Formula One could be on its way out of Malaysia after the country’s sports minister said “we should stop hosting” the grand prix and the chief of the Sepang International Circuit implied the dominance of Mercedes had stripped the sport of its excitement.
There is a contract to hold an F1 race at Sepang through 2018 but the prospects of continuing beyond that are diminishing. An early exit could possibly be negotiated as F1’s new ownership seeks to expand its presence in the United States without extending the season schedule.
Amid falling ticket sales and television viewership, SIC chief executive Razlan Razali told local media that “maybe it will do Malaysia good to take a break” from hosting F1.
“The product (F1) is no longer exciting. It’s being dominated by one team,” Razali was quoted as saying.
This criticism is despite Malaysia’s state oil company, Petronas, being both the major sponsor of the Mercedes team and the naming-rights sponsor of the local grand prix.
The Malaysian sports minister Khairy Jamaluddin agreed with the SIC’s suggestion of taking a “break” from F1.
“I think we should stop hosting the F1. At least for a while. Cost too high, returns limited,” he tweeted.
“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.”
Jamaluddin said the ticket sales were declined, TV viewership is down, foreign visitor numbers have decreased because of competition from races in Singapore, China and the Middle East and “returns are not as big.”
The opinion of the sports minister is significant given the Malaysian race, like many others on the F1 calendar, is partially bankrolled by the government.
His tweets were met with agreement on his feed, while some questioned why Malaysia’s F1 crowds continue to diminish while those at the neighboring Singapore Grand Prix are much higher.
“(Singapore is a) Night race in the city. Novelty. Nowhere else in the world. Even then ticket sales are down. It’s a hot race during the afternoon vs Singapore night race in the heart of city w/ no restrictions on concert acts,” Jamaluddin said. “Cost of lighting up SIC prohibitive. We looked into it.”
The Sepang circuit will host Moto GP this weekend, and tickets sales for that event have consistently been much higher than for F1.
Jamaluddin said Sepang should continue to host Moto GP and add other race series that do not have the huge hosting fees which Formula One commands.
The Malaysian GP has been a permanent fixture on the F1 calendar since 1999 and was included in the provisional 2017 calendar issued last month.