Malaysia may drop F1 over falling popularity

2017 F1 season

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The CEO of the Sepang International Circuit has said the track may drop Formula One having held the Malaysian Grand Prix since 1999.

Datuk Ahmad Razlan Ahmad Razali told reporters the circuit is discussing the future of the race with Malaysia’s ministry of finance amid concerns over falling ticket sales and record low television viewership.

“Maybe it will do Malaysia good to take a break,” said Razlan. “I think the product is no longer exciting. It’s being dominated by one team.”

2016 Malaysian Grand Prix in pictures
Mercedes, whose title sponsor is Malaysian petrol firm Petronas, has won all bar two of this year’s races. The Malaysian Grand Prix was one of the races it did not win, following Lewis Hamilton’s engine failure.

The Sepang circuit underwent a major renovation ahead of this year’s race. Less than 60% of the available tickets were sold whereas this weekend’s Moto GP event is already sold out despite the championship already being decided.

Malaysia’s minister for youth and sports Khairy Jamaluddin responded to the report on social media by saying Malaysia should stop holding F1 races, at least temporarily.

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

“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 pointed out that rivalry from the nearby Singapore Grand Prix plus other races in China and the Middle East have drawn foreign visitors away. “Returns are not as big,” he said.

“[Sepang International Circuit] should bid for less costly races, retain Moto GP which is still popular, spend on development and increase public access to track days.”

The Malaysian Grand Prix is listed on the 2017 F1 calendar published by the FIA last month. It was moved to a later slot in the calendar this year alongside the race in Singapore less than 300 kilometres away. Last year the race promoters signed a three-year deal with FOM to continue holding the race until 2018.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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59 comments on “Malaysia may drop F1 over falling popularity”

  1. Hope not. One of my favourite tracks and the best Tilkedrome by far

    1. Yeah, people say COTA is the best Tilkedrome, but Sepang is by far my favourite.

      1. Duncan Idaho (@)
        24th October 2016, 21:56

        Great place to watch with views available of almost the entire track. Petronas’ and the Malaysian govt. budget will have been severely hit over the last few years and the calendar change to late in the year with the race closely following Singapore will have not have done the event bottom line any favours. On the up side, royalties from patriotic bathers were marginally better but the trend isn’t forecast to continue.

    2. It’s the only track I can afford to go, being it’s only 1 hour drive, never miss it since 1999.

      Sad if it has to go, but I understand the situation. The ticket prices are out of reach for most Malaysians.

  2. Would be a great shame. This track more often than not brings exciting races and its a good challenge for the drivers.

  3. As ever with these things it seems like something not to take at face value. Completely renovating a track and then dropping the series it was designed to host doesn’t make a terrific amount of sense. They may well be trying to get a better deal for post-2018. The remarks about growing competition for foreign visitors from other F1 races would seem to suggest that.

    That said they’ve been holding F1 for nearly two decades, lining FOM’s coffers very nicely in the process, and may now be asking exactly what they have got in return. Those attendance figures aren’t great and there’s little indication we’re going to get a Malaysian driver in F1 any time soon unless someone puts some big money behind Nabil Jeffri.

    1. Did they renovate it for F1 in particular? Wasn’t it done for MotoGP as well?

    2. The main problem seems to be the low profit they are making. As always the cost of hosting F1 is too high and the limited options of investment return makes the tickets price sky high which of course cause the low attendance figures. I dont think it has to do that much with falling popularity.

    3. By the way, this is the new CEO, who was just being appointed. All the agreements was done via the former.

      Nabil is not doing as well as I hope on GP2

    4. I think one consideration might also be that Petronas has been quite significantly hit from dropping oil prices too, making it harder to foot the bill.

      But overall, yeah, this does seem to be to be the opening bid for start of negotiations on their next deal. They have what F1 needs with the track, but what will be the trade offs FOM can offer

  4. “Maybe it will do Malaysia good to take a break,” said Razlan. “I think the product is no longer exciting. It’s being dominated by one team.”

    And when that team has a major sponsor who happens to be one of your country’s biggest employers, that’s not good news…

    1. I was going to comment, but @magnificent-Geoffrey said it all for me.

    2. The one ironic thing about that statement is, Malaysia (along with Hungary) has seen three different teams win in the last three years.

    3. As far as I understand, the all know all along the Sepang will not make money from the tickets, but more about to showcase Malaysia. This could just be a political rather than anything (between the former and current Prime Minister)

      Some team will always dominate, it was Ferrari (one of the greatest drive by Schumi in 1999, for the first F1 race in Sepang) then Red Bulls, and now Mercedes.

