Sepang International Circuit in the Heat and Humidity:
Sepang's Two Long Straights and Palm Tree Canopies:
In Malaysia’s oppressive heat, torrential rain and extreme humidity, it is not surprising that the circuit in Sepang is itself one of extremes: It has two long straights of nearly a kilometer each followed by tight, slow-speed corners, along with several extremely high-speed corners and the widest sections of track around.
The Sepang grandstands are covered with canopies shaped like the leaves of the palm oil trees that fill the plantation on which the track was built, next to Kuala Lumpur’s international airport.
“It’s a circuit that delivers natural spectacle and is one of the best places in the world for watching Grand Prix cars at high speed,” said Martin Whitmarsh, head of the McLaren Mercedes team.
But it is also a circuit that has frequently seen extremes of spectator letdown, like in 2009, when a severe monsoon and a darkened sky forced the race to be halted after 33 of the projected 56 laps.
But drivers enjoy racing on it and it has produced some exciting races.
“Sepang is an awesome circuit, one that I love driving, and I think that I’ll be able to further develop and improve my relationship with the car here,” said Jenson Button. “It’s a circuit that not only requires smooth and precise input, but it also needs real commitment through some of the high-speed stuff. I think it’s a circuit that every driver loves.”
It requires a fairly high level of aerodynamic downforce and excellent car balance. The area between Turn 7 and Turn 11 is crucial, and for a generally good overall performance a car must be well set up for this section.
The circuit is tough on tires, however, because of the wide range of corners and the hard braking at the end of the straights. Moreover, the track temperature often reaches 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which is also difficult for the tires.
Hirohide Hamashima, the director of Bridgestone tire development, said there could be more tire degradation in Malaysia. “Drivers will have to be careful not to lock their brakes, especially when they have heavy fuel loads and cool tires in the early laps,” he said.
The combination of the track and the climate is also hard on the engines. Cosworth, which provides engines to several teams, said in its race preview that “the extreme humidity compromises available power in the normally aspirated engine but somewhat lessens the challenge in terms of fuel economy, an important factor for the long race distance.”