What’s next: the Malaysian Grand Prix

The Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix has been moved from its customary mid-March slot for 2016 to a place towards the back end of the calendar. Logically, it’s slotting in after the race in neighbouring Singapore; illogically, there is a week off in between the two races.

The Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix has been moved from its customary mid-March slot for 2016 to a place towards the back end of the calendar. Logically, it’s slotting in after the race in neighbouring Singapore; illogically, there is a week off in between the two races.

The Malaysian government, which bankrolls the race and built the Sepang International Circuit (SIC), was believed to be negotiating to act as the final, climactic race of the year, but eventually signed a deal with Formula One Management at the 2015 edition of the race that would see the Grand Prix continue, in its post-Singapore slot, until 2018. 

Designed by Hermann Tilke, Sepang is one of the most technical circuits in Formula One. The combination of long high-speed straights and tight twisting complexes makes the track very complicated, but also perfect for overtaking as the track itself is very wide. The drivers love it and, along with Malaysia's distinct atmosphere, it makes for a unique environment.

The regularly updated circuit is also a great spectator’s circuit, built in a stadium-like manner. The circuit lies in a valley which enables one to see almost half of the circuit at all times irrespective of seating. The main double-sided grandstand can host as many as 50,000 spectators at a time, out of the total capacity of 130,000.

The Malaysian government is known to have looked closely at the pros and cons of the race as a national brand building tool before signing what is, by Formula One standards, a very short contract extension last year. Filling out the circuit has been a challenge since it first appeared on the Formula One calendar in 1999, and the new date is may well help in that regard. “I think it’s great for the event,” said SIC chief executive Razlan Razali after the publication of the provisional calendar. “Because we have a long promotion period to promote the race. Based on the feedback from travel agents, both local and international, they like it because it gives them more time to promote the race to the European market. The European market is our key market.”

The local government has announced that it will be repackaging the race this year in a bid to improve the event’s appeal, following a 35 per cent drop in tickets sales recorded over the latest three years; In 2015, statistics show that just over 80,000 tickets were sold for the Malaysian GP, compared to 92,550 in the year before that and 123,400 in 2013.

The drop in tickets can be directly linked to the present Malaysian economic frailty coupled with an isolated location. According to Nigel Geach, “A lot of people in Malaysia have trouble paying the price of the tickets and it’s a long way out from Kuala Lumpur. There is a train service. The track is near the airport, so it is accessible for people that have cars and fly but it does struggle to get people.”

State-owned oil brand Petronas are also locked in to title sponsor the race until 2018.

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