Sepang is a fantastic circuit and it’s always an exciting challenge here with the heat and humidity. During my first race here in 2007 I didn’t have a drinks feed available during the race, so by the end I was totally exhausted and had lost about four kilos in weight! As a driver it’s a weekend you have to be well prepared for physically, as it can be very easy to lose concentration towards the end of a long race in these conditions. Then there’s the rain which, when it comes, is just incredible. In a matter of minutes you can find yourself at the centre of a monsoon, which adds to the challenge.
The first corner comes at the end of a long straight, so you have to pick your braking point carefully to avoid overshooting the turn. This leads into another slow corner, with the pair of them seeming to go on forever. Turns 5 and 6 are high-speed and fantastic to drive; similar to the Maggots / Becketts section at Silverstone but with slightly more space between each corner.
You need a little lift going into Turn 5 to get the front end turned in, good balance on the power through Turn 6 then onto the brakes for Turn 7. There’s a bit of a bump as you power through Turn 8 before easing the car over to the right-hand side of the track for Turn 9. A good exit from this corner is important but an even better one is required from Turn 11, as this is crucial to carrying good momentum through the high-speed Turns 12 and 13. Picking your braking point correctly for Turn 14 is both tricky and essential. Getting it wrong can prove costly, as this leads down the second long straight of the lap and into the final corner; one of the best overtaking opportunities.
Straight after one of my personal favourites at Albert Park, Sepang is another circuit that I really enjoy. The track layout is great to drive and has a bit of everything thrown in: long straights, fast corners, hairpin turns and good places to overtake. Turns 1 and 15 are the key corners for this, but it’s the high-speed ‘S’ section between turns 5 – 6 that really pushes the driver.
The weather is always a factor through the weekend, with big chances of a monsoon arriving at least once per day. In the past few years this has usually happened in either qualifying or the race. It mixes things up nicely and makes for exciting racing, which is great fun on track and also for the fans watching at the circuit or at home. The conditions this weekend will also be much hotter than in Australia so it will be a good opportunity to see how the cars perform in such a different climate.
On top of dealing with the rain, the biggest challenge from a driver’s perspective is coping with the heat and humidity. This is one of the things we have to train for over the winter: ensuring that we can cope with these conditions both physically and mentally right up to the chequered flag.