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F1 unlikely to return to Malaysia anytime soon: circuit chief

Formula One is unlikely to return to Malaysia anytime soon as the government focuses its efforts on rebuilding the economy from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic, the circuit’s boss said.

Azhan Shafriman Hanif, chief executive of the Sepang International Circuit which used to host the race, told reporters in Singapore late Wednesday the government may reconsider its options after two to three years.

The Sepang track, located outside the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, first hosted the race in 1999, with the last Grand Prix held there in 2017.

Malaysia dropped out of the F1 calendar from 2018 amid the rising cost of hosting the event.

“At this juncture, the answer is no, not for the time being,” Azhan Shafriman said when asked if Malaysia was planning to host the race again.

“Perhaps in another two to three years when the economy has stabilised.”

He said Malaysia previously hosted F1 “to put the country on the map” through sports tourism.

But for F1 to return, the government needs to study the “bigger picture” in terms of its benefits to the country.

“We need to know what is the return in terms of the spillover effect,” he said.

“We need to look at the rebranding, how do we monetise the platform. We need to talk about technology transfer, talent development and environmental sustainability.”

He and other circuit officials were in Singapore this week to promote the upcoming Petronas Grand Prix motorcycle racing, also known as MotoGP, to be held at the Sepang track from October 21-23.

It will be the first MotoGP race at Sepang in two years following its suspension due to the pandemic.

There had been speculation about F1’s return to Malaysia to fill the void after Russia was dropped from the race calendar following President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

Malaysia’s neighbour Singapore hosts a Formula One night race which will take place from September 30 to October 2.

Azhan Shafriman said Singapore “made the right call” to promote the event not only as a race but also as entertainment which includes concerts and parties.

“If Formula One were to come back to Malaysia, it has to be hinged on something else, not only on the race. There must be another purpose why we are doing Formula One,” he said.

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