AFTER 19 years, Malaysia will host the Petronas Malaysian Formula One Grand Prix for the last time from Sept 29 to Oct 1.
When the Sepang International Circuit (SIC) staged the inaugural race in 1999, it was the only F1 race to be staged in South-East Asia.
StarSport’s LIM TEIK HUAT talks to SIC chief executive officer Datuk Razlan Razali as he hunkers down to take charge of the final race.
Starsport: What do you hope to see in this year’s race?
Razlan: This is the last F1 race in Malaysia. For those who have not been to the track since the F1 race here in 1999, this is the time to come. We have reduced the grandstand prices by 80%, with the lowest ticket costing slightly more than RM300.
It’s the lowest it can be and this is the last opportunity for fans to feel the thrill.
Starsport: Why did the SIC pull the plug on F1?
Razlan: It cannot go on if the ticket sales are no longer there. If the numbers are there, we will automatically achieve profitability.
The amount of work we put in for F1 and MotoGP are the same. If the ticket sales are not there, I cannot justify the reason to continue. We are the custodians of the funds given by the Government every year. That’s why we made the drastic decision to stop hosting F1.
Starsport: Is there a chance of Malaysia hosting F1 again in the future?
Razlan: If you look at the last five years, some circuits which dropped off the F1 calendar are hosts again. Red Bull Ring Austria came back in 2014 and Mexico returned as host last year. There is the possibility of coming back, but not for the next five years.
Starsport: What are your plans for the SIC?
Razlan: MotoGP will be our main flagship event, but we have a lot of development plans. The track is now fully booked and recently, we tested lights for night-time racing. The track will be fully lit up next year. We also want to tie up with property developers to develop certain parts of the SIC for commercial purposes.
We are also building a driver experience centre. Since we don’t have F1 any more, we may downscale or restructure. That’s the short-term plan, but we also have our long-term plans like having a hotel at the track. The point is to make the track sustainable.
Starsport: What are your worst and most memorable moments since you took over in 2008?
Razlan: Nine years – I can’t believe it’s been that long. My best memory was in 2009. The race was cancelled because of rain.
Being in charge for the first time, I was expecting everything to run smoothly. But the rain came and the top eight finishers shared half points in the end.
The worst memory was in the 2014 edition. The MH370 incident happened three weeks before our race and there was a lot of negativity. Out of respect, Petronas called off a lot of events and people thought our race was going to be cancelled. Even the media people constantly called me about the status of the race.
Anyway, I learnt a lot from people like F1 founder Bernie Ecclestone and the experience helped me in the day-to-day running of the events.
Starsport: What improvements do you hope to see in F1?
Razlan: I think the sport needs to have another look at itself. Just the other day, I forced myself to sit in front of the TV to watch a race, but I couldn’t.
After six laps, the gap was just too big. F1 is full of smart people. They need to sit down, watch and ask themselves: “Is this an exciting sport or not?”
The race must not just be dominated by two teams. It is hard to promote the event if it’s not exciting enough.