  5. Beginning of the end. Others to follow. Young generation leaving motorsport, more interested in environment issues. Race ticket prices too high. F1 cars too easy to drive, too much electronic aids. Boring new race circuits way too large, flat and safe. Artificial DRS passing. Mercedes zzzzzz fest. Engine sounds no more exciting. Too much rules. Cars not fast and not powerfull enough. And then the ridiculous Pirelli tires which have to be “saved” during races. And… the fuel limits which restrain driver performance. Finally, the idiot money distribution among teams which always favours the same top teams. ZZZZZZZ….

    1. Nice little tirade which, unfortunately, is all true. But you forgot the move to pay TV. I dont have pay TV so I can no longer follow F1. Simple as that.

  6. I think this statement speak volumes about the race and its diminishing allure.

    1. petebaldwin (@)
      25th October 2016, 11:43

      @photogcw – Where you said “the race”, you could have simply say “F1.”

      Malaysia won’t be the last to question whether paying a fortune to host a race that no-body wants to watch is good business when cheaper options exist that will sell out!

  7. I actually hope that for once the track decides it doesn’t need Formula 1, instead of the other way around.

    It would come as a much needed wake up for F1

    1. @saint-jay I don’t think it will make the difference – we’ve had two tracks in Germany and possibly Monza decide that they can’t afford to *just* run F1, so just diversify the track to appeal to other series and run ~12 events for the equivalent cost of the one F1 weekend per year.

      F1 still doesn’t learn because the CRH is exclusively chasing nation-state/petro-bolivars.

  8. It would have made a difference if Rio Haryanto from neighbouring Indonesia would still be driving.
    If he is to return to the grid for 2017 it sure will have an impact on attendance levels for Singapore and Malaysia.

    1. Andhika FortySix
      24th October 2016, 17:19

      yeah, much much Indonesians fellow could be in Sepang if Rio still compete and increase the attendance

  9. Am I surprised? No.

  10. Losing this circuit would be a shame.

  11. ”It’s being dominated by one team.” – But it wasn’t a problem from 2000 to 2004 when the championship was dominated by just one driver from one team.

    1. …or 2011/2013. They’re making noise because they’re hoping the new owners will react to a lot of negative news and start talking.

    2. between 2000 and 2004 in two season (2000 against Hakkinen and 2003 against Montoya and Raikkonen) the championship result was unpredictable until the end and even in 2001 there were at least other two team that can score wins (McLaren and Williams). same story between the Vettel years, at least two of four championsip were great battles until the end.
      now is three years in a row that Mercedes is dominant and in almost every gp the win it’s just a story between Hamilton and Rosberg, the numbers speaks for themselves.
      I really like Hamilton and think he deserves titles and wins and I think also that Rosberg is a really a consistent and great driver, just a bit weaker in close fights on the track, but I strongly prefer more teams and drivers fighting for wins in every gp and, at least, more battles on the track between the Mercedes drivers that too many times have to worry about tyres, fuel or other stuff and cannot racing at maximum speed. also DRS stuff many times is making gp boring. we have several great drivers on the track and it’s a shame that Perez, Verstappen, Vettel or Alonso (to name a few) have not the possibility to fight in every circuit to win.
      waiting for 2017 and new rules

      1. ”It’s just a story between Hamilton and Rosberg” – Well, in 2002 and 2004 it was just a story of Michael Schumacher and in 2011 and 2013 just a story of Vettel, so still worse than two drivers winning regularly.

        1. Really. I do seem to remember that at one point in 2013, a certain Finnish bloke called Räikkönen won a race in his Lotus. And both of them led the championships after that race.

          1. @Vht Yes, he won the first race of that season but wasn’t fighting for the championship. The point is that the only driver who really was winning races and competing for the title was Vettel alone.

          2. @Jerejj No that’s not a correct summary of the 2013 season. Indeed from the Belgian Grand Prix onwards it was a Vettel show and he won nine races in a row. The first half of the season was much much less predictable however, and only 4 out of the first 10 races of that season were won by Vettel&Red Bull. A total of five drivers from four different teams racked up wins during those first 10 races. Only 2011 saw complete Red Bull dominance from start till end, but even then seven of the races were won by two other teams and three other drivers. Compare that to the last three years were we were happy if Mercedes fails to win just two or three races, and you’ll see that Mercedes’ dominance is really extreme. The only dominance that I can find to come close to Mercedes now is McLaren-Honda in 1988-1989. While they did won the championship in the next two years as well, they didn’t were dominating any more. The latter two seasons saw close title fights.

