F1nale: The Last F1 Race in Malaysia

On and off I have been following Formula One Grand Prix since the last decade. Back when I had cable (now I have Netlifx) I would dutifully tune in on Star Sports on weekends to watch the fast-paced action of race cars zipping by the tracks. Seven years ago I was also able to attend one race - the Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang.

Cars turning at the Langkawi curve

Seven years later I was back in Sepang - not just to see the race again in real life, but also as a witness in history. The year 2017 is the last year the F1 will be conducted in Malaysia. I made plans to attend it as soon as I heard that such will be the last in SIC.

View from the K1 Grandstand of Sepang International Circuit

The Malaysian Grand Prix was first held in 1999, in the Sepang International Circuit, just a stone's throw away from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Aside from the F1, the 5.5 kilometer-long Sepang Circuit also hosted other motorsport events, including the Motorcycle Grand Prix, MotoGP,  and kart racing, among others.

I flew into KL on September 28, arriving in the capital past midnight. I did not make any others plans as the sole purpose of the trip was to see the race. I stayed in a hostel in Brickfields, close to KL Sentral, as it would afford me quick access to transportation to the circuit. Friday was practice day, but I decided to skipped it; the decision turned out to be redeeming as it rained most of the afternoon that day. I did get tickets for KL Ekspres so I can get quickly to Sepang on Saturday, which is for qualifying races, and Sunday, race day.

F1 cars on display at the mall area of the circuit

I got inside the circuit on Saturday just after lunch. The weather was humid and hot, but at least I was on covered area - in K1 Grandstand. The last time I was here I was in the hill, and I got sunburned because of the blazing sun.  I first went around the grounds, first in the mall area where there are exhibits of past F1 cars and various racing memorabilia. I also got some souvenirs to commemorate the event, then I settled inside the grandstand. 

The qualifying session was exciting enough. Before the F1 qualifying there was a sort of undercard event - the Porsche Carrera Cup, which also held a qualifying session. 

Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari during qualifying

Previously I supported McLaren/Mercedes, before switching my loyalties to Ferrari (as I am not a fan of Lewis Hamilton).  I was glad to note that Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen was second in qualifying, behind Hamilton. Kimi's teammate, Sebastian Vettel, unfortunately, failed to set time so he will start at the back of the grid on race day. I went back to KL as soon as the final lap was finished. 

Porsche Carrera Cup

I got up early on Sunday as I wanted to avoid the crowd. I imagine the circuit will be full since it is the last race. As with previous day I took the KL Ekspres to KLIA, then a bus to Sepang.

There was a noticeably larger crowd, even when I arrived early. I rained a bit too when I got there, but the weather improved as the race approaches. I settled in a seat much closer to the track, and got ready for the race. A trio of F-18 jets from the Royal Malaysia Air Force buzzed overhead after the Malaysian national anthem was sung, signifying the start of the race.

Malaysian Airforce F-18s wowing the crowd with a low pass

The most exciting part of the race was the start, where the cars would scramble for position after a turn and another hairpin turn. The grandstand I am in was in front of that hairpin turn, which afforded us a great view of the action. I was looking out for No. 7 - Kimi Raikkonen - but I didn't see him at all. Later I found out that he wasn't able to start, which was a bummer.

After an exciting start, Max Vestappen of Red Bull took the lead, with Hamilton close behind. Closely completing for third were Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari, Kimi's teammate. While the top 4 did really change, there was still plenty of drama and excitement during the race. A car of Force India spun out after touching tires with another car, and Carlo Sainz of Toso Rosso team retired after 29 laps. In the end it was Vestappen who got podium one, followed by Hamilton, Ricciardo then Vettel. The drama did not even end there - after the checkered flag was waved and the drivers were doing laps around the circuit, a driver crashed into Vettel and wrecked his car.

Mercedes vs Red Bull at turn one.

I think the race was a fitting, yet bittersweet, adieu for Malaysia in the F1 circuit. For me, I think it's time to consider other locations for witnessing F1 races. I'm considering watching it Singapore next year, and maybe in some other exotic locations. Azerbaijan, perhaps?


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