By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Malaysia’s prime minister has said he wants Formula One to return to the country but there have been no talks with the sport’s owners, according to Sepang circuit boss Razlan Razali.
The grand prix dropped off the calendar in 2017 with Razali saying then that it was financially unviable and Malaysia would not continue even if the race was offered for free.
“Right now, we are not desperate to want it back,” Razali told Reuters during a visit to London on Wednesday, adding that nothing could happen before 2022.
There were also no guarantees that Formula One was interested.
“Yes, our prime minister has made a few statements. He hopes one day it comes back, but I’m not here to knock on (commercial rights holders) Liberty Media’s doors and say ‘Excuse me, can we have a chat’.”
Mahathir Mohamad, the 93-year-old who returned as premier last year after a stunning election victory, said last week he wanted the race to return.
“The interest in Grand Prix is still very big and we want to bring back the race here, because it has stimulated many Malaysians to go into the automotive industry,” the Star newspaper quoted him as saying.
Razali said he met Mahathir socially last weekend and pointed out the obstacles.
“I said ‘Look, we still maintain the fact that let’s take a break for five years. It’s not as easy as let’s do it next year. It needs some thought put in, some studies to be done,” the chief executive explained.
“‘We need to know where it (the sport) is right now, how interesting it is and most of all how much it’s going to cost.’
“So he said ‘yeah. That’s fine. It’s just the press keeps on asking me and I said one day we’ll come back.’”
Formula One is facing a major revamp from 2021, with Liberty eager to create a more level playing field and make racing more exciting.
Razali said he was yet to be convinced about the sport’s future, and there had been no contact with London-based Formula One since 2017 although he remained in touch with former supremo Bernie Ecclestone.
“He sends me a Christmas card every year still,” he added.
Formula One already has a crowded market in Asia with a night race in neighbouring Singapore and Vietnam due to debut next year. There is also interest in a second race in China in addition to one in Shanghai.
Liberty, who also want to expand in the United States, say they have no shortage of potential race hosts.
“At the end of the day, we could want it (the race) back and they don’t want us. So that could be a scenario,” Razali accepted.
Malaysian Grand Prix organisers cited declining ticket sales, viewership and tourist numbers for their decision to pull the plug on a race that first appeared in 1999.
Razali said new floodlights meant the track could now be rented out in the evening for non-racing activities and land was being developed nearby.
“Once that comes online we should be better (financially) than before with F1,” he said.
Motorcycling’s Endurance World Championship and the World Touring Cars championship (WTCR) are due to race at the circuit in December for the first time.
The circuit also hosts a MotoGP round and pre-season testing and Razali said the contract which expires in 2021 was sure to be extended.
“We had 105,000 on race day for MotoGP last year. 85 percent are locals. The spike of interest for MotoGP is crazy,” said the Malaysian, who runs Petronas-backed Sepang teams in all three MotoGP categories.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)