  12. Thank god for that. Only track I absolutely hate driving on on the F1 game… Don’t know what it is about it, it’s just awful for me. It is quite exciting to watch irl though, has had some great races, and the rain potential always makes it intriguing.

    1. So, although it is quite an exciting race to watch and has produced some great races, you’re over the moon the Malaysian GP might be dropped so that it doesn’t appear in the next version of your racing game? I’m dumbfounded.

      1. @Shimks you take things waaaaay too seriously.

    2. It’s actually one of my favourites to drive ;)

  13. Would be sad as there have been quite a few classics on this track. What may have hurt them was running back to back to Sinapore this year which they’ve never done before. Obviously they hoped people would go to both of them but looking at the general level of ticket prices that was far from realistic.

  14. I went to this years race, it was a superb circuit great facilities and I thought the race was a good one despite me being a Lewis fan.
    Hope the keep this one.

  15. digitalrurouni
    24th October 2016, 17:52

    Well that is depressing. I wonder now with Liberty Media at the forefront, if that would result in the hosting fees to be dropped more to make the track management reconsider their position.

    1. Jonathan Parkin
      3rd November 2016, 19:05

      I would love to see the hosting fees drop. There is no reason for F1 to charge $20 squillion when other series charge far less

  16. Think the track it self is not a super one but the high temperatures and high humidity is special. Apart from that the big chance of ridiculous rain is fun shame if it goes.

    1. Correction: Fun. Shame etc

  17. Yep, I agree with them… Just came back from COTA… no fan access or very limited seeing drivers and cars… I have spend a lot of money last 3 years going to COTA from California …..

    Cars are not fast anymore… Sound sucks….. All they do is safe tires, engines, etc…..

    I agree with them… no longer a good product…

    1. Have you ever been to the Malasyia GP? Because it doesn’t like it, unlike myself who has been to the GP several times. And also, if it isn’t no longer a good product, why did you go to COTA this year?

    2. @Naeem Ali ”Cars are not fast anymore” – Wrong, they’ve gotten quicker since the introduction of the current engine formulae, and have been able to be even quicker than V10s on some circuits, so that argument is flawed.

  18. the circuit is discussing the future of the race with Malaysia’s ministry of finance amid concerns over falling ticket sales and record low television viewership

    Unfortunately I don’t see any outcome other than less interest in F1 from the public there. One easy way to improve the situation is to broadcast the races on Free to Air TV, but I can’t see that happening. So really the onus is upon the Malaysian Government to decide whether they can stomach spending more to host the event or not.

    1. The were so little promotion about F1 as whole, which I don’t quite understand. The only promotions was done by PETRONAS. SIC hasn’t done much as far as I can tell.

  19. It’d be quite a shame to see Sepang go. As far as Tilkedromes go, it’s (at least for me) far and away the best.

    Also, quite a few more memorable moments have gone down in Kuala Lumpur than on any other ‘new’ circuit. Michael Schumacher holding off the McLarens to try to give Eddie Irvine a shot at the title in ’99… that monster rainstorm and disastrous Ferrari pitstop in ’01, Kimi’s first win in ’03… the list goes on.

    1. .. and I was there for all that moments.. :(

  20. If we ever lose this circuit it will be a great shame.

  21. I like it that for once it’s not Bernie threatening to drop a venue as a bargaining tactic, but instead the hosts themselves assessing the costs vs. benefits.

    I also wonder how much of the reduced income is due to the schedule change – coming right after the glamourous Singapore GP, tourists might elect to skip the Malaysian GP.

    This time of the year is also drier, leading to more predictable qualification and results, although this year a humble ball-bearing did try to enliven the proceedings.

    1. ”I also wonder how much of the reduced income is due to the schedule change – coming right after the glamourous Singapore GP, tourists might elect to skip the Malaysian GP.” – Having them held close to each other should actually increase the probability of people going to both than having them many months apart from each other.

