Motorsport 101: The Time When We Proudly Had A Formula One Malaysian Driver

                                                             Sauber Petronas Formula One Malaysia

Long before we had a Malaysian driver in Formula One and long before you saw the word and logo of Petronas & Malaysia on the side of the Mercedes AMG Formula One car, we had the Sauber Petronas Formula Team which for me personally has to be one of the beautiful racing cars around. Image source: Ultimate Car Page.

Read these first:-

Formula One Sauber Petronas Malaysia Motorsport

The Formula One 2001 entry car for Sauber Petronas is C20 which won the team 4th place in the overall Constructors’ Championship. It runs on a V10 Ferrari engine which is rebadged as Petronas 01A engine and uses Petronas fuel & lubricants. It is indeed a beautiful car although may says that it looks like the Ferrari’s previous year Formula One car. Image source: Wikipedia

Sauber Petronas Formula One Team

Petronas’s involvement with Sauber in Formula One started sometime in 1997 and Sauber were heavily involved with Ferrari (they used rebadged Ferrari engines from 1997 to 2005) before they moved on to BMW.

It was a good collaboration between Petronas and Sauber especially in the chassis and gearbox development via Sauber Petronas Engineering. The only problem with this is that all this research and development in Formula One whilst benefited Petronas in their fuel & lubricant market, did not help the local car manufacturers.

Proton Petronas E01 Engine

At one point, Petronas even developed its own engine called the Petronas E01 engine which was tipped to be used in Proton cars:-

The Proton E01 engine, formerly known as the Petronas E01 engine, is an upcoming automobile gasoline engine by the Malaysian carmaker, Proton. Originally developed by the Malaysian oil company Petronas in 1997, the engine patents were acquired by Proton in 2012.

The engine is currently being reworked in order to meet the upcoming Euro 6C, as the original engine was designed for Euro 2 standard.

The E01 engine is a 2-litre DOHC 16-valve engine featuring gasoline direct injection, aluminium block and continuous variable valve timing system. The engine is capable to produce 204.3 PS (150.3 kW) of power at 7,300 rpm and 203 N⋅m (150 ft⋅lbf) of torque at 5,300 rpm.

The E01 engine can be installed 15 degrees tilting forward or backward of the engine compartment. Besides the initial 2-litre engine, the E01 engine can also be configured to spawn 1.8-litre and 2.2-litre variants.

When the E01 engine was developed by Petronas, the engine was designed to meet the Euro 2 emission standard. As a result, Proton is currently reworking the engine, in addition to the development of an all-new family of six engines, to meet the upcoming Euro 6C standard.

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In the end, Proton did not use the E01 engine on its production cars – the reason was not made known but there were some speculations that it was not cost-effective to build the expensive engine in large number. Proton went ahead with the Campro engine which was co-developed with Lotus and the latest variant of it is still being used to this day.

Sauber Petronas had very good Formula One drivers such as Jean Alesi, Felipe Massa, Kimi Räikkönen Johnny Herbert and even the 1997 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve. Jean Alesi was also involved with Proton at some point when they launched the Proton Preve in 2012.

Minardi Formula One Alex Yoong Malaysia Motorsport

Malaysian driver in a Malaysian sponsored Formula One team – Minardi Racing Team was developed in-house with running on a Ford VJ Zetec-R (badged as European) 3.0 L engine with the fuel & lubrication provided by ELF. Image source: Rojak Daily

First F1 Malaysian Driver, Alex Yoong

Actually, we did not expect to see another Formula One team other than Sauber Petronas being related to Malaysia as the involvement in the sports was not cheap and if there were to be a Malaysian driver, there was a high chance it will be under Sauber Petronas and not any other team. But instead, Alex Yoong joined Minardi Formula One Team but he had to bring his own sponsors.

Alexander Charles Yoong Loong or Alex Yoong was born on 20th July 1976 and has been involved with numerous motorsports before becoming the first Malaysian to race in Formula One with Minardi at the 2001 Italian Grand Prix which was the 15th race out of the total 17 races in the 2001 Formula One calendar. In other words, he will only race 3 races in 2001.

