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F1: Malaysia says goodbye with a remarkable race.

Publication: 
Bryan Edwards
chiefofficersnet

It didn't rain. Vettel's tech problems in qualifying put him at the back of the grid (and tech problems put Raikkonen out on the grid) and he drove brilliantly, without bullying or cheating, to challenge for third (but then he reverted to type and behaved like an idiot after the race had finished: does he have a heavy left hand, or poor peripheral vision on his left?), Hamilton came second sandwiched between the Red Bulls, Verstaapen, on his 20th birthday weekend, won. This is what F1 is all about, the best racing on the best track in the world. And now, with a heavy heart, it's time to report that F1 in Malaysia is over.

The only track ever allowed to use the expression "F1" in its name, for the first ten years of its life, Sepang in Malaysia has said goodbye to Formula One with the kind of event that reminds us why F1 is the third biggest spectator sport in the world. Yes, there are two single, short term events that get bigger audiences: the World Cup and the (Summer) Olympics but F1 does it about twenty weekends a year, every year. Without Formula One, other car racing would struggle to develop beyond club racing. And key to the success of F1 is the fact that it is a near global series run on a mix of historic tracks and more recent stadia-like circuits.

Malaysia has been a venue for F1 for nineteen years. Incredibly, it has held more Grands Prix than some long-established venues such as Magny-Cours in France.

As a track, it was the one that Hermann Tilke made his name with. He built other tracks around the world but it was not until Austin, Texas and the Circuit of the Americas that he came close to the brilliance he achieved with Sepang, a track that is right at the forefront of how much circuit spectators can see.

What makes Sepang special, as a track, is simple: it may be a new circuit but it has more in common with Brands Hatch than with other tracks on the current calendar. It has steep climbs, long straights into tight corners, multiple racing lines and it is testing on skills and taxing on stamina for the drivers.

But a mix of economics and politics has made F1 unsustainable in Malaysia. The fees to host an F1 are very high. Silverstone agrees, saying that it cannot make a profit on an F1 race weekend. Malaysia, where ticket prices are significantly lower, is in even more trouble. But Malaysia has failed to capitalise on its position as the best track in the world and while the physical facilities are good, the services and race-weekend entertainment are dismal.

Control of the track fell victim to a spat between political factions and the former CEO was replaced by a man who does not consider F1 to be particularly important. Indeed, local media this week quotes him as saying that prospective competitors should " forget F1 and concentrate on GT Racing or Grand Prix Motorcycles because they are more popular."

The decision to get out of F1 was made last year and a minister, Nazri Aziz, said that the race costs Malaysia about GBP60 million a year. There is a population of under 30 million, many of whom are so poor they pay no income tax. Singapore says that its costs of hosting the race plus all the costs of creating, then dismantling the street circuit and associated events are considerable but that the tourism boost over the five or six days of the event turn in a sizeable profit. Nazri said that Malaysia would not renew its contract and the last race would be in 2018. But earlier this year, that decision was changed and, while the sport was still controlled by the Bernie Ecclestone combine, it was agreed that Malaysia would be let out of its contract a year early.

But the big problem now seems to be that the man in charge of the Sepang circuit doesn't like F1, at all. He is reported to have said he would not want to host F1, even on a free deal. "I myself am not able to sit in front of the television and watch from Lap 1 until whatever lap for two hours," he said demonstrating that he doesn't know much about the sport, either. He said that Liberty Media, who bought F1 after Sepang left the circus, had not done enough to market the race. But, hang on: Malaysian TV carries adverts for the Singapore race for almost five months before the event: on the same channels, TV advertising for the last Malaysia GP started less than a week before race-day. That's not Liberty Media's fault: it's the organiser's fault. He went on that Liberty Media has not tried hard enough to save the race. Chase Carey, of Liberty Media, for his part sounded almost irritated when he said that there are plenty of other places around Asia which are willing to do as Singapore has done and put the race at the heart of a much larger event to attract a diverse crowd.

Ironically, this year's race reportedly saw the biggest crowd ever, although rumours of poor ticket sales were rife in the days leading up to the event. On Friday, Reuters said that tickets could be bought for an 82% discount - a fact that was not widely publicised and certainly not mentioned in the belated TV adverts. In fact one of the primary issues with the event has been desperately poor information flows. Even F1 fans in KL have complained that it is difficult to get details beyond ticket prices.

And they saw a race that can be registered, like so many Malaysian GPs, as amongst the best races ever, despite Razlan Razali''s comments that people don't turn up because F1 isn't exciting enough. However, he was also quoted as saying that F1 might come back to Malaysia if it could deliver a show that attracted fans, but by "show" he seems to be thinking of the racing in isolation, oblivious to the fact the successful venues add value beyond the race.

There was drama, there was surprise, there was emotion, there was consummate skill and there was, at the end of it, tears shed. This IS F1.

Whatever anyone says, F1 leaving Malaysia is an extraordinarily sad moment for the country and for motor-racing fans.

Thank you, Malaysia. It's been wonderful.

We are very, very, very sad to see you go.

Sources:

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.c...
http://www.reuters.com/article...

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