KUALA LUMPUR: The Sepang International Circuit (SIC) will not become a white elephant despite Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announcing that Malaysia will no longer be organising the Formula One race next year.
The F1 Malaysian Grand Prix, which was introduced in 1999, will be held for the last time from Sept 29-Oct 1.
It costs the government about RM300m annually to stage the F1 Malaysian Grand Prix.
Najib said that the contract had to be terminated following sharp decreasing returns to the country compared to the organising cost.
“The decision was made after taking into consideration the reports and views of SIC on the financial impact of F1 race on all interested parties.
“The government had to foot very high organising cost every year while the returns from organising the championship were diminishing in terms of spectators, visitors and foreign tourist arrivals in the last few years,” he said in a press statement yesterday.
He also said that Petronas would continue to sponsor team Mercedes AMG Petronas in F1 as the company’s marketing strategy.
“I also wish to express my appreciation to FOM (Formula One Management) for its understanding and agreement that the 2017 F1 in Sepang will be the last F1 race in the circuit,” he said.
But it’s not all doom and gloom for the race track as SIC chairman Tan Sri Azman Yahya has insisted that the world-renowned venue in Sepang would continue to remain relevant.
“Many have asked me if SIC could turn into a ‘white elephant’ since there will be no more F1 races after this year?” said Azman during a press conference yesterday.
“While F1 played a key role in SIC’s origin, we have grown beyond that in the past two decades.
“Over the last 10 years, we are booked with an average of more than 90% track utilisation.
“And it’s set to be more active than ever because we have several plans for the SIC. It will remain an important motorsport venue for many years to come.”
The SIC, who were planning to transform the circuit into a motorsports hub by 2022, will now allocate the savings generated from not hosting the F1 race to new areas.
More funds will also be channelled into existing talent development programmes in two-wheel and four-wheel motorsports, with the immediate goal being to put one Malaysian rider in the MotoGP category within the next three years.
Apart from F1, SIC also host major motorsport events like the Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix, Asian Le Mans Series, Sepang 1000km Endurance Race and Sepang 12 Hours.
But an array of motorsports events can be expected as the SIC undertake an ambitious expansion plan for the next five years.
Among them are the construction of three new circuits for motocross, drag and drift races; upgrading the Go-Kart circuit; and installing new lighting to accommodate night driving activities for the main circuit.
The SIC also aim to boost their coffers by building a motorsports theme park and a 200-room three-star hotel.
Azman stressed that Malaysia’s decision to withdraw from F1 “does not signal the end of the country’s association with the sport”.
He also did not rule out the possibility that the Malaysian GP might return to the race calendar in the future.
“When the time is right and circumstances permit it, we will propose to the government again. But it’s all up to the government ... to do it or not.”