2001 Formula One Racing Performance

He made his debut in the 2001 Italian Grand Prix, qualifying at the last place with an overall qualifying time of 1:27.463. The first place went to Juan Pablo Montoya from Williams-BMW with a qualifying time of 1:22.216. During the actual race, he spun off at lap 44 and that ended his racing for the Italian Grand Prix.

For his next race at the 2001 United States Grand Prix, he qualified at the last place again with an overall qualifying time of 1:15.247. The first place went to Michael Schumacher from Ferrari with a qualifying time of 1:11.708. During the actual race, he had a gearbox problem at lap 38 and that ended his racing for this Grand Prix.

Moving on to his final Formula One race in the 2001 calendar at the Japanese Grand Prix, he qualified at the last place again with an overall qualifying time of 1:38.246. The first place went to Michael Schumacher from Ferrari with a qualifying time of 1:32.484. During the actual race, he managed to finish his race at 16th place but he was 3 laps aways from the 1st place winner, Michael Schumacher.

The fact is Alex Yoong was probably the best Malaysian driver as you can see from this qualifying lap video for the 2002 Malaysian Grand Prix but unfortunately, he was not the best against the other drivers.

2002 Formula One Racing Performance

The 2002 Formula One racing calendar started with the Australian Grand Prix and he qualified at the second last place with an overall qualifying time of 1:31.504. The first place went to Rubens Barrichello from Ferrari with a qualifying time of 1:25.843. During the actual race, despite starting off on the last row, he did an impressive job and managed to creep up and finish at 7th place – probably of his best place todate. However, there were 12 retirements and 2 disqualifications in the same race which helped him to achieve the 7th position.

For his next race at the 2002 Malaysian Grand Prix, he qualified at the last place again with an overall qualifying time of 1:40.158. The first place went to Michael Schumacher from Ferrari with a qualifying time of 1:35.266. During the actual race, he had a gearbox problem at lap 29 and that ended his racing for this Grand Prix.

For his next Formula One race at the 2002 Brazilian Grand Prix, he qualified at the last place again with an overall qualifying time of 1:16.728. The first place went to Juan Pablo Montoya from Williams-BMW with a qualifying time of 1:13.114. During the actual race, he managed to finish his race at 13th place but he was 4 laps aways from the 1st place winner, Michael Schumacher.

He did not even qualify for the 2002 San Marino Grand Prix – he managed only to record a time of 1:27.241.

For his next race at the 2002 Spanish Grand Prix, he qualified at the last place again with an overall qualifying time of 1:21.415. The first place went to Michael Schumacher from Ferrari with a qualifying time of 1:16.364. During the actual race, the team actually withdraw from the race due to safety issues with their cars (they had front and rear wing failures)

For his next race at the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix, he qualified at the last place again with an overall qualifying time of 1:12.336. The first place went to Rubens Barrichello from Ferrari with a qualifying time of 1:08.082. During the actual race, he had an engine problem at lap 42 and that ended his racing for this Grand Prix.

For his next race at the 2002 Monaco Grand Prix, he qualified at the last place again with an overall qualifying time of 1:21.599. The first place went to Juan Pablo Montoya from Williams-BMW with a qualifying time of 1:16.676. During the actual race, he crashed into the barriers at lap 29 and was unable to complete the race.

For his next race at the 2002 Canadian Grand Prix, he qualified at the last place again with an overall qualifying time of 1:17.347. The first place went to Juan Pablo Montoya from Williams-BMW with a qualifying time of 1:12.836. During the actual race, he managed to finish his race at 13th place but he was 2 laps aways from the 1st place winner, Michael Schumacher.

For his next race at the 2002 European Grand Prix, he qualified at the last place again with an overall qualifying time of 1:34.251. The first place went to Juan Pablo Montoya from Williams-BMW with a qualifying time of 1:29.906. During the actual race, he had a hydraulic problem at lap 48 and that ended his racing for this Grand Prix.

