Formula One Business Diary: Malaysia

A stormy Grand Prix in the heat of Malaysia saw Sebastian Vettel defy team instructions to overtake Mark Webber and claim a 27th victory in Formula One, but for the race organisers it was a successful 15th anniversary event.

A stormy Grand Prix in the heat of Malaysia saw Sebastian Vettel defy team instructions to overtake Mark Webber and claim a 27th victory in Formula One, but for the race organisers it was a successful 15th anniversary event.
The 15th Malaysian Grand Prix was attended by 88,450 spectators, according to local reports, with the Sepang International Circuit, located on the far outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, recording a three-day crowd of 12,400. Malaysian organisers had hoped to break the 90,000 mark on race day. Malaysia has a contract with Formula One until 2015 and prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who attended Sunday's race, said “we will seriously look” at extending its deal. Speaking to Malaysia's The Star newspaper he added: “It shows that Malaysia can host an international event of this stature. We are pleased with the support from the local and international community. It is a positive event for Malaysia.” In an unfortunate clash of dates, however, Malaysia's largest sporting event coincided with perhaps its second-biggest, with Kuala Lumpur also hosting the Maybank Malaysian Open European Tour golf event over the weekend.
Retaining the race

There is certainly a will amongst the management of the Sepang International Circuit (SIC) to retain a Grand Prix beyond 2015. Although Sepang, which was built for Formula One in 1999, hosts other major races every year, notably MotoGP, the Malaysian Grand Prix is critical to the business plan. “As a venue, SIC cannot afford to lose the F1,” Razlan Razali, the circuit's chief executive, told The Star newspaper over the weekend. ““To extend beyond 2015, we need feedback from the recipients and stakeholders. There are three things to consider the economic impact, stakeholders and motor sports development,” he added. “It is always easy to say don't do Formula One but, trust me, if we don't have it, we will have withdrawal symptoms. Plus, once you give it up, it will be extremely difficult to get it back.”

Farewell to Fry

Mercedes recorded its first podium finish of the season on Sunday when Lewis Hamilton took third place in the Malaysian Grand Prix, but on Friday the team performed its latest executive shuffle. Chief executive Nick Fry, who has been with the team through its transitions from BAR to Honda, Honda to Brawn and Brawn to Mercedes, will leave in April, with Mercedes' new motorsport director Toto Wolff taking up most of his duties. Fry follows Norbert Haug out of Mercedes, with former McLaren technical director Paddy Lowe still expected to arrive at some point. The team's title sponsor Petronas, meanwhile, used its home Grand Prix to promote its Primax consumer fuel brand on the sidepods of Hamilton and Nico Rosberg's cars.

Emirates flies in

While Petronas again had title sponsorship rights to the Grand Prix, Malaysia marked Emirates' debut as a Formula One trackside sponsor. The airline signed a major deal with the sport in January to be present at 15 of this season's 19 races, missing out only on the events already with airline deals in place – Australia (Qantas), Bahrain (Gulf Air) and Abu Dhabi (Etihad). The only other event Emirates does not currently have rights for is Monaco, although the company's head of sponsorship Roger Duthie told SportsPro the airline may strike a separate deal with Monaco's organisers, who retain the commercial rights to their race. “It's an important market and we fly to Nice, so that could be something that could happen down the road,” Duthie said.

Meanwhile, in the snow

While Formula One braved the humidity of Malaysia, the World Endurance Championship (WEC) launched its season in a snowy London on Friday. It is the second year of the series, a joint venture between world motorsport governing body the FIA and Le Mans 24 Hours organiser ACO, and hopes are high that a positive first season, enlivened by a competitive battle between Audi and Toyota, will be bettered in 2013. With a focus on new hybrid technologies and an eight-race 2013 calendar, including six Formula One venues, the WEC appears in good shape, even before Porsche joins the prototype party with its own works team in 2014. There will also be at least ten former Formula One drivers on the grid for the first race at Silverstone on 14th April, with Alex Wurz, Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi, Stephane Sarrazin, Allan McNish, Nick Heidfeld, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Gianmaria Bruni, Olivier Beretta and Bruno Senna on the entry list.


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