Formula 1 teams and drivers will face a very different challenge at Sepang this year, on the back of an overhaul of the circuit that has gone far beyond just a simple resurfacing.
For while the new asphalt itself will bring its own new feel, the work on the circuit completed by Italian firm Dromo Engineering looks set to change the ultimate characteristics of the track.
Some improvements are aimed at safety – including improved drainage and run-off areas that has involved replacing asphalt areas with gravel beds.
But other tweaks have resulted in changes to the banking of nine corners that could have an impact on racing lines and how drivers approach each corner.
Sepang track boss Razlan Razali said: “There will be some unknowns for the teams and drivers as we've changed the dynamics of the circuit a little bit at the various turns. It will be as if they've come to Sepang circuit for the first time."
Such are the changes to the track that Sepang and Dromo sent a briefing note to teams and drivers to help them better prepare for the weekend ahead.
Here, Motorsport.com looks in detail at what they have been told – and exactly what impact the circuit revamp will have.
Entering Turn 1, the bumps have been removed so that the approach to the corner can be more normal – with drivability improved. The existing run-off has been improved in terms of safety with a better compromise for cars and bikes – especially for incidents where vehicles run straight off. The asphalt area has been partially replaced with a gravel bed.
The left boundary line of the track has been moved to maintain the track width of 16 metres, which has enabled the overall run-off area to be larger. The end of the gravel bed has been replaced by grass verge.
Turn 2 has been redesigned to improve drivability, speed and safety throughout.
A key feature was to improve the entrance to corner, by making the kerb on the left hand side more visible. A large bump at the start of the left hand side kerb has also been removed – to prevent the previous characteristic of drivers feeling they had lost steering control after they had hit it.
Improved draining at Turn 3, to prevent a river that appeared there in wet conditions, has been achieved by redesigning the profile of the surface in a few sections.
The centreline of the track has been elevated, obtaining a crowned section. This enables the water to flow to the left edge. Furthermore, the removal of 20 metres of kerbing on the right hand side to improve the grass verge has also helped – because it will allow water to run off the track quicker.
Drivability in Turn 4 has been improved by the removal of bumps in the track along the right hand side kerbs. Grading on the right hand side of the corner has also been increased, with the kerbs there also rebuilt.
The run-off in this turn has been improved from a safety perspective – with part of the asphalt area ahead of the corner replaced by gravel. The end of the gravel bed has been replaced with natural grass.
Turns 5 and 6
The whole section of the track here, and especially the left hand side gradient, has been modified. There is a steeper section on the racing line and almost a flat profile on the other segments. Once again, an asphalt run off area has been replaced with a gravel bed.
Drainage has also been improved here with the removal of 15 metres of kerbs on the right-hand side, plus new drainage grids.
Turns 7 and 8
On the approach to Turn 7, the bumps have been removed and long sections of the left hand side kerb have been rebuilt. It should make the approach to the corner more regular. Two big ruts that had formed have also been removed.
The issue with Turn 9 related to the big bumps at the end of the right hand side kerb, so these have been rebuilt. The new kerbs and increased gradient through the turn should make the corner more drivable.
Turns 12 and 13
The bumps to the entrance to Turn 12 have been removed, while sections of the left hand side kerb have been rebuilt. A big rut in the middle of Turn 12 has also been removed.
The elevation of the centreline between Turns 12 and 13 has improved the drainage – which was a particular problems at Turn 13 when a pond could appear in wet conditions. Once again, asphalt run off areas have been replaced with gravel.
Perhaps the most notable change to the track will be at Turn 15 – which has been given improved run off, better drainage and a new gradient.
To improve the drainage, the shaping of the corner has changed – as the gradient will no longer allow water to lay and form puddles on the racing line. Indeed, it now has a reverse camber.
This reversal of the gradient will change the characteristics of this corner completely – and could prompt a totally different racing line.
As Dromo’s Jarno Zaffelli said: “Raising up the internal kerb by one metre, the classic racing line is not any more the fastest, and this will add spice for the drivers. Now it will allow amazing overtaking manoeuvres due to the particular profile."