He did not qualify for the next 2002 British Grand Prix – he managed only to record a time of 1:24.785.

For his next race at the 2002 French Grand Prix, he qualified at the last place again with an overall qualifying time of 1:16.798. The first place went to Juan Pablo Montoya from Williams-BMW with a qualifying time of 1:11.985. During the actual race, he managed to finish his race at 10th place but he was 4 laps aways from the 1st place winner, Michael Schumacher.

He did not qualify for the next 2002 German Grand Prix – he managed only to record a time of 1:19.775.

For his next race at the 2002 Hungarian Grand Prix and Belgian Grand Prix, he was replaced by a British driver, Anthony Davidson before returning to the 2002 Italian Grand Prix. He too qualified at the last place with an overall qualifying time of 1:25.111. The first place went to Juan Pablo Montoya from Williams-BMW with a qualifying time of 1:20.264. During the actual race, he managed to finish his race at 13th place but he was 6 laps aways from the 1st place winner, Rubens Barrichello from Ferrari.

For his next race at the 2002 United States Grand Prix, he qualified at the last place again with an overall qualifying time of 1:13.809. The first place went to Michael Schumacher from Ferrari with a qualifying time of 1:10.790. During the actual race, he had an engine problem at lap 46 and that ended his racing for this Grand Prix.

For his final race at the 2002 Japanese Grand Prix, he qualified at the last place again with an overall qualifying time of 1:36.267. The first place went to Michael Schumacher from Ferrari with a qualifying time of 1:31.317. During the actual race, he had spun off at lap 14 and that ended his racing for this Grand Prix.

Not surprisingly his Formula One contract was not renewed for the 2003 Formula One season – many of us even did not expect him to last at least mid of 2002 considering he had always qualified last and did not score any points during the actual race and there was no point racing if you cannot score any points. Formula One is an expensive sport so unless Alex Yoong had a bundle of cash lying around somewhere, no one is going to allow you to continue to race with these results.

Reflections By Alex Yoong

There was another side to this story as well:-

In a video interview titled “Passion to Profession” by The Motorsports People, Yoong expressed his disappointment that F1 not only ruined his career but also disrupted the development of motorsports in Malaysia as a whole.

According to Yoong, even though Minardi offered him a seat in their race car, he still needed to seek out his own sponsors. “The life of a motor racing driver is you have to learn how to find your own sponsorship because no one is going to do it for you,” he said.

Due to financial difficulties, Yoong said he had very limited seat time in the car.

“I was a very unusual F1 driver, I didn’t have the same sort of usual days as the other guys. In those days, people were testing every week. We had no money, and the promise of testing evaporated very quickly. So, the whole year, I only did two days of testing. You’re only in the car, other in the race weekend, I was only in the race car for two days,” said Yoong.

On the impact of F1, Yoong said, “Formula 1 damaged my career in many ways. Because we were always at the back and we didn’t have success. So, I tried to rebuild my career after that. I went to America; I went to Australia. Again, with no money, just jumping into cars and driving. Very much like a journeyman sort of thing.”

He went on to say, “the whole Formula 1 thing was a lovely idea. But I think you can see it as a failed experiment. I mean, for putting Malaysia on the map, undoubtedly. As a marketing exercise, undoubtedly, fantastic. For building a motorsports business, I would say very negative.”

“We got a great world-class facility, but then they close down our other two tracks which were perfect. Batu Tiga and Pasir Gudang, fantastic tracks, but they’re gone. It never quite got to the critical mass where it would’ve just taken off. I think Malaysia got very close there in the 90s, it was just reaching that critical mass and Formula 1 came and it killed everything,” he continued.

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One of the things that were so glaring with the Minardi Formula One team was the reliability of their cars and the pace of their cars to give enough fight to other teams. You can have very skilful drivers but they cannot do much with underpowered, unreliable cars. The same goes the other around – you can have the fastest cars around but if you are not skilful enough (or the right badass attitude), you are not going to make it to the top of the line drivers.

