Formula One: Malaysia may drop F1, citing poor returns

Lewis Hamilton leading the race pack at the start of the Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang on Oct 2, 2016.
Lewis Hamilton leading the race pack at the start of the Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang on Oct 2, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

Kuala Lumpur (AFP) - Malaysia may scrap its Formula One race after 2018 due to mounting costs, falling ticket sales and competition from other venues, sports officials said Tuesday, potentially halting one of Asia's longest-running races.

With TV viewership for the Malaysian Grand Prix also ebbing, officials are due to meet later this week to discuss the future of the race after its current contract expires.

"The locals are not buying the tickets to watch F1," Razlan Razali, chief executive of the Sepang International Circuit (SIC) where the race is held, told AFP.

"If there is no economic value, why should we continue? We better take a temporary break."

The race's woes are the latest sign of trouble for Formula 1 which, according to official figures, has shed 200 million television viewers globally since 2008.

Hopes for a turnaround have been ignited by US firm Liberty Media's planned takeover of F1.

The media, communications and entertainment conglomerate has agreed to buy out F1's parent company CVC Capital Partners in a deal valuing the sport at US$8 billion (S$11.13 billion).

Razlan said Sepang, which can accommodate 120,000 fans, drew just 45,000 to last month's running of the race, and race-day TV ratings also were poor.

He noted that hosting F1 is "very expensive".

In comments on Twitter earlier, Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said competition from other venues outside of Malaysia was also taking its toll.

"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.

"F1 ticket sales declining, TV viewership down. Foreign visitors down b/c (because) can choose Singapore, China, Middle East. Returns are not as big.

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

The Sepang Circuit opened in 1999 and hosted the first F1 Malaysian Grand Prix later that year.

It has been a fixture on the calendar ever since and is one of the oldest races in the region.

Razlan, however, said ticket sales have been declining since 2014.