Farewell Sepang: Top 10 Malaysian Grand Prix moments

As F1 says goodbye to the Sepang International Circuit, RealSport looks back at ten of our best memories from the last 18 Malaysian Grands Prix.

Arriving on the calendar in its current form in 1999, the Malaysian Grand Prix has been a mainstay of the F1 circuit ever since. In that time, it has seen ten different winners from six different constructors, witnessed elation and heartbreak in equal measure, and let’s not forget the often biblical weather conditions that have served up some thrilling races over the years.

The circuit also introduced the wider F1 world to the works of Hermann Tilke, the track designer who would go on to create many of F1’s new circuits over the years (Bahrain, China, Valencia, Abu Dhabi etc.). Sepang is one of his finest circuits (Turkey is his best in my humble opinion), and has been one that has allowed for some great racing down the years.

Sadly though, due mainly to financial struggles associated with running the race, this year’s Formula 1 race will be the circuit’s last, at least for the foreseeable future.

So what better way to celebrate the end of an era than by looking back at ten of the best moments from the Malaysian Grand Prix.

  1. 10 Fisichella's grid woes

    Most drivers might be unfortunate enough to end up in the wrong grid slot once in their careers, but that just wasn't enough for Giancarlo Fisichella, who did it twice in Sepang alone.

    Having lined up on the wrong side of the grid in 2001, the Italian forced an aborted start after he tried, and failed, to cross the track to take his correct position. You'd think then that he would be extra careful about this in the future, but just 2 years later, he lined up two grid slots ahead of where he should have been. Admittedly, this was a little easier to get wrong on this occasion as 2 cars ahead of him failed on the grid, causing an understandable amount of confusion.

    At least that time he didn't cause an aborted start as he was able to reverse his car into position in time.

  2. 9 Ferrari's run ended

    The 2005 Malaysian Grand Prix confirmed a changing of the guard at the very top of F1. Ferrari, having being  thoroughly dominant in 2004, looked totally at sea with their new challenger, and could only qualify 12th and 13th in Sepang.

    This allowed Renault's Fernando Alonso to take his first win of 2005, a year that would end with the Spaniard claiming his first world title. The podium was rounded off by Jarno Trulli's Toyota and Nick Heidfeld in his Williams, marking the first time since Italy 2003 that Ferrari failed to get at least one of its drivers into the top three.

    Ferrari's woes would continue for much of the season, with their only win coming at the farcical US Grand Prix at Indy.

  3. 8 Rosberg announces his arrival

    Nico Rosberg began his F1 career with Williams in 2006, and following an impressive drive to seventh on his debut in Bahrain, young Nico really announced his arrival on the scene with an excellent third on the grid in Malaysia, out qualifying Michael Schumacher in the process.

    Rosberg would be unlucky in the race, retiring on lap 6 with engine trouble, but these early performances marked him out for greatness, and little did we know at the time, a world championship ten years down the line.

  4. 7 Free the 'budgie nine'!

    One of the more ridiculous stories to come out of the Malaysian Grand Prix involved nine Australian men and underwear that didn't leave much to the imagination!

    In celebration of their compatriot Daniel Ricciardo's win in 2016, the 'budgie nine' all stripped down to Malaysian flag printed 'budgie smugglers' and drank beer from their shoes in tribute to Ricciardo's favoured method of podium champagne consumption.

    As harmless fun as this may have seemed, the stunt angered many across the country as it was seen as disrespectful to the Malaysian flag, and the men were subsequently detained. Things didn't get too serious though, as an appeal from Ricciardo himself, and a lenient judge who accepted that the men wouldn't have necessarily known this was disrespectful, resulted in all nine being released with only minor misdemeanour charges.

    Take note F1 fans: If you're travelling the world following the sport, do your research before stripping down to your briefs!

  5. 6 A weekend of firsts

    The 2003 Malaysian Grand Prix was an event of many firsts for two of the best drivers on the grid today.

    Saturday gave Fernando Alonso his first pole position, and even though he couldn't hold on for the win, he still scored his first podium by coming home third. However, determined that someone should win their first race on that day, it was McLaren' Kimi Raikkonen who crossed the line first for his first trip to the top step of the podium.

    Humble beginnings for two men who would go on to rack up 3 titles, 52 wins, and 39 pole positions between them. And they're not done yet!

  6. 5 Montoya vs. Schumacher

    Juan Pablo Montoya and Michael Schumacher had many great battles throughout the years, but in 2002's Malaysian race, the battle was over by turn one. Schumacher started on pole and moved over to cover the inside line from the fast starting Colombian. Montoya then switched to the outside and outbraked Schumacher into the first right-hander.

    Montoya took his line into turn one, but Schumacher appeared to misjudge the amount of grip available on the inside, and understeered into the Williams. This took the Ferrari's front wing off, and dropped both down the order, although it was Schumacher that suffered the most.

