|Razlan Razali- CEO, Sepang International Circuit|
|Profile of the week|
Friday, 23 November 2012 12:00
I think we are the first South-East Asian country to host Formula One outside of Japan, so for the first five years, it has been great for the country, probably up until the Singapore Grand Prix in 2008, we were still very much exclusive to Malaysia, we have put Malaysia on the global map and has put Malaysia as one of the key international destinations for South-East Asia.
Sepang circuit has become an icon for Formula One, which is great; everything is positive from and economic point-of-view. Of course, from 1999, you’ve seen the emergence of other circuits such as China, Bahrain, up until Singapore, and it didn’t really affect us in terms of the geographical location and the flying hours from Malaysia, to Bahrain and China, it doesn’t really affect us. Then Singapore came to the picture, which has affected us a fair bit from 2008, from all areas, from corporate spectators to the retail and general spectators; it is a complete event, it’s a complete experience even though both races are different; a night-time street circuit versus a specially built circuit. But being a circuit, there is a lot more entertainment which can be built around it, it provides much more of an experience and at the moment, the trend for most promoters outside Europe is that because of the lack of motorsport culture or history, we can’t sell Formula One as just a race anymore, we have to sell it as a full entity and to some extent, F1 takes the back seat and off-track entertainment becomes key to attract more people to the track, like non-motorsport fans and female spectators, so that has become a trend which in a way has affected us because up until Singapore, we’ve been promoting Formula One how we always promoted it since 1999, which is primarily the race and not much emphasis on concerts and off-track events.
With Malaysia and Singapore, they are in the same region and I think it is bad for Singapore and Malaysia. I think the impact upon audiences could be greater if Malaysia and Singapore alternate races, rather than both being in the same year.
What are your medium/long term plans for the Sepang circuit?
Our medium-term plans, the circuit has aged after fifteen years, so we continue to refurbish the current facilities although I will not deny that there have been problems since day one in 1999, but we continuously refurbish or rectify whatever problems we have in the medium term.
In the long term, following the FIA facility improvement programme, we were one of the recipients from the FIA programme, which essentially created a master plan for existing circuits, we have just started activating our long term plan, beginning with an industrial park just outside the perimeters of the circuit, which by next month should be ground-breaking and we would like to emulate what Silverstone is doing in terms of attracting motorsport companies and fabricators to set up shop at the Sepang circuit. That’s part of it, but it also includes education, setting up motorsport engineering facilities, commercial facilities, a commercial zone with hotels and hospitality and so on and that will be a five to seven year plan, and we are kick starting it in December of this year.
How much knowledge do you take from other F1 circuits or do your own thing?
We like to learn from circuits which traditionally have a long history in motorsport. So, one of those circuits is Silverstone and at the same time, I have attended many motorsport forums, where Silverstone and the Nurburgring and of course new circuits like Yas Marina make a presentation and I try to visit those circuits and to this stage, we can learn a lot from Silverstone. Without commenting on the specific design of the circuit – because everybody has their own unique way of design – in terms of components and facilities, I think Silverstone and the Nurburgring have got it right as two circuits which have a long history of motorsport and Formula One so we take note, we try not to re-invent the wheel, we try and adapt to the local market and culture to the current length of motorsport in our country and we try to adapt. But we try not to re-invent the wheel.
How much would a Malaysian driver boost local interest for the Malaysia Grand Prix?
I think to answer that question, I can only compare it to an international motorsport event, which is Moto GP. Moto GP has been in Malaysia for longer than Formula One and over twenty years, only since 2009 have we seen record-breaking spectator numbers for Moto GP, we had a race two weeks and we achieved a record-breaking crowd of over 77,000 people on the Sunday and 124,000 over the three days, that is the biggest record crowd in our history. The first one was in 2008 with Formula One to celebrate ten years in Formula One for Petronas, our title sponsor. So for a bike event, after twenty-two years, it is great to see the spectacle grow. Now, how do we do that?
Well, it’s not rocket science, it’s relatively easy. We have funded to put our Malaysian riders in the World Championship for the Moto 3 category since 2009 and this rider has developed and improved. We have one rider has a had every full season since 2009 until now, but every year we have been able to put a driver as a wildcard, Moto GP allows you to put a wildcard rider in a World Championship in Moto 3, Moto 2 and sometimes Moto GP, so having local representation created a national hero, created a lot of local interest and created a local following and directly correlated to ticket sales, especially when our two boys did well; one Moto 3 boy became the first Malaysian to take pole position and took second in the race on the Sunday, while the guy in Moto 2 qualified 27th and came fourth in the race. So for a promoter, you can’t have a better script than that and it was a fantastic event and a huge success.