From Singapore to Sepang
Sepang boss hopes Singapore results will generate interest for next week's M'sian GP
Razlan Razali was a busy man in the paddock during Sunday's Formula 1 Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix that was won by Mercedes' Nico Rosberg.
The Malaysian leg of this F1 season is up next in a fortnight and the chief executive of Sepang International Circuit (SIC), promoters of the race there, was busy talking to teams about preparations.
Razlan was at the forefront to switch Malaysia's traditional place in the calendar from the season's second or third race to after the Singapore night race this year. It was a strategic move to put more bums on seats at Sepang.
The Malaysian Grand Prix, which made its debut in 1999, has seen attendances fall since a record overall turnout of 140,000 for three days in 2006.
From the early years, when it averaged between 70,000 and 80,000 on race day, it hit rock bottom last year, with only 44,611 passing through the turnstiles on race day.
SEPANG SLIDE: Lewis Hamilton (left) leading last year's Malaysian race, which saw the attendance fall to just 44,611. PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES
The move to have the Sepang race after the Marina Bay date is not so much as trying to attract fans from overseas as trying to attract Malaysians, Razlan told The New Paper yesterday.
"We are hoping that the results of the Singapore Grand Prix will generate excitement among Malaysians who would want to see the next race in Sepang," he added.
"There is a two-week gap, so it will be too long for foreign fans who attended the night race to extend their holiday in the region before heading to Sepang.
"We will be lucky if we get a one per cent increase in foreign ticket buyers from this group."
Since he took over as SIC's chief executive in 2008, Razlan has introduced new attractions around the Grand Prix to lure Malaysians.
In 2009, he followed Singapore's innovative entertainment content within the circuit park for ticket holders and had British band Jamiroquai perform after the Malaysian race.
It failed to stem the ebbing tide at Sepang, which is 46km from Kuala Lumpur.
Added Razlan: "It works very well for Singapore because the Grand Prix is right in the middle of the city and people can stay at the race venue from the time the gates open until they close.
"Other amenities are also close by and people can get in and out of the venue with ease.
"It can't work for us because Sepang is not in the city, and people won't want to stay the whole day there because the place is hot and humid."
With poor attendances, the Malaysia government's backing also wavered and Razlan nearly threw in the towel on the Grand Prix after its contract expired last year.
But a last-minute deal was reached with Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone on race day to extend it for another three years.
As SIC are promoters of F1 in Malaysia, and Sepang being specifically built to host their races, converting the Grand Prix into a street event in KL is not an option.
"All organisers promote their F1 races differently, and what we are trying to do is to do it as a strictly automotive event," said Razlan.
"So we have activities around the races where fans can try their hand on drifting and go-karting."
With Liberty Media of the United States on board as the new owners of Formula 1, Razlan hopes they will work closely with SIC to improve the experience for fans in Malaysia.
He cites MotoGP that has been run in Malaysia successfully for the past 25 years, first at Shah Alam and then at Sepang from 1999 as an example.
"They help create excitement on the Malaysian leg by recruiting seven-time MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi to appear on their promotional videos for us," said Razlan.
"I've not met F1's new owners yet, but I hope they will sit down with us and see how they can help us pull in the numbers in Malaysia."
“There is a two-week gap, so it will be too long for foreign fans who attended the night race.”
- Sepang circuit chief Razlan Razali, on targeting Malaysian fans