In the case of Alex Yoong, there is a clear lack of testing to get the Formula One car up to mark – at the end of the day; it is all about the money that they have to prepare the car and their drivers. After Alex Yoong, there was no other Malaysian driver that was keen or had the resources to participate in Formula One and after a few years, we also had a financial problem even host the Formula One at Sepang.

Highways have become the race tracks for those who wanted to test their racing skills and that made these highways dangerous and deadly to other road users.

Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One

Petronas after sponsorship and a technical stint with Sauber and BMW has tied down with the Mercedes team for their involvement in the Formula One. Their Formula One racing cars are all self-constructed by Mercedes with a V6 turbocharged engine with fuel & lubricants supplied by Petronas. Image source: Mercedes AMG F1

Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team

After Sauber and BMW, Petronas now tied up with Mercedes in Formula One officially since 2010 with a reported sponsorship of 30 million Euros (almost RM150 million) per year. Mercedes have been involved in Formula One longer for one way or another since 1954.

The team has a complex history: Its entry can be traced back to Tyrrell Racing, who competed as a constructor from 1970 until 1998 until being bought by British American Tobacco at the end of 1997 so its entry could be transferred to the then-new constructor British American Racing (BAR) in 1999.

BAR, who had formed a partnership with Honda, eventually became Honda Racing F1 Team in 2006 when British American Tobacco withdrew from the sport. It again changed hands in 2008, when Honda withdrew and was purchased by the team’s management, naming it Brawn GP after team principal Ross Brawn.

Brawn used engines from Mercedes-Benz High-Performance Engines, and despite running on a low budget, Jenson Button won six of the first seven races and ultimately the 2009 Drivers’ Championship, while Brawn won the Constructors’ Championship. It was the first time in the sport’s sixty-year history that a team won both titles in its maiden season.

For 2012, the team removed the GP from their name and added the name of AMG, the high-performance brand of Daimler AG, to their title. The team would officially get the designation Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team.

(Source)

statement rally karamjit singh APRC

We actually had world-class rally champions when it comes to rallying motorsport and direct involvement from Malaysian car manufacturer namely Proton as compared to another motorsport like the Formula One. Image source: FIA APRC)

Better To Focus On Rally Championship

To be frank, when it comes to motorsport in Malaysia, Formula One is not the mainstream sport for a simple reason – it is really expensive and you need to have a very competent team to get the car up and ready. It is said that Building a car from scratch costs the F1 teams well over USD14 million whilst it was reported that in 2018, Ferrari and Mercedes both spent over USD400 million, excluding their engine operations in producing and running its cars in order to be competitive.

It is a different story for rally racing where we have a large participation of Malaysians. 2 of the famous racers would be Karamjit Singh and YS Khong. YS Khong is a five-time Malaysian Rally Champion from 1981,1982, 1984, 1986 and 1987.

Karamjit Singh who is also known as the Flying Sikh was the FIA APRC champion on his first try. He had won the 2001 Asia Pacific Rally Championship for Drivers, the 2002 FIA Production Car World Championship for Drivers, as well as the 2002 and 2004 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship for Drivers and remained active in rally till to this day.

The setup of the cars was simpler and it is something that the local car manufacturers can participate in for the exposure. A basic rally car will only set a privateer between USD5,000 to USD20,000 as you can using the production car as the base. Professional and factory-backed rally cars like Mellors Elliot Motorsport’s Proton Iriz R5 will cost about USD200,000 for the base version. Add-ons will cost another USD60,000.

Proton has been heavily involved with their own Petronas EON Racing Team (PERT) of which Karamjit Singh was part of the winning team. Nowadays Proton is involved with Mellors Elliot Motorsport starting with the infamous Satria Neo S2000 (and now Proton Iriz) that won 8 titles in the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship.

Rally Championship is a better and cheaper alternative to Formula One championship and will make more sense in Malaysia. That is the direction we need to look at if we want to develop our motorsport world champions.

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