rosberg
Lewis Hamilton's only Malaysian Grand Prix win was in 2014 when he led home a Mercedes one-two ahead of Nico Rosberg

In many ways, the first Malaysian Grand Prix heralded the start of a new era of F1, one in which Ecclestone joined forces with countries around the world that felt the need of some positive global PR and who were prepared to pay handsomely for it - in many cases by building a brand new state-of-the-art facility that was not really anywhere near anywhere.

And so after Malaysia blazed a trail, soon followed China, Bahrain, Turkey, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, South Korea, Russia and Azerbaijan.

Two of those - Turkey and South Korea - have already gone the way of Malaysia, as did India, which shares some characteristics of this general plan, but not the government support.

Ecclestone's time at the helm was ended at the start of this year, so it is somehow appropriate that the end of his reign is marked by the closing of the chapter at this track that set a template for a sport for two decades.

That approach looks like changing under new owners Liberty Media, for a focus on new races in city centres, that bring the sport to the people, rather than expecting the people to come to it - a reflection of the very different philosophy under which F1 is now being run.

Malaysian GP: Sepang circuit: 15 corners, laps 56

The permanent tracks all shared a specific feature - they were designed and built by Ecclestone's favoured architect, Hermann Tilke, whose creations have been criticised for being bland and sterile.

Malaysia, his first attempt, was arguably his best. Surrounded by palm oil plantations about an hour outside the capital Kuala Lumpur, it features a layout that combines challenging corners with long straights that facilitate overtaking.

The high-speed left-right sweepers of Turns Five and Six are arguably the best on the circuit, but the flicks of Seven and Eight and the fast Esses of 12 and 13, which lead into the tricky braking-and-turning zone for 14, are all good.

Just going out there to watch is a feat of endurance in temperatures hovering above 30C in intense tropical sun and humidity.

For the drivers, the challenge can only be imagined. Cooking in four-layer overalls in cockpit temperatures of up to 50C for an hour and 40 minutes, Malaysia joins Singapore as the most demanding race on the calendar.

It is very often a good one to watch - for the some times intense racing, and the often unpredictable weather, with a thunderstorm of epic proportions never very far away. For many reasons, it deserves to go out with a bang.

BBC Sport's chief F1 writer Andrew Benson.

Hamilton to join the Malaysia multiple winners?

Sepang is not a circuit that has suited Lewis Hamilton down the years.

Since racing there in Formula 1 for the first time back in 2007 the Briton has won just once - in 2014.

Instead it is his title rival Sebastian Vettel who is the master of Malaysia with the Ferrari driver winning more races there than any other.

Victory number five this weekend would be just the tonic as he tries to claw back at Hamilton in the title race.

New kid on the block

French driver Pierre Gasly will get his chance to impress this weekend. Daniil Kvyat has been stood down at Toro Rosso with Gasly earning a promotion as the team's bosses take a look at what he can do.

Malaysia

Happy memories

Fernando Alonso
Fernando Alonso secured his maiden podium finishin Formula 1 at the 2003 Malaysian Grand Prix

Ice cream memories

Kimi Raikkonen at the 2009 Malaysian Grand Prix
In 2009, Kimi Raikkonen helped speed up the popularisation of internet memes with his antics at the Malaysian Grand Prix. As drivers waited in their soaking wet cars, when rain stopped the racing, to see if the race would be restarted, the ice cool Finn went off to grab an ice cream. He didn't return to the cockpit

Malaysia boots

Pirelli

Coverage details

Malaysian Grand Prix coverage details
DateSessionTime (all BST)Radio coverage (available online)Online text commentary
Thursday, 28 SeptemberPreview21:00-22:00BBC Radio 5 live
Friday, 29 SeptemberFirst practice03:55-05:35BBC Radio 5 live sports extraFrom 03:30
Second practice07:55-09:35BBC Radio 5 live sports extraFrom 07:30
Saturday, 30 SeptemberThird practice06:55-08:05BBC Radio 5 live sports extraFrom 06:30
Qualifying09:55-11:05BBC Radio 5 live sports extraFrom 09:00
Sunday, 1 OctoberRace07:30-10:00BBC Radio 5 liveFrom 06:30
Monday, 2 OctoberReview04:30-05:00BBC Radio 5 live

Fans can follow all the action and the latest news on the BBC Sport F1 page and via the BBC Sport app, and catch up with analysis and interviews with the BBC Radio 5 live Chequered Flag podcast.

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