Sepang cir­cuit, gov­ern­ment urge end to F1 in Malaysia

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

For­mula One could be on its way out of Malaysia after the coun­try's sports min­is­ter said "we should stop host­ing" the grand prix and the chief of the Sepang In­ter­na­tional Cir­cuit im­plied the dom­i­nance of Mercedes had stripped the sport of its ex­cite­ment.

There is a con­tract to hold an F1 race at Sepang through 2018 but the prospects of con­tin­u­ing be­yond that are di­min­ish­ing. An early exit could pos­si­bly be ne­go­ti­ated as F1's new own­er­ship seeks to ex­pand its pres­ence in the United States with­out ex­tend­ing the sea­son sched­ule.

Amid fall­ing ticket sales and television view­er­ship, SIC chief ex­ec­u­tive Ra­zlan Razali told lo­cal me­dia that "maybe it will do Malaysia good to take a break" from host­ing F1.

"The prod­uct (F1) is no longer ex­cit­ing. It's be­ing dom­i­nated by one team," Razali was quoted as say­ing.

This crit­i­cism is de­spite Malaysia's state oil com­pany, Petronas, be­ing both the ma­jor spon­sor of the Mercedes team and the nam­ing-rights spon­sor of the lo­cal grand prix.

The Malaysian sports min­is­ter Khairy Ja­malud­din agreed with the SIC's sug­ges­tion of tak­ing a "break" from F1.

"I think we should stop host­ing the F1. At least for a while. Cost too high, re­turns limited," he tweeted.

"When we first hosted the F1 it was a big deal. First in Asia out­side Ja­pan. Now so many venues. No first mover ad­van­tage. Not a nov­elty."

Ja­malud­din said the ticket sales were de­clined, TV view­er­ship is down, for­eign vis­i­tor num­bers have de­creased be­cause of com­pe­ti­tion from races in Sin­ga­pore, China and the Mid­dle East and "re­turns are not as big."

The opin­ion of the sports min­is­ter is sig­nif­i­cant given the Malaysian race, like many oth­ers on the F1 cal­en­dar, is par­tially bankrolled by the gov­ern­ment.

His tweets were met with agree­ment on his feed, while some ques­tioned why Malaysia's F1 crowds con­tinue to di­min­ish while those at the neigh­bor­ing Sin­ga­pore Grand Prix are much higher.

"(Sin­ga­pore is a) Night race in the city. Nov­elty. Nowhere else in the world. Even then ticket sales are down. It's a hot race dur­ing the af­ter­noon vs Sin­ga­pore night race in the heart of city w/ no re­stric­tions on con­cert acts," Ja­malud­din said. "Cost of light­ing up SIC pro­hib­i­tive. We looked into it."

The Sepang cir­cuit will host Moto GP this week­end, and tick­ets sales for that event have con­sis­tently been much higher than for F1.

Ja­malud­din said Sepang should con­tinue to host Moto GP and add other race se­ries that do not have the huge host­ing fees which For­mula One com­mands.

The Malaysian GP has been a per­ma­nent fix­ture on the F1 cal­en­dar since 1999 and was in­cluded in the pro­vi­sional 2017 cal­en­dar is­sued last month.

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