      1. Good point, Jerejj, that’s an equally valid way of looking at it.

  22. naaaaaaaaah :(

    it’d be shame to lose this to Singapore

  23. It has been said that Malaysia will be dropped because the fans will no longer pay ,what is for the local population ,an excessive amount for what they receive in entertainment . I think this is true, at least it makes sense .
    It was also said the “race ” has lost its allure and someone asked if by the “race” the writer meant “F1”.
    If no one will say it I will :F1 has lost much of its allure in that since 2014 it has stopped putting on races and instead puts on exhibitions of Mercedes prowess ,wealth and cunning. Impressive but, hardly racing .
    Let us look at the Mercedes’ attributes being displayed by F1 in lieu of a race series .
    Prowess in that the it has the skill to build a superior car ,one which when all other things are equal cannot be beaten .Wealth in that no other team can or at least is willing to spend anywhere near the amount Mercedes has and is spending. Note that they posted a loss of over 67 million pounds for 2014 and one of more than 23 million pounds for 2015 and that is in spite of winning the constructors title each year.
    I ,in a perverted sense ,admire their willingness to operate at a loss just to win . Few if any would be willing to do so and even fewer could do so -not exactly a business plan taught at Wharton .
    Finally,cunning ;it has been said that Mercedes was working on the hybrid formula since about the year 2000 and convinced F1 that such a power plant system was the wave of the future ,the only way F1 could stay relevant in the automotive world and that adopting a hybrid formula was the only way F1 could ever get Mercedes or any other giant car manufacturer to even consider putting its name and money behind an F1 team ( and Mercedes realized how important having big name automotive teams was to the powers that be at F1)
    What Mercedes and F1 knew but,did not care about was that with its money and a decade plus head start the Mercedes cars would be in a class by themselves and F1 races would become what they have been: a “race ” only as that term applies to the two Silver Arrows. A two car race as a one off might be entertaining but as a 19 to 20 race per season circuit for three seasons it is simply not a racing circuit but an exhibition and after the first turn ( where Hamilton and Rosberg settle who will be ahead and use the clean air to establish a commanding race long lead ) the remaining time is just follow- the- leaders with 19 also-ran’s trying not to embarrass themselves too much .
    It has been said that in the past there have been periods where a particular driver has dominated a season or even several seasons and that is no different than what Mercedes has done. It is different ,as different as can be.
    At any given race any of the better drivers can dig within themselves and drive better or at least as well as any other of the top drivers and we have seen where even a lesser talented or less experienced driver can best his more talented or more experienced counterparts. Mankind can rise to the occasion ,machines ,however, cannot. The Silver Arrows are simply better and the drivers who operate them are at such an advantage that without the odd mechanical failure or even less frequent driver error ( like in Spain) the Silver Arrows CANNOT be beaten.
    No serious fan who is being intellectually honest can say otherwise. Can you honestly say that since 2014 if Vettel and Raikonnen had those cars they would not finish 1-2 in virtually every race as Hamilton and Rosberg have done and cannot the same be said for Alonzo and Bottas or any other F1 driver perhaps even those who typically are on the last row of the starting grid ?
    Mercedes is at fault but not to blame ,F1 is to blame because they permitted this “over before it begins”circuit to exit and in doing so have taken one of the great sports of all time and made it nothing short of BORING .
    Can it be fixed ? Yes. Will it be fixed ? Probably not . Look at how the front wing- dependent design of the cars has been continued into 2017 .Again overtaking will be difficult and following impossible for the wear on the tires in dirty air -more of the same. Similarly, have the questionable sporting regulations been re-written to make them clear ? No. Has the inconsistent and spineless steward system been corrected ? No . F1 ,however, took the time and effort to address the design of drivers’ helmets. 2017 will be more of the same .
    The problem is at the top and so all things F1 will continue to be flawed and the sport will continue to decline .
    For years I could not understand how NASCAR could possibly be so popular when circuits like F1 existed but, the more I know about F1 the less I question NASCAR’s success.
    F1 is still my favorite but, from 2014 to now the gap has closed substantially and if the F1 powers- that- be continue to spend their days with their heads in the sand some time during the 2017 season I am going to crack open a beer , shout “YE HA” and propound the virtues of closed -wheel racing .

  24. Sorry guys. I’m a malaysian. I have been a fan of f1 since i was child and only this year i had the chance to go for the race. It hurts me so much to hear this news. All i can say is this may be rooted to our PM which had stolen a bunch of money from our country yet still acting innocent. There is so much can be done if the money is not stolen, maybe we can develop an f1 driver from our country, maybe we can raise the country income and more malaysian can afford for the ticket.

    1. Shame on you for writing out rumors at foreigner forum. It will affects foreign investor confidence and making our economic worsen… I would say locals more interested in motogp event rather than f1 for this country.

  25. F1 is becoming as boring as slotcar racing. Even with new sensational drivers they do everything to make sure it keeps boring.

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