F1 returns to Malaysia with new world champion

For a race only one year old, the Malaysian Grand Prix already has a lot of history.

For a race only one year old, the Malaysian Grand Prix already has a lot of history.

Last year, Michael Schumacher made a spectacular return to the Formula One season after a three-month break to recover from a broken leg. He won pole position, gave up the race lead to then-Ferrari-teammate Eddie Irvine, was disqualified after the race, then reinstated.

Now, Schumacher returns to the Sepang course near Kuala Lumpur as the newly crowned world champion. His manager says that new souvenirs, labeled "World Champion 2000," are already being prepared, possibly for sale by Sunday's season-ending race in this Southeast Asian country.

Schumacher clinched his third Formula One title by winning the Japanese Grand Prix on Oct. 8, moving past two-time champion Mika Hakkinen on the second pit stop.

That gave Schumacher an uncatchable 12-point lead in the season standings and a third world driving title to go with the pair he earned with Benetton in 1994 and 1995.

Since, Schumacher had pursued a third crown for Ferrari, coming close twice. After starting the season brilliantly - winning five of the first eight races - he slumped, allowing Hakkinen to overtake him.

Then Schumacher recovered to win in three continents - Europe, North America and Asia - as he won the Italian, U.S. and Japanese races.

He returns to Malaysia in triumph. Last year, after missing six races following a crash at the British Grand Prix in July, he returned to racing in Sepang amid speculation over when - even whether - he could come back.

He gained the pole position and then led the race before moving aside to allow Irvine to go ahead. The Ferraris finished first and second and gave Irvine a temporary lead in the season standings.

Then, the Ferraris were disqualified for a technical violation. Less than a week later, the decision was overturned and Ferraris' 1-2 finish was reinstated. But Hakkinen snatched the driver's title from Irvine's grasp in the final race of the season in Japan.

Malaysian Grand Prix officials hoped that this season would go down to the wire and maneuvered to have their race as the final one. But while the race should be as exciting as any Formula One contest, for Schumacher, win or lose, it will still amount to a victory lap.

The Malaysians have spent 30 million ringgit (almost dlrs 8 million) giving the track and surrounding area a face lift since last season.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, a racing enthusiast, was a driving force to bring Formula One to his country. His 19-year hold on power has strengthened since an election victory after last year's race and threats by the weakened opposition to disrupt the Grand Prix with massive protests have little credibility.

The track, about 70 kilometers (43 miles) south of Kuala Lumpur near the airport, was built for 280 million ringgit (nearly dlrs 80 million). More than 100,000 fans attended in 1999, and it was telecast to more than 150 countries according to racing officials.

This year, race organizers improved the stands and safety features around the circuit. Even if it rains Sunday - the monsoon season is upon Malaysia - a new drainage system would quickly help improve conditions.

Schumacher's victory in Japan thrilled Ferrari fans all over the world. But a bit of suspense hangs in the Sepang air, to see whether a bizarre set of circumstances could rob the venerable Italian stable of the constructors championship.

Ferrari leads archrival McLaren by 13 points. Hakkinen and McLaren teammate David Coulthard need to finish at least first and third and to shut Ferrari out of the points to snatch the constructors title.

However, if Schumacher and teammate Rubens Barrichello score at least three points, or if a McLaren does not win the race, Ferrari will have the constructor and driving double for the first time since 1979, when Jody Scheckter paced Ferrari to both victories.

Ferrari won the constructors title in 1982, 1983 and 1999, but Scheckter was the last Ferrari champion driver until this year.

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
News
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Arts and Entertainment
tvSpielberg involved in bringing his 2002 film to the small screen
Sport
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
News
peopleCareer spanned 70 years, including work with Holocaust survivors
News
people
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape