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Sepang boss blasts Bernie

Bernie Ecclestone was accused yesterday of having "made us look like idiots" by the chief executive of Malaysia's Sepang International Circuit after the former Formula 1 supremo admitted to deliberately overcharging tracks to stage races.

"I don't understand why he made those kinds of statements," Razlan Razali told AFP in an interview in London. "As a loyal customer of his for the last 19 years, it showed a total lack of respect, I think, and made us look like idiots in some ways."

This year will witness the last Malaysian Grand Prix for the foreseeable future, with the race disappearing from the calendar a year earlier than planned.

This comes after a combination of low attendances and high fees, with the Malaysian government spending some RM$67.6 million (S$21.7m) annually to stage a race first run in 1999. However, this is a cost that Sepang International Circuit (SIC) officials and their political bosses could tolerate.

Earlier this month, 86-year-old Ecclestone, ousted from his controlling position in Formula 1 during the off-season following a takeover by US-based Liberty Media, gave an interview in which he admitted to overcharging.

Speaking to Autosport magazine during the Bahrain Grand Prix, Ecclestone said: "When I convinced people to build this place and all the other places, I feel a little bit responsible. I charged them too much for what we provide.

"On my watch, we didn't deliver the show that we charged people for."

He added: "Sooner or later, I'm frightened that the governments behind them (the track promoters) will say enough is enough, and bye bye."

That is pretty much what happened in Malaysia and Razali added: "We always complained that the cost was too high and, every year, we tried to negotiate to get more value for money.

"To come out with that kind of statement, it's frustrating and it makes us look like an idiot, really."

This month saw Prime Minister Najib Razak publicly announce the end of the Malaysia Grand Prix, which has faced intense local competition from the night grand prix in Singapore.

Officials said the Sepang circuit, which can accommodate 120,000 fans, drew just 45,000 to the 2016 Grand Prix, and TV ratings were also poor.

Meanwhile in Sochi, Formula 1 frontrunner Sebastian Vettel led a Ferrari one-two in Russian Grand Prix practice yesterday with the resurgent Italian team appearing to have a clear edge over champions Mercedes.

The German four-time world champion clocked a best lap of one minute and 34.120 seconds, 0.263 quicker than teammate Kimi Raikkonen and 0.709 clear of Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton.

Raikkonen had been fastest in the morning. Valtteri Bottas, a close second in opening practice, was third in the afternoon for Mercedes and 0.670 off Vettel's pace, while teammate Hamilton was fourth.

Vettel leads Hamilton by seven points after winning two of three races this season.

- WIRE SERVICES

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