Formula One: Five memorable Malaysian Grands Prix as we say goodbye to Sepang this week

Mercedes Formula One driver Hamilton of Britain drives during the first practice session of the Malaysian F1 Grand Prix at Sepang International Circuit. PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

SEPANG (AFP) - Ahead of the final Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday, AFP Sport looks back at five dramatic races at the Sepang International Circuit, which first hosted Formula One in 1999.

2001: Schumacher the rain man

A third-lap cloudburst made the track almost undriveable, but despite a spin on to the grass and a minute-long pit stop to clear debris from his damaged car, the peerless Michael Schumacher proved king of the wet by managing to lap five seconds quicker on intermediate tyres than the other drivers tip-toeing around on full wets.

The German surged from 11th to the lead leaving his Ferrari team-mate Rubens Barrichello, who finished second, almost 24 seconds adrift.

"When I went off because of the rain, I could see the barrier coming and I thought it was over. I was lucky," said Schumacher.

2003: Young Raikkonen's first victory

A 23-year-old Kimi Raikkonen took full advantage of an uncharacteristic and spectacular first-lap blunder by Michael Schumacher to claim his first Formula One victory in his McLaren.

The flashpoint of a frenzied race came at the second turn as Ferrari's Schumacher, who had started third on the grid, attempted to beat Jarno Trulli's Renault on the inside and smashed the Italian off the track, damaging his own front wing.

Schumacher, who eventually finished sixth, admitted he was to blame.

"I made a mistake and hit Jarno and I have apologised to him," he said.

The race saw the emergence of another future world champion, Fernando Alonso, who claimed his maiden pole position and his first podium finish when he placed third for Renault behind Barrichello's Ferrari.

2009: Button storms to half-a-win

Brawn's Jenson Button was deemed the winner with Nick Heidfeld's Sauber second and Timo Glock's Toyota third after the race was red-flagged and then abandoned after just 31 laps of 56 when a ferocious thunderstorm flooded the Sepang circuit.

It was only the fifth time a Formula One race had been abandoned because of weather, and a large part of the blame was laid at the door of Formula One supremos who pushed the start back to 5:00pm to attract a bigger Sunday morning TV audience in Europe.

"You have to think about safety," said Button. "When the safety car is pulling away at 20 seconds a lap, you know that it's too wet for an F1 car."

With not enough time to allow the track to dry before darkness fell, only half the championship points were awarded.

2012: Alonso escapes to victory

Fernando Alonso survived a rain suspension of almost an hour, a rash of spins and a strong late challenge from Sauber's flying Sergio Perez on a drying track to claim a surprise first win in eight months.

Alonso arrived at Sepang as nobody's pre-race favourite in an underpowered and clunky Ferrari, but emerged from the chaos caused by incessant heavy rain at the head of the pack and doggedly clung on.

After a final pit stop for dry tyres, Perez pushed hard for his maiden win. He was closing fast and looked about to steal victory until he overshot a turn with six laps remaining, allowing the Spanish double world champion to escape from his clutches.

Perez still claimed his first podium place in second, with Lewis Hamilton's McLaren third.

2016: Hamilton's epic meltdown

Daniel Ricciardo's victory was overshadowed by Hamilton's emotion-fuelled outburst that he was the victim of a Mercedes conspiracy after his engine exploded spectacularly when leading with just 15 laps to go.

"No, no," he cried as flames appeared and 25 world championship points disappeared in a puff of smoke.

"Someone needs to give me some answers because this is not acceptable. We are fighting for the championship and only my engines are failing," Hamilton wailed before later clearing the air with the team.

Red Bull's Ricciardo didn't care, as he celebrated with a podium "shoey" - drinking champagne from his driving boot.

Nor did Nico Rosberg, whose more reliable Mercedes picked up 15 points for third to extend his championship lead to 23 when Hamilton had looked assured to take over at the top.

The drama proved pivotal when Hamilton won the final four races of the season, only for Rosberg to take the championship by just five points.

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