SOCHI (Russia) • Formula One will not miss the Malaysian Grand Prix when it drops off the calendar after this year's race because neighbouring Singapore is set to stay as the region's showcase, former commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone said on Sunday.
The Briton was speaking to Reuters at the Russian Grand Prix.
Malaysia, which has been part of the world championship circuit since 1999, will bow out in October, a year earlier than previously scheduled, after being sunk by a combination of low attendances and high fees. State oil and gas firm Petronas, the title sponsor of the Sepang race, has also been hit hard in recent times by tumbling oil prices.
The Malaysian government spends some US$67.6 million (S$94.3 million) annually to stage a race first run in 1999, and the money is no longer something that Sepang International Circuit (SIC) officials and their political bosses could tolerate.
Attendances have fallen sharply, with Malaysian officials revealing that the circuit, which can accommodate 120,000 fans, drew just 45,000 to the 2016 grand prix. TV ratings have also been poor.
There have also been questions about the Singapore Grand Prix, a popular night race which turns 10 this year but whose contract expires in September, with Ecclestone suggesting last November that talks were not going well.
ALL IS WELL
If we'd have lost Singapore it's not good. But we haven't lost Singapore so it's OK. They (Singapore) were going to stop... it's OK now.''
BERNIE ECCLESTONE, former F1 commercial supremo, implying that Singapore is secure on the race calendar.
Asked whether Malaysia's departure was a blow, Ecclestone shook his head. "No, not at all. We've got Singapore," said the Briton, who was ousted in January but retains an undefined "emeritus" role in F1.
"If we'd have lost Singapore, it's not good. But we haven't lost Singapore, so it's OK. They (Singapore) were going to stop... it's OK now."
When asked if Singapore had been granted a contract extension, a Singapore GP spokesman would only say: "As commercial negotiations are still ongoing, as a policy, we are unable to comment on it."
Ecclestone was hitting back at Sepang circuit boss Razlan Razali, who told reporters last week that the Briton had showed a "lack of respect" and made promoters "look like idiots" with comments about charging high hosting fees.
"Nobody made him look stupid," said Ecclestone. "They have done a very good job with the motorcycles, he's fallen in love with the motorbike racing - and that (MotoGP) they apparently make money from," he said of Razlan, whose circuit will continue with MotoGP.
"With Formula One, they don't make money and what I said was, we haven't been delivering what they bought. Not our fault. We don't make the show.
"But thankfully now, if Ferrari keep up their job, we'll have very good racing and then things should be a lot better for the promoters. They should be able to sell tickets."
Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel leads the drivers' table after Sunday's Russian Grand Prix, while the Italian team are only a point behind leaders Mercedes in the constructors' championship.
Formula One's new owner Liberty Media has criticised Ecclestone indirectly for doing lucrative deals with countries like Azerbaijan, where the race does "nothing to build the long-term brand and health of the business".
But Ecclestone defended his record, pointing out that he had rejected overtures from Vietnam, which was willing to pay a significant sum to host a race.
"They (Liberty Media) are looking at things a little differently to the way I used to look at them. They will decide what they want to do. They want more races in America, which is quite right."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE