Will Sepang F1 circuit become a white elephant?

sepang-f1-circuit-white-elephant-1PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Grand Prix this weekend will be the last one, for now at least, but what will become of the Sepang F1 circuit.

One analyst of the sport believes that Sepang will simply go the way of a few other nations which had joined the Formula One grand prix circuit and left.

“Malaysia will go the way of other nations that joined what used to be Bernie Ecclestone’s travelling circus in the last decade or two – a huge investment, a poster event for the country, and a white elephant at the end of it.

“What will become of Sepang in the next 10 or 20 years? The race never attracted many fans, and no obvious motorsport infrastructure has grown (in Malaysia),” writes BBC Sport’s chief F1 writer Andrew Benson in a commentary.

On April 7, Prime Minister Najib Razak said that the cabinet had agreed that this year’s race would be the last, citing rising costs and falling ticket sales.

Last year, officials had said that Malaysia would not renew its commitment to host the F1 Grand Prix beyond its current contract to host the race until 2018. Hence, the announcement by Najib that the end of F1 in Malaysia was brought forward by a year came as a surprise to many.

However, Benson believes that even if F1 may not have had any significant lasting impact on Malaysia, aside from the fans who travel to Sepang year-in year-out and the TV audience it gained, “the same can not necessarily be said the other way around”.

“In many ways, the first Malaysian Grand Prix in 1999 heralded the start of a new era of F1, one in which Ecclestone joined forces with countries around the world that felt the need of some positive global PR and who were prepared to pay handsomely for it.

“In many cases, they built a brand new state-of-the-art facility,” the writer said, adding that Malaysia blazed the trail for China, Bahrain, Turkey, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, South Korea, Russia and Azerbaijan.

“Two of those – Turkey and South Korea – have already gone the way of Malaysia, as did India, which shares some characteristics of this general plan, but not the government support,” Benson said.

He added that the end of this era with Malaysia’s last race is also fitting considering the end of Ecclestone’s ownership of the F1 franchise since the beginning of this year.

“It is somehow appropriate that the end of Ecclestone’s reign is marked by the closing of the chapter at Sepang, which had set the template for a sport for two decades.”