Formula 1: From Sepang to the Lion City

Formula 1: From Sepang to the Lion City
DRAWING THE CROWDS: Razlan Razali believes one surefire way of filling Sepang’s capacity of 125,000 is if a Malaysian racer is in the cockpit of a Formula 1 car.

If Sepang International Circuit (SIC) chief executive officer Razlan Razali has his way, the Malaysian and Singapore Formula 1 races next year will be scheduled one after the other.

In town for a short visit, he sat down with The New Paper yesterday at the Grand Hyatt for a chat, ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix on March 29.

This will the final race of the Malaysian GP under the current contract and, while renewal talks with F1 surpremo Bernie Ecclestone are still ongoing, Razlan is hopeful there will be an announcement of an extension soon.

"We're not there yet but, before the 2015 Malaysian GP, we hope we can announce an extension," said Razlan.

After 17 years of hosting a Grand Prix at Sepang, he conceded there was a "10 per cent chance" the deal might not go through, but was confident the race would go on.

Traditionally, the Malaysian GP is scheduled early in the season.

This year, the season kicks off in Melbourne this weekend, with Malaysia the next stop. The Singapore Airlines Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix will be held from Sept 18 to 20.

Said Razlan: "We briefly mentioned (a proposal for back-to-back races with Singapore) to Formula One Management. Just in casual conversation, because they asked us to propose dates for next year onwards.

"One thing that's clear is we don't want to be Round 2 any more. We need time for us to promote better, so we want it to be the second half of the year.

"And looking at the logistics, since the Singapore GP is just before the Japan GP, it could be Malaysia-Singapore-Japan."

Perhaps there is a touch of irony to his idea of a link between the Sepang and Singapore races.

The 42-year-old became SIC CEO in 2009, one year after the inaugural Singapore night race.

The Singapore street race proved a huge hit, and he admitted it affected the Malaysian GP.

"We cannot deny the fact we lost a lot of corporate clients," he said.

"Before, we had the likes of Citibank, ING, because they had no choice but Malaysia.

"But, with the Singapore GP, and the fact they have headquarters here, of course they'd rather do that.

"We saw a decline of consumers, Singaporeans too, but after a while they came back."

Indeed, getting the fans to return to Sepang has been Razlan's biggest challenge.

"After 17 years, you run out of ideas," he quipped.

This year, his team have embarked on a family-centric approach to lure Malaysian fans to the circuit.

The foreign spectators still make their way to Sepang religiously.

Of the total of 105,000 who turned up over the three-day race weekend last year, 27 per cent were foreigners, with visitors from Singapore - the third-highest foreign contingent after the UK and Austria - accounting for six per cent.

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