    What was incredible about this was that a few laps later, it was Montoya that was issued a drive through penalty for crashing with Schumacher, when to all intents and purposes it looked very much like a racing incident, or even Schumacher's fault. Montoya was incensed on the team radio and seemed well justified to ask 'why?' (among other NSFW things!).

    Despite the drama between the two drivers, they both finished on the podium that day, with Michael's brother, Ralf, taking the win.

  7. 4 "Multi 21, Seb... Multi 21"

    One of the more controversial moments of the last few years of Formula 1 was definitely this incident between the Red Bull drivers at the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel had started from pole in damp conditions, but fell back when he switched to slick tyres too early.

    This handed the lead to Mark Webber in the sister Red Bull, and when it came down to the final stint, Vettel was right on his tail. Vettel then overtook Webber after running him close down the pit straight, much to the team's dismay. Vettel's race engineer and Christian Horner had tried to get Vettel to hold station, giving him the coded message 'Multi 21' meaning that car #2 should finish ahead of car #1,

    Obviously this left Webber incensed, and he berated his team mate in the post race room, before looking utterly furious with the whole situation when the drivers took to the podium.

    Vettel's actions that day divided opinion, and still continue to. On the one hand, Vettel is a ruthless competitor, a man who knows what it takes to be a champion, and clearly he thought that the 25 points were there for the taking. On the other hand, he was given a team order, and he would be nowhere without his, especially since Webber had made sacrifices for him previously. Vettel certainly wasn't popular with Webber's side of the garage that day, and it's fair to say that their working relationship never recovered.

  8. 3 Perez shines in 2012

    2012 really epitomised the Malaysian Grand Prix experience. Rain just before the start, cars attempting to run for a few laps before being red flagged for an hour, and then being allowed to sprint to the finish on a rapidly drying track. Through all this chaos, multiple pit stops, spins and retirements, Sergio Perez, then driving for Sauber, scored a fantastic second place, and could have even taken the win.

    As the race started in the wet, most of the field went for the intermediate tyres, but the conditions were too severe, and Perez was the first to come in and change to the full wets. This decision paid off when the race was red flagged as others had stopped for the full wets after struggling for a few laps longer on the inters.

    After the restart, the track began to dry, but with more rain was forecast, many of the drivers stayed out in anticipation of this, and it was here that Perez pounced. He used his excellent tyre management skills to extract more performance from the inters for longer than any other driver seemed able to, and after posting a few fastest laps, he ended up on Fernando Alonso's tail.

    What ensued was a frantic fight to the finish, with the Ferrari being unable to shake the determined Sauber driver through the final pit stop and into the final stint. The victory would go to Alonso though after Perez made an error on the last lap, but that day will surely be something Perez and Sauber will never forget.

  9. 2 Hamilton's title goes up in smoke

    It all seemed to be going so well for Lewis Hamilton at the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix. He had taken pole position, got away in the lead, and better still, his title rival Nico Rosberg had collided with Sebastian Vettel at turn one and dropped to the back of the field.

    This all unravelled on lap 40, when his engine exploded in a dramatic fireball, forcing him into retirement. His anguish on team radio only confirmed that he understood the significance of that retirement, and that the points lost in Malaysia would probably be the difference at the end of the year.

    Hamilton will be hoping that Sunday's race, or even Saturday's qualifying for that matter, doesn't see a repeat of any of these issues.

  10. 1 "Felipe baby, stay cool!"

    2009's race was a pure endurance challenge, not just for the drivers, but for those of us sitting at home who got up at 7am on a Sunday to watch it. The race was red flagged on lap 33 due to the torrential rain, and the rest of the morning was spent watching the drivers sit in their cars, or Kimi Raikkonen eating Magnums, until eventually the race was abandoned and half points issued.

    One of the highlights of this red flag period, apart from Kimi's ice cream appreciation, or the fans taking it in turns to hurl themselves down muddy slopes by the side of the track (which, by the way, looked incredibly fun!), was a radio exchange between Rob Smedley and Felipe Massa at Ferrari.

    When the cars were first stopped and being brought back to the grid to take their positions for a potential restart, Massa could be heard shouting over the radio, "I need a white visor, please c'mon, white visor, otherwise I cannot see anything."

    Smedley's response would go down in F1 history: "Felipe baby, stay cool, we're bringing you the white visor, stay cool, we're in a good position, okay? We're bringing you the visor."

    Just the way that exchange happened and the tones of voice used by both driver and engineer show what a great relationship these 2 guys have, it's really not something you see too often in F1.

    Oh, and someone made a song out of the incident! Enjoy!

    Do you agree with our picks for the top ten Malaysia moments? Let us know your favourite in the comments below!

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