The loss of the Malaysian Grand Prix after 19 years will mark the first real change in Formula 1’s approach to race contracts since Liberty Media’ takeover and the overhaul of its management team.

Despite having one year to run on its contract, officials from both Sepang and F1 itself confirmed back in April the race would not return in 2018, with low attendance figures being cited as the chief reason behind its demise.

But when Malaysia joined the F1 calendar back in 1999, it marked the start of the sport’s expansion into Asia, setting the tone for the addition of events in Bahrain, China, Korea, Singapore and Abu Dhabi in the decade that would follow, overseen by Bernie Ecclestone.

Nineteen years later, Sepang lacks the sheen it once did as a facility, yet it has provided some memorable moments to the sport through the years. While the people of Kuala Lumpur may not be overly saddened by the loss of the race, F1 is sorry to see it go.

Of the current crop of drivers, Fernando Alonso has racked up the most appearances at Sepang, featuring in all but three of the F1 races it has hosted, and took his first pole and podium at the track back in 2003 with Renault.

“I had a temperature all that weekend,” Alonso reflected. “Saturday night was a difficult night, I remember going to the airport doctor in Kuala Lumpur just to have a double check because the temperature was too high and I couldn’t really sleep that night.

“The race was very demanding, very long, but we got our first podium of my career so it was a very special weekend.

“It’s a shame it’s the last time we race here. The circuit is an amazing challenge from a driving point of view but also for the car because of temperatures and the weather etc. So hopefully we can do a good result for our last time here.

“We saw some good races, red flags. We saw in 2009 the race was cut short we had ‘Multi 21’, we had even the drama of last year with [Lewis] Hamilton and the engine problems. So always it provides great action, so we will miss that. 

The 2003 race also saw another youngster of-the-moment star, with Kimi Raikkonen taking his maiden grand prix victory for McLaren at Sepang, kick-starting an unlikely bid for the world title that year.

But Raikkonen was less bothered about the loss of the race, his rather honest assessment highlighting one of its key weaknesses: the distance from Kuala Lumpur, around 50 kilometres.

“I don’t know if we’re going to miss it,” Raikkonen said. “It’s a nice circuit but the only thing you see is the airport, the hotel next to the airport and the circuit, so you can choose from that what you’re going to miss…”

Kimi being Kimi, though, the most important thing for him is the racing - something he feels Malaysia has been good for through the years.

“I won my first race here. It was a while ago now, but it obviously meant a lot,” Raikkonen said. “Then there was the win in 2008 with Ferrari, it was a good fight with Felipe [Massa] and obviously good memories, some bad memories over the years, but that’s when you go many times in the same place that will happen.

“I think there’s been quite good racing over the years here. I think the layout obviously helps that, and conditions have been always tricky.

“I think everybody has got more used to it since the early days, but nevertheless I think the racing has been good and that’s the main thing.

“Obviously the rest, it doesn’t matter because we are here for racing and if that’s good then that’s fine.”

Despite only making his first Malaysia appearance in 2008, Sebastian Vettel stands out as the most successful driver in its history, taking four victories at Sepang. But which was the most special?

“For sure the nicest one was 2015, my first win with Ferrari. It certainly was very special,” Vettel said. “We came here early in the season, at the very beginning of my time with Ferrari. There’s still a lot of very nice memories coming up, I’m thinking about that day, and how the race happened, what happened after the race. I had a really good time.

“I think the other races, I’m not sure I remember all of them, but 2013 obviously was a bit of a special one which came with a bit of noise after the race…”

The Multi 21 clash between Vettel and then-Red Bull teammate Mark Webber perhaps stands out as the most controversial moment in Malaysia’s F1 history, eclipsing even the bargeboard technical row in the wake of its inaugural race.

Lewis Hamilton’s record in Malaysia has been a little less impressive than that of his current championship rival, taking just a single win in 2014.

Perhaps the most memorable moment for Hamilton at Sepang came last year when his engine failed while leading by a significant margin - but it is not the one factor he blames losing the championship to Nico Rosberg on.

“Honestly, at the end of the season, rather than blame it on a reliability issue, if I hadn’t lost a lot of positions we had at the start of races then it would have been the same,” Hamilton said.

“So I’ll put that on my personal performances, and obviously I’ve improved on that.

“But for sure if that didn’t happen, I would have been in a different position.”

Hamilton has been a key figure in the promotion of the Malaysian Grand Prix in recent years given Mercedes’ ties with Petronas, which is the title sponsor of the race and calls Kuala Lumpur home.

Even with the litany of promotional engagements and marketing appearances involved over the busy race for Mercedes, Hamilton will miss coming to Sepang due to the unique challenge it poses with extreme heat and humidity.

“I’ve had an interesting experience coming here these 10 years. I’ve always generally enjoyed my trip here,” Hamilton said.

“I think it has generally always been the toughest grand prix, particularly in the earlier years when it was the second race, so straightaway to go into the toughest race of the season climate-wise is difficult.

“It’s a very, very tough circuit. It’s a weekend where if there are any weaknesses within the team, it will seep through. I’m hoping this weekend we can finish on a high in the last race here.”

With the grand prix always being staged around Malaysia’s stormy seasons, rain often plays a factor, seen most clearly in 2009 when the race was cut short and half-points were awarded.

The last wet Malaysian Grand Prix came in 2012 when Fernando Alonso claimed a surprise win for Ferrari, but not before he was run very close by Sergio Perez, then with Sauber, who stands out as one of the great underdog successes in the history of the race at Sepang.

A stunning display in the wet saw Perez finish second and even close rapidly on Alonso, only for a mistake to send him wide in the final stages and cost him the chance to try and take a shock victory.

“My best moment here is when I got my first podium in F1. The worst moment was probably losing the victory!” Perez said reflecting on the 2012 race.

“It is a track that you have to prepare yourself hard for, physically it is the toughest challenge especially at this time of year as it is hotter. As a driver it puts a lot of motivation on me and the way I prepare this weekend also with the week before in Singapore. It is something I like to have.

“It is something I will also miss, and I want to thank the Malaysian fans because they have always been great.”

While the economics involved may mean Malaysia’s stint hosting F1 will end on a quiet note, it will nevertheless be a grand prix the sport remembers very fondly.

And one would imagine Malaysia is a race the powers that be would be open to reviving down the line, should the conditions be right.

For now though, let us enjoy the final offering Sepang has for us. Come rain or shine, Sunday’s race promises to be yet another memorable chapter in Malaysia’s F1 story.



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