Formula One: Malaysian GP '200 per cent' cancelled, not likely to return soon - circuit chief

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel during practice at the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sept 29, 2017. Sepang International Circuit's chief executive Razlan Razali has said that the Malaysian Grand Prix is "200 per cent" cancelled after the race in 2017.
Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel during practice at the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sept 29, 2017. Sepang International Circuit's chief executive Razlan Razali has said that the Malaysian Grand Prix is "200 per cent" cancelled after the race in 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

Sepang, Malaysia (AFP) - The Malaysian Grand Prix is "200 per cent" cancelled after this weekend's final race, the circuit's head told AFP, adding that the loss-making event had been hit hard by competition from neighbouring Singapore.

The high-speed Sepang International Circuit, with its tough, tropical recipe of steamy heat and unpredictable rain will disappear from the Formula One calendar after 19 races dating back to 1999. And Asia's second-oldest race after Japan is not likely to return any time in the near future, the circuit's CEO Razlan Razali said in an interview.

"This is the final grand prix. We are taking a break," he said. "I can tell you also right now, it will be a minimum of five years before we even contemplate bringing it back.

"This is definitely... 200 per cent our last grand prix."

Malaysia's government, who have bankrolled the event since its inception, in April announced they were no longer prepared to shell out US$67 million (S$91 million) a year to stage the race.

"The returns are no longer positive for Malaysia. That includes declining spectators year-in, year-out," Razali said. "We thank the government for 19 years of having F1 in Malaysia. We could easily tell them otherwise and ask them to continue. But being the operator of the circuit, sustainability is important. We need to stop and give F1 a break."

The main problem is that Formula One has never really taken off in Malaysia.

The success of Singapore's glitzy city-centre night race and its associated entertainment has left venues such as remote Sepang, more than an hour's drive from Kuala Lumpur, struggling to compete.

Now the Malaysian Grand Prix will follow F1's similar money-losing excursions, including South Korea and India, into the wilderness, leaving Asia with just three races - China, Singapore and Japan - on a record, 21-race calendar next season.

"The decline of spectators started without doubt when Singapore came in 2008," said Razali.

At that time the Malaysian Grand Prix was held near the start of the season. But when it was moved last year to two weeks after Singapore, a growing problem became a crisis.

Last year, just 45,000 spectators populated Sepang's cavernous grandstands, which are designed to hold 120,000.

Razali did predict that crowds would be up this weekend as people grab a final chance to see Formula One at Sepang.

"We have recorded 65 per cent more ticket sales than last year," he said. "It is good but it is because it is the final race and we have reduced the ticket price for Malaysians by more than 82 per cent.

"However we are not reaching a sell-out... We are expecting an 80 per cent capacity on race day (75,000 to 80,000)."

Championship leader Lewis Hamilton lamented the event's demise.

"It is definitely sad to think this is our last race," he said on Thursday. "They are taking away one of the toughest, if not the toughest, races of the season and it will be hard to replace."